Posted by Angelica R. Jackson
As much as writers gripe about it, if you want to see your writing published you'll need to craft a query at some point. A query has a big job to do, so it's no wonder it can be intimidating: a query serves as your introduction to an agent or editor, gets them excited about your premise and how you've enacted it, and hopefully gets a yes--whether that's a "yes, send me your full manuscript!" or "yes, go ahead and write that article!"
I've been querying for a long while, both on the nonfiction article front and for my young adult novels, and I now get "yes" more often than "no". I wanted to share some of the things I've learned in my own process of refining queries, so I'm doing a two-part post on queries. This first part will be a roundup of the resources available online, and the second part (scheduled for two weeks out on February 20) will offer some examples from my past queries and pitches.
The best place to start with query craft advice is straight from the horse's mouth on agents' and editors' blogs and websites. Going to any of the blogs I have listed in my sidebar and searching for the term "query" will get you a ton of good posts, plus here are some that I've found particularly helpful:
*A great starting point is Agent Query's page on How to Write a Query
*Lisa Gardner has a lecture series on Conquering the Dreaded Synopsis that includes a query section (and you will eventually need a synopsis as well, so take a look at those lectures while you're there).
*Sydney Laine Allan has posted a workshop she did on Writing a Dynamite Query Letter
*The Nelson Literary Agency website, and Kristin Nelson's blog, are a mine of information on queries and pitches, and in the agency FAQs they have links to a workshop that Kristin Nelson did on pitches. Be sure to check out the next question in the FAQs also, since it has real-life examples of successful queries from their clients.
*Backspace has a brief query letter workshop with Jeff Kleinman of Folio Literary Management
*Last year's WriteOnCon had a wealth of interesting workshops that are now archived and available to view at your leisure.
*Pitch University is where I truly honed my teeth on pitches and queries, and their Pitching 101 lessons are a must read (scroll down and they're in the righthand sidebar)
*Roni Loren has earmarked all her posts on queries from her Fiction Groupie blog
*YA author Elana Johnson has a free ebook called From the Query to the Call that is essential reading
*Noah Lukeman also has a free ebook on Amazon, How to Write a Great Query Letter: Insider Tips and Techniques for Success
So go read those--I'll wait!
Once you have polished your query or pitch to shiny perfection, you'll need someone to give you helpful feedback. In this case, it's preferable to find at least one reader who has not read the actual book. This way they can tell you where they got lost, where they may have misinterpreted plot elements, whether they could keep the characters straight.
Absolute Write's Query Letter Hell (you'll need to register to be able to see the Share Your Work forum, where Query Letter Hell lives), Nathan Bransford's forums, Verla Kay's Boards, and Ladies Who Critique can help you get some fresh eyes on the page, but only post if you're ready to hear honest feedback--because you're likely to get it! Conferences big and small almost always have query critique opportunities, public or private. Plus, some paid editorial services offer free query critiques as a way to see if their style is a good match for yours.**
If you still want more, there are places to get your query publicly shredded (or better yet, learn from other people's mistakes before yours gets a chance to see the light of day):
BookEnds Literary in their Workshop Wednesday feature
Gabriela Lessa's blog via her new Query Wednesdays feature
Miss Snark's blog You cannot submit to this blog for critique since it's no longer active, but I highly recommend working through the archives. Same goes for The Rejecter.
With so many resources out there, there's really no excuse for a lame query. Remember, your goal is to get the agent or editor to read your pages, and whether for good or ill your query is a reflection of your writing proficiency. If the query is amateurish, they will assume your pages are in the same state. See you in two weeks for examples from my own query files! And if anyone else knows of some great resources, please feel free to leave them in the comments.
**Teen Eyes Editorial is the only paid editorial service I personally have experience with, and I found them to be affordable, prompt, thorough, and well worth the money for a full manuscript critique. In fact, nearly my entire critique group has run part or all of their manuscript through Kate Coursey's gauntlet and come out impressed!
Writer image courtesy of Clip Art Pal