Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Query Letter Writing - First and Last

Last week, I went over how to write your first and last sentences in your query blurb. In a bare bones query, with the first and last paragraph, you could send your query out later this afternoon. So the next step in the query letter writing process is crafting the first and last paragraph.

Let's examine.

First paragraph: Opinions vary on this, but I opened with a sentence about why I was writing the agent. Anything from basic: "I think you'd be interested in my young adult dystopian novel."

to more personalized:

"I read on your website that you're looking for "young adult fiction with strong female leads." Because of this, I believe you'd be interested in my young adult novel."

That's all you need for the opener.**

Closing paragraph: After the blurb, I give the title, the genre, and the word count. (I also compare my novel to similar titles. I've heard some say NOT to do this, but I went George and did it.) Include a brief bio. And an invitation to request more.

Like this:

"A dystopian novel for young adults [genre], CONTROL ISSUES [title] is complete at 75,000 words [word count]. Fans of Lois Lowry’s THE GIVER and Suzanne Collins’ THE HUNGER GAMES will enjoy similar dystopian elements, and a strong teen voice. [comparison]

I am an elementary school teacher by day and a contributing author of the QueryTracker blog by night [brief bio]. If you would like to consider CONTROL ISSUES, I’d be happy to forward the complete manuscript to you. [invitation for more]
Thank you for your time and consideration,

Elana Johnson

[all contact info, including address and telephone number]"

They'll have your email address. And I use a signature on my email that has my personal blog address, my website address, and the QT blog address. (****I totally recommend the whole signature thing over pasting your blog stuff in the email.)

So with my two sentences [that sum up my book from beginning to end] this is what my potential query looks like:

Dear Personalized-to-Agent,

I recently read on the Markson Thoma website where you say you’re looking for “beautiful writing that immediately draws you in, and stories that stick with you long after you’re finished reading.” Because of this, I believe you would be interested in my young adult novel, CONTROL ISSUES.

In a world where Thinkers brainwash the population and Rules are not meant to be broken, fifteen-year-old Violet Schoenfeld does a hell of a job shattering them to pieces. When secrets about her “dead” sister and not-so-missing father hit the fan, Vi must make a choice: control or be controlled.

A dystopian novel for young adults, CONTROL ISSUES is complete at 75,000 words. Fans of Lois Lowry’s THE GIVER and Suzanne Collins’ THE HUNGER GAMES will enjoy similar dystopian elements, and a strong teen voice.

I am an elementary school teacher by day and a contributing author of the QueryTracker blog by night. If you would like to consider CONTROL ISSUES, I’d be happy to forward the complete manuscript to you.

Thank you for your time and consideration,

I seriously sent this query letter out to literary agents. I had multiple fulls requested from just those two sentences, an opening graf and a closing graf.

So no matter where you are in the novel-writing process add these pieces to your query! (Cuz you're crafting the query as you write the book, right? Right?? Right.) Next week I'll go over the dreaded middle. But by then, you'll have everything in place, and it'll be a piece of cake. Cake, baby!

What do you think? For a more in-depth look at "Everything Else" that should be in a query, I wrote a post for the QT blog way last year, and just recently The Author Bio.



**Special note: Some agents say to open with the title and word count. I cannot emphasize enough to do your research and arrange your paragraphs accordingly.

68 comments:

Bish Denham said...

Thanks for this Elana. I'm not so far off as I supposed.

lynnrush said...

Fantastic, Elana. Nicely written. Love how short and sweet it is. Thanks for the example.

:-)

Tamika: said...

Wow- you made this look effortless! I loved how you had comparisons included, nice touch.

Jess of All Trades said...

You are one of my new goddesses. Just so you know.

What type of incense should I burn in your honor?

:D

...sorry. That was creepy. I know. But this is seriously helpful. Still the easiest-to-follow query advice yet.

(And, I mean, I really will burn incense for you. But no sacrificing. Who do you think I am? ... ...unless you think it would help.)

JenniferWalkup said...

Great post and good for you for tackling such a painful and tough issue - haha. Query writing truly sucks.:)

Stephanie L. McGee said...

Great post! I'll bookmark this one for sure!

Tina Lynn said...

Yeah...you make this look way too easy. I'll just send you my info and you can write it for me, K? K.

Stina Lindenblatt said...

I tried the two sentence thing with mine, but it make it look more like a thriller and less like the character based-story that it is. Okay, the ending is a thriller, but it's necessary for the end of the emotional journey. ;)

On the bright side, after reading From The Query to The Call, I was inspired to write the hook for the book in my head. I had another project planned first, but I was so excited with the outcome, I'm going to work on my high-concept one first. Yay for your book!

Kelly said...

This is great stuff, Elana! And perfect timing for me...
Question: I've seen query letters with the synopsis in the first paragraph, too. Do you think the order matters significantly? (obviously if agent asks for certain way, it does, but if they just ask for a query letter)
Your first and last sentence post made my synopsis stronger already, thanks for more fab tips!

Michelle McLean said...

you are the Query Queen :) great post :)

Jonathon Arntson said...

I know that this is totally out of place and taking up spots on your comment roll, but is the book really similar to THE HUNGER GAMES and THE GIVER?!?! Cuz, girl, you probably got my next favorite book of all time in yo hands!

Okay, calm.

Kerri C at CK Farm said...

Wow, some good stuff here!

I think I can speak for everyone that we dub you Query Goddess!

Joshua said...

This is brilliant advice, mostly because I feel like I write too much in queries.

Thanks for it!

Southpaw said...

You are really helping to make queries seem not so scary.

Linda Kage said...

Love it! Thanks for the advice.

Eileen Astels Watson said...

Wow, Elana, I haven't been over here in ages it seems and boy am I missing out. Thanks for sharing such helpful information, girl!!

Karen said...

Easy peasy. Why don't more people love writing queries? Seriously, you have a gift for this!

Elana Johnson said...

Kelly, I don't think the order matters. (Unless the agent says so.) I put mine in the order I wanted because I'm a rebel like that. And I have personal preferences for what I like / think sounds right.

Jonathan, it really is The Hunger Games and The Giver. How weird would it be for me to say it was like those books if it wasn't? ;-)(Yeah, don't ever do that. And only compare your novel to books you've actually read. Word.) And thanks! I really like it. (Obviously.) :D

Thanks everyone! Next week is going to be the tough stuff, so maybe you should wait to bestow your goddess titles and burn the incense and stuff. Lol!

Janet Johnson said...

I agree with everyone who said you make it look easy. Now off to do my homework . . . :)

Nisa said...

I think it looks perfect! Now how to bottle it... *grin* I can't wait to use this oh so helpful information. Thank you!

Christina Lee said...

GOOD STUFF!!!! I'm working on it, girl!

Suzette Saxton said...

I think you are The Query Goddess. :D

Kristi said...

Wonderful advice as always -- still working on mine!

Erica said...

Great advice - thank you :o)

Donna Gambale said...

Thanks Elana! I'm working on the revision of my query letter currently, so perfect timing!

Shannon O'Donnell said...

This was so helpful - especially the examples modeling what you mean. Thanks, Elana! :-)

Brandon said...

I am going to have to go back and research all your posts once I'm query letter ready. This is great stuff. Thanks for the help, Elana!

P.S. Word verification is "fuggring". Another Mormon euphemism for an expletive, perhaps? :)

Carrie Harris said...

Nicely done! Now I've got somewhere to refer people when they ask me this question. :)

Because of course it's all about me. Snarf.

Jennie Englund said...

So good!

Now can you help me decide what goes in a 300-word description?

Stephanie Thornton said...

When I first started writing my query I poured over your blog posts. They were probably the most helpful reading I did on how to craft a query. And I'll throw modesty to the wind to say that I now have one that rocks!

Of course, I haven't sent it out yet. That's coming in a couple weeks!

Hilary Wagner ~ Writer said...

Elana,

I'm giving a workshop at the end of the month on landing an agent and how I did it. Will you come and hold my hand? :) You are truly brilliant! I hope I can give half as good a workshop as the wonderful info you provide on your blog!

xoxo -- Hilary

bettielee said...

Oh yes... **looks around** I'm writing that query sucker as I write the boo... oh who am I kidding.

**goes off looking for first and last sentence**

Jen said...

Thanks for posting this. I'm in the early stages of writing my novel, so I don't know a lot of the ins and outs of how to get my work "out there" once its ready to market.

Susan R. Mills said...

Thanks! This is very helpful. I have to bookmark this post.

Voidwalker said...

You seriously have a great skill in explaining and informing. Thank you very much for the effort you put in to this blog. You are awesome!

Love these tips!!

T. Anne said...

Elana, Your query rocks! Heck I'd request a full! This is a great example of a perfect query. Thanx for sharing. it's invaluable, really.

Carol Kilgore said...

I missed last week's query class so read down to catch up. This is the FIRST thing about queries I've read that makes sense. Thank you so much.

Kristen Torres-Toro said...

This is great, Elana! Thanks!

Gail said...

You are so good at advise-giving! I bet you're a dynamic teacher too!

Joanne said...

Great query! It really highlights the beauty of effective communication in few words. Agents seem so busy these days, so the brief, clear communication here just invites reading.

Jennifer Shirk said...

Great info. Thanks for sharing!

Heather said...

Thanks for sharing!

I was also happy to see that you recommend crafting your query as you write the novel! I'm in editing mode, and have been tweaking my query as I go (I think I wrote the first draft at about 30,000 words in). When I linked to a query critique contest on my blog and Twitter, I was surprised that people who I know have finished MSes said they didn't have a query they could enter. Good to know my way is just fine, and even right!

L.T. Elliot said...

These are pretty dang amazing posts, Elana. God bless you, that's for sure!

Kristi said...

I'm loving the "Elana" query method! Thank you for helping all of us that are admittedly horrible at this process!

Christina Farley said...

Great post! I am totally eating this stuff up. I was on your sight all afternoon using it as a resourse for my query!

Cheree said...

Great advise... you're making query writing seem 'almost' fun.

Alison Eckel said...

Of all the info I've read on how to write query letters ... yours is the best. Thanks!

Katie Ganshert said...

I wish you would have posted this stuff BEFORE I found an agent. Uber helpful stuff, girl! :)

Steena Holmes said...

All I'm going to do is this ((SMOOCHES)). Thank you!

Jemi Fraser said...

It seems so easy when someone else does it!!

I've been playing around with my hook & 2nd sentence all week. Haven't got it nailed yet, but it's coming along.

Cindy said...

Super great advice here--I am definitely going to refer back to this post in the future. In my last query I worked it down to four short paragraphs like this and I think it's helped immensely.

Robyn Campbell said...

But Elana, I thought that you were supposed to ALWAYS begin with the title and word count. So you are telling me that it's different for different agents? ARGH, GAH!

Do you advice crafting two query letters then? You know one with it in front and one with it towards the bottom. HELP!

Jeff King said...

Thx so much, and keep it coming.

Terri Tiffany said...

OK --I just redid mine! thanks!

Jessica said...

Great example Elana! Thanks.

Mariah Irvin said...

Write the query as you write the book, you say? Oops. I better get on that!

Amber Tidd Murphy said...

Couldn't star this is my reader fast enough.

Thanks for a brillant post! This actually inspires me to keep writing and finish my ms, because I'm stoked to query!

Sharon Mayhew said...

Elana--Great post! I agree with your post. The more concise my query the more interest I've had in my work. You need to post this over at YALITCHAT.

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

Great query! Your example will really prove helpful for everyone trying to write an effective query letter...

Elizabeth
Mystery Writing is Murder

Jemi Fraser said...

Oops. Forgot to tell you I've left you an award over at my blog :)

Roni @ FictionGroupie said...

Great tips. What are your thoughts on just opening with the hook paragraph? This is what I've typically done and have had good success with getting requests.

Also, you have a little gift over on my blog today. :)

Elana Johnson said...

Robyn, I have a few saved versions, but mostly with pages after them. I really only changed my paragraphs around once, when I was querying a specific agent. I know, I know, people say to ALWAYS do this or ALWAYS do that. Yeah, I don't ALWAYS do anything.

And in a query letter, it makes more sense to me to start with something more personal than the title of my book. Maybe my brain is hardwired wrong, but I don't think anyone is going to reject you if you put your title, genre and word count below the blurb. I think they just want it in there.

But do the research. I know of one agent who wants that stuff first. I simply copied and pasted, so it's no big thing. Don't stress!

Roni, I've heard of people opening with just the hook. Slamming the agent right into it, so to speak. I think that's just fine. If it "feels right" to you, do it!!

Going to check out the awards -- I'm so honored!

ali said...

I've said it before, and I'll say it again.

Thou art the Queen of the Query and I worship at thy feet.

VR Barkowski said...

This is so helpful, Elana. Really clean and clear. Thank you! Now if I could just figure out a way to manage it with two protagonists, both with really long, but important, titles.

Eva said...

That was really helpful. I'm ripping my hair out over my query at the moment. I need to strip it down to the basics.

Melanie Avila said...

I have saved this for future reference. I think I "get" query letters, but this breaks it down better than I've seen it anywhere else.

Thank you!

Solvang Sherrie said...

You make it look so easy! Thanks for the tips :)

Lesley said...

You are so fabulous for sharing your insights and HARD WORK! Great letter! I've only written query letters for a nonfiction book I wrote. In light of what you've suggested I'm going to think mine over again.
Thanks!

See Elana's recent blog posts

Recent Posts Widget