We all hate writing queries, almost as much as writing the awful synopsis. Some queries get dumped without any real thought from the agent because of some really basic errors. Here’s a few to avoid:
First, a query isn’t a commercial. It’s tough, because everyone has to do this promotion stuff we all hate and most of us stink at. But certain things don’t sell your book. Such as saying, “You’ll laugh, you’ll cry …” Think about it: If you’ve heard it a million times before, think how many times the editor/agent/publisher has heard it. You don’t want to sound like a used-car salesman. And they have to wonder, if you’re using such trite language in the query, how bad is the book? Fresh language, people. You’re selling your ability to write as much as your story.
Second, compare your book to a famous novel with extreme caution. If you say, “the Harry Potter of today!” or “If you loved ______, you’ll really love my book,” you are setting up some high expectations. Face it, your book probably isn’t as good as Harry Potter. By making the comparison, you pretty much just said, “a second-rate copycat of Harry Potter.” Next!
Big Mistake number three is not telling the agent what the book is really about. This is tough, again, because you only get one page to sell your book, and you don’t have room to tell every little plot twist. However, “leaving them curious” is not a good idea. They would have to be extremely curious, way more curious than they are irritated that you haven’t told them what the book is about.
And don’t forget voice! The voice in your query should match the voice of the book. It’s like a mini-taste of what the agent would be getting if they ask for a full. If it’s a southern-fried chick lit book, your query should have that feel, that language. It’s a selling point — don’t leave a selling point unused.
Another big query killer is simply querying the wrong person. If the agent represents only adult romance, why are you querying with a YA romance? If she hates books longer than 100k, why are you sending your 225k epic? All of that information is right there on the agent’s website. I know, you’ve sent the thing to twenty-five agents. Don’t make it obvious it’s a spam query by not looking up a particular agent’s wish list and hate list. And if the agent calls to talk about the book, shouldn’t you know some authors she represents and successes she’s had? It lengthens the process, but sometimes quality is more important than quantity.
And don’t forget the hook. You should have a hook anyway, because eventually you’ll need a tagline for your book (you know, that sentence on the front cover at the top, something like, “Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water …”) Getting the agent is only the first step to getting published. You’ll need that back-cover copy. You’ll need that tagline. You’ll need a short synopsis. Write them before you query, and steal from them like a thief when you’re writing the query. They focus your promotional writing and will help you write a better query.
Forget the cheesy sales pitch, forget the gimmick. Write what you love about your book, just between you and you, and then see if you can punch it up for the query. Focus on what’s unique, and use the freshest language possible.