Writing a Query

~ By Natasha Raulerson

Greetings Contemporary Romance Writers! I hope your creativity is thrumming and the words are flowing. As frustrating as writing our manuscript can be, admittedly, writing everything else to go with the submission process might leave the writer with a moment where they want to throw their laptop out the window, curse the creative muse sitting by their side, and take a few whacks at a punching bag.

That’s right. Writing is hard, but query writing is harder. Taking a 70k plus novel and condensing it to 250-350 words is not an easy feat. It may be one of the hardest thing in a writers career—especially if traditional is the route you’ve chosen to take. It’s the first thing an agent will see from you, and that means it’s their first impression not only of you, but of your work. So it’s imperative to make it the best you can.

So, let’s start at the beginning.

stationaryWhat is a Query?

Think of the query as a creative business letter. There is a formula that should be followed at the basic sense. It should have a greeting, a hook, the protagonist, antagonist, love interest(or)best friend, the stakes, and the info about your book. In theory, it seems easy enough, but it isn’t. It takes time, editing, writing, rewriting, and deciding just how to pitch your novel so that an agent will say, “GIVE ME MORE!”

It took me seventeen drafts of my query before I was confident enough to send it out. All the hard work paid off, as it lead to an agent requesting my full manuscript and offering representation. If my query hadn’t been sound, I wouldn’t have received any requests. I say this, because I pitched another book last year that had a terrible query. You live, you learn, you improve your craft. So here are a few tips to help you.

1.) BE SPECIFIC

If at any point in your query you’re using something like ‘mysterious, secret, unknown, unseen, etc’ then chances are, you’re being too vague.

Ex: Twenty-year-old Meghan Gallagher is terrified to find out who her mystery date is. VS. Twenty-year-old Meghan Gallagher went on a game show hoping to boost her non-existent acting career and maybe meet the man of her dreams. Instead, she wound up face to face with the biggest dweeb of the century.

The second gives specifics and separates from the millions of other mystery date novels out there. One of the classic novice mistakes I’ve noticed, and that I was guilty of myself, is that people tend to want to keep details from the agent. In queries, the more mysterious you are, the more your novel is going to sound like ten hundred other ones out there. You need to be detailed, because those nuances are going to be what separates your novel from the rest.

2.) DON’T WASTE WORDS ON SCENE SETTING

Especially as contemporary. That means modern day, so you don’t need something like: Meghan’s small town with its mall full of a whopping ten stores decided to do a mystery date game show. That’s actually not only scene setting, but telling us but back story.

Meghan thought getting on the Mystery Date show would get her great exposure for her want-to-be acting career, but now she’s become the butt of the joke on National TV as cameras follow her and comic book geek Michael Rogers for the next month to see how their relationship evolves. As much as Meghan wants to hide under the covers, the contract she signed forces her to get up every morning and hang out with dweebtastic Michael, but with each day that goes by, Meghan finds Michael more and more intriguing. To her own surprise, she falls for him.

3.) MAKE SURE THE STAKES ARE APPARENT

So what are the stakes? The stakes are what your character must do and the consequences if they don’t.

When the show starts to sink, the producer approaches Meghan promising to make her career huge, so long as she gets the show’s ratings up. In order to do that, the producer wants Meghan to get caught in a scandalous situation so that she and Michael have a blow up fight. Meghan hesitates, not wanting to hurt Michael, but the producer reminds her everything in the show is just an act. Something that Meghan isn’t so sure about anymore. If she goes through with it, Meghan will get the acting career she wants and lose the man she never thought she’d love—but her heart has other ideas.

The stakes are clearly defined. Meghan has to choose what she wants: Jump start her acting career and lose Michael in the process, or be with Michael and potentially not have another big break.

4.) KEEP AWAY FROM CLICHE AND PRESUMPTUOUS CLOSING REMARKS

What I mean by this is that if you say something along the lines of, “You won’t regret representing me,” or “I’m going to be the next BIG NAME AUTHOR here whether you represent me or not,” you’re upping your chances for rejection. Not only is this very unprofessional, but it sounds pompous and gives the feeling you may be someone who is difficult to work with. The more professional you are. The better. Just make sure to include any writing experience you have. If you don’t have any, don’t put any. It’s as simple as that.

So let’s put this all together and see what a professional query letter looks like.

Dear Awesome Agent,

Twenty-year-old Meghan Gallagher went on a game show hoping to boost her non-existent acting career and maybe meet the man of her dreams. Instead, she winds up face to face with the biggest dweeb of the century.

Meghan thought getting on the Mystery Date show would get her great exposure for her want-to-be acting career, but now she’s become the butt of the joke on National TV as cameras follow her and comic book geek Michael Rogers for the next month to see how their relationship evolves. As much as Meghan wants to hide under the covers, the contract she signed forces her to get up every morning and hang out with dweebtastic Michael, but with each day that goes by, Meghan finds Michael more and more intriguing. To her own surprise, she falls for him.

When the show starts to sink, the producer approaches Meghan promising to make her career huge, so long as she gets the show’s ratings up. In order to do that, the producer wants Meghan to get caught in a scandalous situation so that she and Michael have a blow up fight. Meghan hesitates, not wanting to hurt Michael, but the producer reminds her everything in the show is just an act. Something that Meghan isn’t so sure about anymore. If she goes through with it, Meghan will get the acting career she wants and lose the man she never thought she’d love—but her heart has other ideas.

DATING THE DWEEB is a contemporary romance complete at 75,000 words.

Any writing related experience here, whether you run a podcast, some sort of writing event, previous publishing credits or whatever.

Per your guidelines I have included the first chapter and synopsis in the email.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

Author Name

Phone Number

Email

Website/Blog

FB if you have one

Twitter if you have one

Query writing isn’t easy. It can be considered harder than writing the actual novel, but if you’ve decided that traditional publishing is your path, having a strong query letter is the first step. It’s what leads to partial and full submissions—and hopefully from there, an agent.

Some great resources are queryshark.blogpsot.com, agentqueryconnect.com, and Kyramnelson.com also does query critiques. Those sites also have way better examples than the one I made up here. I suggest reading through them all, especially on Query Shark. Make sure you have a second, third, and fourth set of eyes to help you make it immaculate.

The query is your first impression to agents. Make it a good one.

Natasha Raulerson grew up as a tomboy hanging with the guys, getting skinned knees, and swimming in the South Florida sun. Though she’s more inclined to wear dresses now, she still prefers a good pair of chucks and comfy pair of jeans. Tattoos, Jack Daniels, and hanging at the pool are three of her favorite things. She is also the founder of Whiskey, Wine, & Writing. By day she writes about the characters driving her imagination wild. By night she enjoys a good book, hanging with her hubs, and getting snuggle attacks from her two spoiled pups. Natasha is represented by Laura Bradford of the Bradford Literary Agency.

 

1 thought on “Writing a Query”

  1. Thanks for the tips. I’d say synopsis writing is the toughest of all.

    I would just add two things. Always look at the agent’s website (see what they want in a query letter, make sure you have name spelling correct, make sure you have salutation correct-double check gender of agent in case agent has a name normally associated with the opposite gender). Plus a way I heard you can make a query letter a little easier is if you have a GMC chart (goals, motivation, conflict), you can create a paragraph based on those snippets or sentences.

    Thanks Natasha for all the great advice.

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