What Makes a Good Fiction Query?
Blogger: Michelle Ule
Part 2 of 3
Yesterday I explained how our agency’s query system works and why. Today I’m going to look at what makes us enthusiastic about a fiction query.
First, the numbers.
I chose a random month in 2011 and did a statistical analysis of the types of queries we received.
75% of the projects were fiction.
Of those projects, fully 19% weren’t suitable for Books & Such because of content, subject matter or language choices.
In addition, 19% were for paranormal, science fiction, or picture books, all of which we tend not to represent. 6% were fantasy.
5% were apparently the work of writers who didn’t understand their genre, word count parameters or basic literary methodology (as in, they didn’t spell query correctly).
Also worth noting, 11% were YA or middle grade books, 5% were memoirs and 4% told stories of some form of abuse. 4% were romance, 2% mystery and 5% suspense.
What does that mean for you if you have a fiction project?
Do your homework.
Whatever agency you query, make sure that agent represents the type and genre you’re writing. Our submissions requirements are listed here.
That means you need to be aware of what titles are selling in your particular category or genre–along with why and for how long. Amazon is a great place to get a feel for what genres are the most popular.
Since it generally takes 12-18 months between contract of a project and publication, you need to be looking beyond current popularity to what may be coming ahead. In other words, you want to be on the front end of the popularity wave, not the back end.
We often get requests from writers who tell us they can write anything, just tell them what sells and they’ll write it. That doesn’t sound as though the writer is creating what he/she is passionate about.
We tell writers to write the story God places on your heart–because that’s what you’re passionate about, and you need passion to tell your story well.
What gets our attention?
It starts with the subject line.
Let’s say you have a project you want our agent, Rachel Kent, to consider. You could write a subject line like this: Query Rachel Kent: New Jane Austen novel.
Anyone who follows Rachel’s blog posts knows she loves Jane Austen. She might even open that query first.
Fiction queries that catch our attention begin with a compelling hook that makes us want to read further. That’s basic. You need to capture our imaginations and/or intrigue us. If it’s appropriate, we enjoy subtle humor. A question can work as long as you’re pretty sure you know how the reader will respond. (Sports questions tend not to work well with most of our agents.) Your first paragraph, after you spell our name correctly, can be that one sentence hook.
A query is a short, selling pitch. If one of us likes what we hear, we’ll want to know more. Keep that in mind when putting together your hook.
For the second paragraph, briefly describe your story and tell us the genre. You, the writer, are a craftsperson trying to sell us on your idea. We’re a business trying to decide if you have a salable project based on our information about the very tight marketplace.
Your genre and short description tell us if you understand the publishing world. If you don’t know the project’s genre, how can you write in a way that fits the genre? Cross-genre projects tend not to work for us.
Once we understand what your project is about, we want to know who you are. What makes you a good scribbler for this project? Briefly describe your reason for writing the book. Intrigue us with both you and your personal angle on the subject. Briefly describe your publishing history.
But be succinct. Details belong in the proposal; the query is just a way to catch our attention and show us if you can write well.
Finish up by telling us how you heard about us, what sort of platform you might have for selling your manuscripts, and if you have any pertinent experience.
And remember. You’re a writer. We’re watching how you use words, what pictures you paint, your personal warmth and confidence. You only get one first impression. Make it a good one.
What makes you want to read a book? How can you translate those components into a query that makes us want to read your manuscript?
Where do you look to find out information about genres, markets and the publishing world?