Focus on what happens instead. Writing about your background (your bio note) For novelists, especially unpublished ones, you dont have to include a bio in your query if you cant think of anything worth sharing. But its nice to put in something. . The key to every detail in your bio is: Will it be meaningful—or perhaps charming—to the agent/editor? If you cant confidently answer yes, leave it out. In order of importance, these are the categories of pertinent info.
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Bridget Bolands doula, an emotionally controversial novel about a doula with a sixth sense protagonist who, while following her calling, has to confront a dark and uncertain future when standing trial for the death of her best friends baby protagonists problem a doula with a sixth sense? John Hornor Jacobss southern gods, in which a memphis DJ protagonist hires a recent World War ii veteran to find a mysterious bluesman whose music protagonists problem — broadcast at ever-shifting frequencies by a phantom radio station — is said to make living men insane and dead men rise twist plan Check. You may be going into too much detail. Does your hook reveal the ending of your book? Only the synopsis should do that. Does your hook mention more than three characters? Usually you only need to mention the protagonist(s a romantic interest or sidekick, and the antagonist. Does your hook get into minor plot points that dont affect the choices the protagonist makes? Do you really need to mention them? Does your hook talk about the story, rather than telling the story? Dont get bogged down in how you wrote the book event or what its themes are.
Whenever I teach a class where we critique hooks, just about everyone can point out the hooks problems and talk about how to improve them. Because when youre not the writer, you have distance from the work. When you do outsiders come across a great novel hook, it feels so natural and easy—like it was effortless to write. Examples of brief story hooks every day, publishersMarketplace lists book deals that were recently signed at major New York houses. It identifies the title, the author, the publisher/editor who bought the project, and the agent who sold. It also offers a one-sentence description of the book. These hooks are inevitably well-crafted, and can help you better understand what hooks really excite agents/publishers. While your query hook would get into more detail than the following two examples, these hooks help illustrate how much you can accomplish in just a line or two.
In laurie scheers The Writers Advantage, she well demonstrates the difference between a boring story hook and an exciting one: I have heard an eternity of pitches featuring women thesis as victims, survivors, single mothers, etc. If someone pitches me a story about a 43-year-old unmarried woman who has had a successful career in advertising or law or pharmaceuticals or whatever, and decides at the last minute that her biological clocks ticking and she wants to have a child i will. And there is no rest of the story, because in their mind, that is their story. To which I say, who cares? Seriously, who will care about that storyline? We have seen numerous stories about women wanting to have children later in life. I could produce a list at least two pages long consisting of books and movies with this plot line. However, if one of the main characters is a 43-year-old single businesswoman having her first child and, at the same time, her 22-year-old niece is also having her first child—because the niece does not see the benefit of having a career and only wants.
The protagonist feels one-dimensional (or like every other protagonist the story angle is something weve seen too many times, and the premise doesnt even raise an eyebrow. The agent or editor is thinking, sigh. Another one of these? This is the toughest part of the hook—finding that special je ne sais quoi that makes someone say, wow, ive got to see more of this! And this is often how an editor or agent gauges if youre a storyteller worth spending time. Sometimes great hooks can be botched because there is no life, voice, or personality in them. . Sometimes so-so hooks can be taken to the next level because they convey a liveliness or personality that is seductive.
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Comparing yourself to a current New York times bestselling author can come across as arrogant or too easy; its better to demonstrate a nuanced understanding of where your book falls in the literary landscape. Crafting the story hook, for most writers, the hook does all of the work in convincing the agent/editor to request your manuscript. You need to boil down your story to these key elements: The protagonist(s) The protagonists conflict and/or the choices the protagonist has to make (the stakes) The sizzle sometimes its important to clarify the setting or time period; science fiction and fantasy writers may need. You can think of the hook in terms of: what does your character want, why does she want it, what keeps her from getting it? As you convey this information, you want to give a sense of why we care about this character and why were going to be compelled by them. The sizzle is that merits thing that sets your work apart from others in your genre, that makes your story stand out, that makes it uniquely yours.
Sizzle means: This idea isnt tired or been done a million times before. How do you know if your idea is tired? Well, this is why everyone tells writers to read and read and read. It builds your knowledge and experience of whats been done before in your genre, as well as the conventions. When a hook is well written but boring, its often because it lacks anything fresh. Its the same old formula without distinction.
You need to go further than that, and say something that cant be added to every query letter you send. Here i comment further on whether to personalize your query. Identifying what youre selling, your books title, word count, and genre can be stated upfront, although sometimes its better to wait until the end of the query to spell out this information. Everyone knows your book title is tentative, so you dont have to explicitly state the title is tentative. If your novels word count is much higher than 100,000 words, you have a bigger challenge ahead of you.
Eighty thousand words is the industry standard for a debut novel. See this post for a definitive list of appropriate word counts by genre. If you have an off-putting word count, some agents recommend withholding this fact until the end of the letter, once youve potentially hooked them. If youre unsure of your genre, you can leave out any mention of it; however, in such a case, i recommend drawing a comparison between your book and another (hopefully recent) title. You can say that your book is written in the same manner or style as another specific book or author, or that it has a similar tone or theme. Just be careful of overdoing. One or two comparisons should be more than enough, and the more thoughtful the comparison, the better.
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Still, it can set you book apart from the large majority of writers querying—if review its done meaningfully, and thats the point. Heres an example of a decent, personalized lead. In a january interview at the guide to literary Agents blog, you praised. The Thirteenth Tale and indicated an interest in literary fiction with a genre plot. Moonlight Dancer (85,000 words) blends a literary style with the romance tradition. If you personalize the query by saying, i found you. Writers Market, and you add nothing else, thats not a meaningful context.
However, very few fiction writers begin their query by talking about themselves because most are unpublished. (This isnt a problem, though.). Many writers dont have referrals or conference meetings to fall back on, so the worth hook becomes the lead for the query letter. Some writers start simple and direct, which is fine: my title is an 80,000-word supernatural romance. Personalizing the query letter: yes or no? Your query is a sales tool, and good salespeople develop a rapport with the people they want to sell to, and show that they understand their needs. Its helpful when you can show that youve done your homework, show that you care, and show that youre not blasting indiscriminately. However, you will not be rejected if you dont personalize your query.
those elements—keep reading! Opening your query letter, you should put your best foot forward, or lead with your strongest selling point. Here are the most common ways to begin a query: maybe youve been vouched for or referred by an existing client or author; mention the referral right away. If you met the agent/editor at a conference or pitch event, and your material was requested, then put that upfront. When youve heard the agent/editor speak at a conference, or you read an interview or post that indicates theyre a good fit for your work, mention. Starting with your story hook is a classic opening, but of course the hook should be compelling (more on this later). Published or credentialed writers may mention their track record, especially if theyve won awards or received an mfa from a well-known school.
But what if Im two-thirds of the way done? Or, What if the manuscript is currently being copyedited and its almost finished? Well, sure, you can query if you want. But what will you do if the agent/editor immediately asks for a partial or full manuscript, and you dont have it? You may end up rushing your writing or editing process (undesirable to say the least or admitting to the agent/editor that it will take you x weeks or months to follow up, which makes you look foolish. To avoid creating a high-pressure or awkward situation, i recommend you wait until you feel the manuscript is totally done—the best you can make. That really doesnt mean you have to hire freelance editors or copyeditors or proofreaders, but it does mean fixing or revising anything you know needs attention. 5 basic elements of every query letter. I recommend that every query letter include these elements, in no particular order (except the closing What youre selling: genre/category, word count, title/subtitle.
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This post was originally published in 2014; it is regularly updated with new information. If youre seeking one-on-one help with queries, i offer a critique service. The query letter has one purpose, and one purpose only: to seduce business the agent or editor into reading or requesting your work. The query letter is so much of a sales piece that you should be able to write it without having written a single word of the manuscript. For some writers, it represents a completely different way of thinking about your book—it means thinking about your work as a product. . And it helps to have some distance from your work to see its salable qualities. This post focuses on query letters for novels, although much the same advice applies for memoirists as well; nonfiction book queries are addressed here. Before you query, novelists should have a finished and polished manuscript before they begin querying. Even though I repeat this recommendation again and again, numerous writers ask if theyre the exception.