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Old 06-01-2012, 05:03 AM View Post #1 (Link) Query Letters
ah1705 (Offline)
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I just finished writing my first novel and I've been looking into getting it published but I've run into a problem: Query Letters.

I understand the point of them but they are so hard to write! Putting a novel with 60,000+ words into just 150-250 words and it needs to be exciting? AND it needs to be voiced by my main character?! I'm really struggling with starting and making it sound like something I'd actually want to read, let alone being able to give it voice. So far, everything sounds idiotic and makes no sense. Do you have any helpful hints on where to start? I've read dozens of examples on a handful of websites and they're wonderful but something isn't working when I try doing it. I even practiced writing hooks all day with a few of my other story ideas, which was wonderful for those pieces, but it didn't help in writing a hook for the book I've already written.

My frustration is rising and I'm coming to the point of throwing the towel in for a while. But I refuse to give up! Any help or hints would be more than appreciated. Thank you so so so much!
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Old 06-01-2012, 01:48 PM View Post #2 (Link)
Infinity_Man (Offline)
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Oh dear god, I know exactly how you feel. I just got through the query-writing part of my book, and I hated it. I especially disliked it because up until I was nearly done the final draft of my novel I didn't realize I would have to write a query. I had never heard of it before.

But I did put a lot of time into learning the technical part of writing one, and on another writing forum (which I don't know if I can link to, if that's against the rules) I do nothing but critique other people's query letters.

My favourite advice is to try ad answer these three questions:
1. What does your protagonist want
2. What does s/he have to do to get it?
3. What happens if s/he fails to get it (the stakes)?

Focus on that, and then expand with voice and substance.

Focus. You've only got 150-300 words to cover your plot. That means decide what's your main plotline and stick to it. Get into it right away. You want to get an agent interested in the first line, and the best way to do that, in my opinion, is to start with the problem. This also means avoid unnecessary backstory.
What happens when you have three different plotlines in your query is that none of them are developed well enough and so none of them are interesting.

Remember, it's a business letter. Remain polite, and always end with something like "Thank you for your time and consideration." Try and have voice when summarizing your plot, but don't carry that into your actual letter - don't do anything gimmicky, like writing the Query letter in first-person as your main character.

There are a lot of small nitpicks that come with each query too, far too many for me to list here. I'd suggest going and reading Query Shark and Miss Snark, blogs which (amongst other things like synopsis - because you'll probably have to write one of those too) critique queries and point out what's good and bad about them. They're both agents, as well, I believe.

I can further illustrate my point by sharing my original query... (takes deep breath) Remember this was a first draft and I didn't really know what was happening. My comments are based on what I know now, and what several other people pointed out to me.

Dear Agent

Treasure hunter Jude Ekhart enters the lost temple just wanting to find gold, return to his pregnant wife, and live the rest of his days in splendour. This isn't a terrible opening. It introduces the main character, his profession, and a general sense of his goals. It's not the greatest hook in the world, and the general comments I received were to start with the following sickness that will kill him. I started the second draft simply with "Jude Ekhart is dying." and people responded really well to that. Instead, he leaves with a virus that will kill him within the month. He meets Wiki, People hate this name. They hate that it's a website full of information and he's the archetypical mentor character. But to hell with them, right? who claims he can cure him, but it'll come at a price People found this cliche: hidden away are six artifacts known as the Hammerhorses. Buried with them are the ingredients Wiki needs to cure Jude - if he finds the Hammerhorses for Wiki, he'll get his cure People found this redundant. But Wiki also says he's an Angel, a long-dead race, so who can be sure he's telling the truth about anything? This made people pause, and wonder what exactly was going on. A race introduced this late in the game? Most people suggested I introduce this earlier on. But I couldn't find a non-awkward way to do it, and eventually all talk of Wiki being an Angel was cut out. It also is worded awkwardly, and pretty much everyone thought I meant Wiki says Jude is an Angel.

People found a disconnect between these two paragraphs. I don't personally see it, but it's something more than one people pointed out, so I don't know what to say about that.

Truth or not, it's Jude's only option, so he sets off to find these Hammerhorses, and the cure he needs Another redundancy. I've established by now that the Hammerhorses means he gets a cure, but quickly finds he's not the only one looking. A faceless demon capable of stealing body parts from other men This received mixed feelings. One or two people said they thought this detail was really cool, and interested them greatly. One or two other people said it was an unnecessary detail. I decided to cut it here and slip it into my synopsis, where there's more room and it actually is an important detail. has been unleashed by Wiki's nemesis, the vengeful Angel Sapien Everyone was thrown off by this introduction at the end of the query.... If Jude wants to live to see his son born ...this random forced motivation thing..., he's going to have to enter a hundred-year-old conflict between the last of the Angels ...this logline..., and their hunt for the machines ...because I forgot to mention the Hammerhorses were machines, they didn't see how this connected... of the Old World...and this concept of the Old World was a sudden itnroduction too. Overall, I threw in way too much new information at the end here..

SMALL WORLD Title always in capitals is a 97000 word Round to the nearest 1000, like this. Also be aware of what is too small a book, and what is way too long a book science fantasy I later changed this to Fantasy, because that's just an easier sell novel and the first in a planned trilogy As a first time writer, you better make sure your novel can be standalone. One of my main goals on my last edit was to make the book standalone, with a big enough strand left over that I could develop a sequel if allowed. Thus, what you really want to say at the end like this is "is a standalone novel with series potential".

Also note, the science of query writing changes often. Depending on how old the advice you get is, it'll tell you to put this information before the summary. But nowadays the trend seems to be putting it at the end, so the Agent can get right into the story.

Thank you for your consideration.
So that's my query, and how it can be torn apart. Actually, I received generally positive responses to it. I ended up going through five drafts, though, and I think after the second and third it was just being edited to death. It got to the point where I felt like I was lying about the actual plot of the novel in order to make an interesting sounding query. So I went back to this and my second draft (which were received more warmly than my other ones) and modeled my final draft off of them.

If you'd like to post your query in the "Other" writing section, I would happily look over it for you.
Infinity_Man's Mega Guide

Pro-tip: because my first instinct is to procrastinate anything I see as an obligation or responsibility, asking me for a critique is a good way to make sure I never give you a critique.
						Last edited by Infinity_Man; 06-01-2012 at 01:52 PM.
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Old 06-01-2012, 06:07 PM View Post #3 (Link)
Majyk (Offline)
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How coincidental: yesterday, I was writing up a query letter for one of my novels. Basically, Infinity_Man made some good points and I don't really have anything else to add except that I think you really need a good hook in the beginning. It's the first thing the agent will read, and you want to catch their attention as soon as possible. That said, I've read that you want to name your story as soon as possible, also, and you don't want to wait until the end to give the title. This is how I usually start them off (besides the dear so-and-so bit, of course):

"MIND’S PRISON is a nearly 80,000-word fantasy novel following Seth, who has spent the last five years searching for answers. Seth has wandered through empty corridors, opening any door he could unlock in his search for answers to his questions, especially the question that haunts him most of all: who was he before he was brought into this world?"

Now, I've no idea how good that is or whatever, and it's only the first paragraph--just showing you an example of a possible start (I also only wrote it yesterday, so I haven't edited it yet). (Actually, maybe Infinity_Man could take a look at my query letter if I post it.) So anyway, yeah. You can also always google how to write a query letter, and you come up with some helpful stuff. (EDIT: Actually, now that I read your post more closely, it looks like you might've already done this, so never mind.)

And, if you have any sort of writing credentials (won any sort of awards or something) then that last paragraph is the place to say so.

Also, a sort of game I have with myself is to try and write a single-sentence summary of my stories. You know the tiny little blurb that usually goes with the publishing info on the first few pages of a book? Something like that. It's a challenge and is kind of fun, and I figure, if you can summarize your story in one sentence, then elaborating that into one page should be easier than condensing your novel into one page, you know? Making a summary bigger might be easier than making it smaller.

A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new.
Albert Einstein

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Old 07-13-2012, 04:37 AM View Post #4 (Link)
Brenda Lee Ayala (Offline)
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It is so hard to find the right publisher,when you are mainly a fiction writter,but I wont give up...

It is so writter's we master thought and creativity,but we cannot master "patience" when attempting to publish.
						Last edited by Lykaios; 07-13-2012 at 06:01 AM.
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Old 08-05-2012, 06:58 PM View Post #5 (Link)
Julian (Offline)
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Originally Posted by Brenda Lee Ayala View Post
It is so hard to find the right publisher,when you are mainly a fiction writter,but I wont give up...

It is so writter's we master thought and creativity,but we cannot master "patience" when attempting to publish.

As writers, we also write in acceptable grammar and spelling.
						Last edited by Julian; 08-07-2012 at 08:57 PM.
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