Perhaps the most feared thing after a synopsis for writers is the query letter.
Mostly because it has so much riding on it. It’s your chance to make a good impression on an agent or publisher, and you only have a few paragraphs to do it.
You want your query to lead to a request for your manuscript; it needs to be strong, interesting, and not feature any of these don’ts.
Query Letter Don’ts
1. Don’t talk about yourself more than the project you’re pitching. The agent/publisher needs to know about your book first. You, second.
2. Don’t skimp on story hooks. A hook is called such for a reason; it hooks the reader and makes them want to read more. If your query doesn’t mention at least one hook, rewrite it so it does.
3. Don’t give away too much. Yes, this contradicts the last point, but even though you need to give enough info/hooks to spike interest, you also need to balance that with not giving away too much. The reaction you want is for the agent/publisher to want to read more, not surmise your whole plot from your query and give it a pass for being predictable.
4. Don’t fall victim to unnecessary details. The query is not the place to explain how the world/magical/system/time travel rules that govern your novel work, or how every character looks. Hint at these things if it’s necessary and forms a great hook. If not, leave it for the synopsis/manuscript.
5. Don’t forget the stakes. Compelling reads are compelling because of the stakes. A query is not the place to talk about your MC ending his senior year with a huge exam, it’s the place to talk about what he will lose if he fails that final exam. What is at stake for your characters in your novel? Include it in the query.
6. Don’t neglect your main character. You don’t need to (and shouldn’t) mention every character in your query, but you need to give the agent/publisher someone to root for. Make them connect with your MC and make them care/become curious about what happens to them.
7. Don’t make your query a massive block of text. Break it up into paragraphs. Focus the first two or three on your story, one on genre and word count, and the final paragraph on your author bio (if you want to include one).
8. Don’t forget to give them a call to action. Sign off with an “I’d be thrilled to send you a full manuscript”. Put the idea in their head to request more. End with a polite “thank you for your time” and you have yourself a query letter.
The hardest query you’ll ever send is the first one. After that, it gets easier. As does regularly updating said query letter so the best version is landing in agent inboxes, just waiting for that elusive ‘yes’.
— K.M. Allan