The very best query letter advice I can give

I’m going to tell you something you probably already know: Writing a query letter isn’t easy.

Seriously, it’s not even easy to write a bad query letter — trust me, I’ve been at this for a week, and after a ridiculous amount of research, feedback from my crit partners and multiple drafts, I still wrote a bad query letter. I haven’t worked this hard to be bad at something since 9th grade algebra.

Luckily, I had the sense to ask someone who’d written a successful query letter (the very generous Ryann Kerekes) for a critique before heading off to Dallas and submitting my letter to the DFWcon gong show. (Getting helpful feedback from a writer via email is so much better than having actual agents gong your query into the depths of hell in front of hundreds of people.)

What’s funny is that a lot of the feedback I got was stuff I knew, but I still managed to overlook it! You guys, I screwed up my hook. My hook! I know my story’s hook — after all, I wrote the story! I was so wrapped up in thinking about what makes my story unique that I failed to include what my story is about. Wow. But some of the advice I received was stuff I hadn’t heard elsewhere despite all my Googling and searching via Writer’s Knowledge Base. (<—- Use this. It will change your life make searching for anything writing-related so much easier!)

Basically, the only thing I got really right about my query letter was my bio (I do know myself at least). After reading the incredible feedback and tips I got, I made a few changes to my letter and this is how it looks now:

Yes, I’m going to scrap my letter and start from scratch, but I’m excited about it because I got some amazing advice and my new letter is going to be so much better because of it!! Who knows? Maybe I won’t get gonged until after my (corrected) hook is read aloud!

If you’re about to delve into the frustrating world of query-letter writing, here’s my best tip: Ask for help. If you know someone kind and generous who’s already signed with an agent and therefore knows how to write a successful query, there’s no harm in asking if he or she would be willing to read your letter. The worst they can do is say no, right?

Now, I don’t recommend bombarding Ryann with pleas for help — she’s a very busy writer! However, she’s giving away a query-letter review and a 10-page manuscript critique to one lucky commenter on this post. So go leave a comment right now! Do it!

After that, check out some of these posts that I refer to again and again for query advice:

Also, if you’re on Pinterest, I pin every single helpful writing post I find on my Writing Tips board, and lately there are tons of posts on query letters.

You might also like:

Photo: dam/flickr

11 thoughts on “The very best query letter advice I can give

  1. I completely adore you! Queries are hard. They just ARE. I applaud you for your persistance and just rock solid awesomeness in tackling this process head on. Your query will be AMAZING. I can’t wait to see it again. And so glad my advice on a hook resonated. =)

  2. Oh, queries! I’ve been struggling with this for more than a week, I’ve revised it more times than I can count, and it’s still not good! There are so many tips and suggestions out there, but if I’ve found that if you try to incorporate them all, you just end up with a wordy, generic mess. Trying to suss out the most usable tips has been the hardest part. I’m super nervous about the gong show, and looking for any professional help I can get!!

  3. At least you got your bio! My query right now is basically the title and the genre. I plan on really working on the query the second week in May…I figure this will help me not to obsess about my WIP.

  4. (I meant to add this above, but I posted too soon…)

    I also recommend Query Shark. I love seeing “what got to Yes” when the letters are revised. I feel like I’m learning from other people’s mistakes, and saves me the trouble of making them myself (since I’m pretty sure I’ll make plenty of my own mistakes).

    Thanks for sharing!

  5. Thanks, Ryan!! You were so helpful — and clearly, your crit was the inspiration for this post. ;)

    China, we will get there … and, of course, we will struggle through the gong-ing process together!

    Sidney, I didn’t really know Ryann that well when I asked for her opinion. We “met” on Twitter a few weeks ago and I saw that she’d hosted a query contest on her blog, but I wasn’t prepared (no finished MS!) to enter. So when I started working on my query I thought of her and figured there was no harm in asking for a crit!

    Liza, I still don’t have a title! (yikes!) My title ideas keep getting shot down — and for good reason. If you need a newbie query critter, let me know. I’ve at least learned a thing or two about what NOT to do!

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