Thursday, August 12, 2010

Individualizing the Query

I was wondering what you think is the most important aspect of a query. I've read a ton of articles which all cite different things and I get the feeling that rather than emphasizing hook over plot, or characters over events, based on an article, I should strive to find out what it is that each individual agent wants to know. (Or is that wrong in and of itself?)

Is there one thing in a book that captures you more than one thing, and if there is, do you want to see that emphasized in a query? Or does balance and concise explanation of the plot outweigh your own personal preferences?

Unfortunately, I don’t think a query is a one-size-fits-all device. I don’t think the same query necessarily works for all agents or all authors. That being said, I don’t think it should either.

The most important part of the query is the blurb, the part that tells the agent about your book, the part that grabs her attention and makes her want to read more. Here’s the deal, though: What you should strive for is writing the query that best represents you and your book. It should show the reader a bit of your voice and the blurb shouldn’t necessarily be about hook or characters or plot. It should be that one thing about your book that makes it stand out from all others. For some this might be hook, for others character and for some plot.

If you read the query samples I’ve posted on the blog over the years you’ll see how very different they all are and yet, they all worked. A query that works for me won’t work for Janet Reid or Nathan Bransford or Rachelle Gardner, and that’s absolutely fine because the agent that represents you might not work for another author, even those in your critique group.

Stop trying to write queries and books that appeal to everyone. Write a query (and a book) that will appeal to many, but that is your best work.



Stephanie McGee said...

Great advice! It's definitely something I'll keep in mind when I eventually start to query. Thanks for sharing.

Kate Douglas said...

My advice would be to write a query that appeals to you--what would make YOU pick up this story and want to read more? After years of writing what I thought editors and agents wanted to read, I finally found success writing what I wanted to read.

I know it sounds simplistic, but when we write what we love--whether it's a proposal or query or the actual book--we showcase our best work.

Wendy Delfosse said...

Stop trying to appeal to everyone is GREAT advice. Not every agent is going to fall in love with my book, why should they all fall in love with my query? If I reflect my book in my query the best I can hopefully the same agent who is right for my book will be hooked by that query.

AJ said...

Great advice, Kate. Sometimes, you lose your voice when your trying to fit into an agents mold.

Nice post, Jessica!

M.R.J. Le Blanc said...

I think this is probably the best query advice out there.

Nina said...

I was wondering. When you have written a mystery, do you write down the spoilers in the query?

Unknown said...

Thanks, Jessica! I'm bookmarking this one.

@ Nina

That depends on a couple of things, including whether you're using a close third POV for your main character. If they don't know, and you want your query to convey their experience, voice, etc., you'd probably leave the spoilers out. If you're writing in a more omniscient tone, and the query needs those details to make sense--you're focusing heavily on plot, perhaps--then you might have to include some things you otherwise wouldn't. Mostly, it has to do with the spin you take.

It's ok to use spoilers if they help to build suspense, and leave the reader of your query wanting more. What you don't do is give away the ending. Save that part for your synopsis. :-)

Make sense?

Sheila Cull said...

Great information, again.

Anonymous said...

Excellent advice, Jessica! You can't please all of the agents all of the time.

Ginny Leigh Evans said...

Phew! Thanks.