Query tips from Backspace

As you may or may not know, I carry approximately 10 multi-colored sharpies with me everywhere. So I take multi-colored notes. I originally had this awesome idea that I would write my Backspace blogs like I write my notes- in shapes and underlines and some huge letters and some all caps and alllllll messy.

But then I thought better of it. That sounds like a nightmare.

So I’m going to give you an adapted version of that- mostly easy-to-read with some interjections from my “real” notes.

Here’s some stuff that I learned about querying! Some of it is from a panel, some of it from the query workshop. For all you non-writer folks out there, a query is a “Hey! Read my awesome book!” letter that authors send to agents in order to get them interested. But I’m not going to tell you how to write one, I’m going to give you a few things I learned on how to tweak the query letter most writers already have.

So here goes…

* Don’t compare yourself to really extra famous people. Like Faulkner and stuff. If you just can’t avoid it (because let’s face it, you could be the next Faulkner), say something like, “This may appeal to the fans of…”

* Put on a marketing hat! You are a writer-marketer machine who believes in your book!

* Don’t tell the agent the state of the marketplace (“You know, YA is reaaalllly popular right now…”) They already know. It’s their job to know.

* Pique their interest- don’t tell the end! Save that for the synopsis.

* “This meets that” can be helpful, but again, don’t do a “Harry Potter meets The Hunger Games.”

* A tagline is awesome. Or a logline. Try to sum all the cool stuff up into one sentence and then stick it at the beginning or the end. (The current version of mine? “A terrorist-created genetic disease has turned 16-year-old Angela Brandt’s blood to acid. Now a government-backed agency has her friends’ names, a sadistic scientist has a grudge, and all Angela has is a weapon she doesn’t fully understand.”)

* The second paragraph is not a summary! “This is the paragraph where you show us how you write.” So it’s important! And did you hear me? It’s not a summary!* More important than genre- Know your audience! Who is going to want to read this?

* Voice is freaking important!

* What is voice? Here are some direct agent-y quotes: “It’s believable, intriguing.” “Someone you want to live with.” “Unique,” “I don’t read it in my own voice anymore.” “It what makes your characters come alive on the page.”

* How do you get voice? “Harness your own uniqueness.” Every human is inherently unique! So write like you and you will have a voice.


And the very best query advice I got is this: 

The heart of your query is the STAKES, not the PLOT.  So only give enough plot to get to the heart of the stakes. They don’t want to know the plot! They want to know what’s at risk! They want to know why they should care about this story, not that they should care about this story! You can check out my Bleeder page if you want to see how my query changed after this advice.

The query panels/workshop were amazingly helpful. I feel so much more confident about my new query, now that I know what people are looking for!

Hey writers and fellow Backspacers- what’s the most challenging thing about your own query? What piece of advice broke the whole query mystery wide open?


2 thoughts on “Query tips from Backspace

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