If you’re reading this I’m sure you’ve already read about how to format a query letter and the basic elements to include in one. Today I’m going to talk about what sets average query letters apart from great query letters.
An original premise. Now, this is easier said than done and somewhat subjective. But, as a writer you should read enough to know what isn’t being written about and whether your manuscript is filling a hole in the marketplace. If your query involves a vampire love triangle there’s a problem. Maybe somewhere there are still agents who are on the hunt for these types of stories, but I wouldn’t bet on it. Don’t have enough time to read? Check out Publisher’s Weekly or Kirkus. Reading book reviews is faster than reading an entire book and is a quick way to know if your story has already been done.
Interesting, relatable characters. The setting of your story is important. Plot is also important. But characters are what suck readers in. If you don’t paint a picture of an intriguing character others want to know more about it doesn’t matter what the plot is.
Stakes. Something has to happen to your characters. Something big. Whether it is external conflict, internal, or both, agents need to be assured that something exciting is going to happen when they read your manuscript. A query letter is your chance to convince an agent to come along for whatever ride your character is on.
A short, movie-like pitch. The best queries can be boiled down to one sentence. To be able to sell your book you need to be intimately familiar with it to the point that you can summarize it in a single sentence. If you can’t sell it, how can you convince an agent he or she can sell it?
Clarity. What do I mean by this? I have critiqued many a query and commented that I wasn’t sure what the author’s story was really about. If an agent is confused at any point when reading your query it’s often the death of it. Write the query as simply as you can.
Lastly, follow conventions. Include the genre, word-count, and title of your story. Tell the agent why you are querying him or her. Mention any relevant bio information (awards won, conferences attended, special writing education, some nugget about what makes you the ideal person to write this story).
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