Part 1: Tip of the iceberg
Query letters are hard.
Harder than writing the book itself, and almost as hard as the synopsis (I’ll probably write a post on synopsaises sometime. After an antacid and alot of whisky).
For the most part, your query should read like the inside flap of a book. It makes the agent want to read more. Don’t give away the twist ending (you’ll do that in the synopsis. Did I mention the synopsis was a b***h?).
It was anything but another day in the sixth lower plane of torment when Beelzebub woke up with a halo
This is crucial: HOOK ME IN THE FIRST LINE (OR TWO).
Line and sinker, too
Agents claim to get hundreds or trillions queries every second. And most also claim to know, after the first margin at least, if they care about your project. So make it interesting. Unique. Gripping. Or write in the agent’s home address and include a picture of their pet hamster. My point is, get them to read the rest of it.
In a world where Galileo spotted an alien message in the stars, what else could ruin an opening like a rhetorical question?
Don’t start with an open-ended question. It’s cliché and some agents hate it. If you start your query with “What would YOU do if…”, the answer is “Rewrite my opening line.”
Dave must save Ruthie from the evil cyborg Schnozbot before his mother, Voldermom, can destroy the planet Omicron Persei Four.
Holy crap that’s alot of names to remember. Try to keep things as simple as possible. You can name people in the actual story, if you can get me to read some pages. What I need to know is your protagonist’s name. For now we’ll just call the love interest “The cute guy in fourth period with wings”? Now I know something interesting about him, but I don’t need to remember yet another name for later.
“These are all named characters. Let’s start with the guy on the left…”
If you were selling Fellowship of the Ring, you could probably call Gimli a “Dwarf companion” and Legolas “Some elf chick.” You’d only really need to mention the protagonist’s name: Samwise Gamgee. Just keep it as simple as possible.
This book is way better than Twilight or the Bible
Whoa. Whoa, whoa whoa. Do not badmouth anybody. Ever. Even if you made it cute or funny, don’t. Seriously. I cannot stress this enough.
Comparing yourself to existing works is okay as long as it sounds like, “Fans of Jonathon Franzen will love my novel THE HUNT FOR RED HAWKTOBER”. See how that doesn’t disparrage Mr. Franzen?
BECAUSE EVEN IF THE AGENT YOU’RE WRITING TO DOESN’T REPRESENT AN AUTHOR, HE’S PROBABLY RELATED TO THE AGENT WHO DOES
The publishing industry is like one pea in a pod. Intimate, let’s say. Hell, 90% of them live in NYC. All in one little town! Remember that!
And that’s everything you need to know. Everything. Okay, there may be more.