Monday, July 09, 2012

Every query letter must have this one thing

I counted the words just to make sure: 471

Then I read the query again, just to make sure. Nope. In all those words not a one tells me what the book is about.

On the other hand I do know this: the title; that you believe it is the cat's pajamas; the size of the market is women everywhere; you're going to write more; you'll go on TV to promote it; and, of course, the number of pages in the manuscript.

This is an easy pass.

If you're having trouble with this part of the query letter, step back a moment. Write this sentence down: My book is about (write down what book is about) 

Then write: My main character's name is: 

Then write:  s/he must: (followed by a verb) 

Then write: My antagonist is: name.  S/he wants to thwart (main character's name) goal by: verb.


Obviously this is a first draft and you'll need to revise and polish but at the very least you'll give an agent reading your query a sense of what the book is about.

If you're writing non-fiction  you still need an overview of what the book is about.

If you don't tell me what your book is about, it's game over.

17 comments:

Jane | @janelebak said...

I can still see messing it up, even with a template. :-) "My book is about the lies women tell themselves. My main character is Jennifer and she must embark on a jorney of self-discovery to heal the wounds of her past while her sister Michelle will do everything in her power to preserve the delicate balance of lies that enables her to cope with their shared history."

It's an easy mistake to make, sadly.

Wry Wryter said...

You do know hundreds will post today based on your template or is that what you really want?
Because if it is...I'm in.

Wry Wryter said...

And then again, maybe I'm wrong. Perhaps my assumptions are based on desperation.

Jeez that sounds pathtic.

Oh well, the whole antagonist's thing...had to rethink that.

It's a good day when I learn something. At my age think how smart I'd be, and happy, if I had learned something every day.

Right now I've learned to shut up.

Janet Reid said...

Jane, bad as that example is, and it's pretty terrible, it's better than what I received.

Really.

Wry, you'd be surprised how many people get tripped up by "who is the antagonist?" when I do query workshops, or pitch sessions.

Redleg said...

Oooh! A Mad Lib!

"My book is about robots.

My main character's name is DJ Off The Heezy.

He must wiggle.

My antagonist is Slappy the Squanderer. She wants to thwart DJ Off The Heezy's goal by fart."

Jane | @janelebak said...

I'm sorry, I'll be more vague next time. "Everything conspires against her"?

Colin Smith said...

Would it not be right to say that the antagonist need not be a person? In a story where the MC has a terminal illness and must complete a quest before s/he dies, the antagonist could be the illness, or time itself. An example of illness-as-antagonist that jumps to mind is THE FAULT IN OUR STARS by John Green.

Elissa M said...

I agree that an antagonist does not have to be a "person", but you still need to reveal what you main character wants, how she intends to achieve her goal, and what is stopping her. Even if you have these things, the query might be a pass for a gazillion other reasons, but at least the agent (and you) will know what your book is about.

DSH said...

I didn't think this was a call for submissions in the comments section, but I'm wrong once or twice a week. I could be off on that time frame.

pjcasselman said...

My book is about this person who goes and does this really cool thing. It's part Harry Potter and part Catcher in the Rye. I gave it to a guy I know who said it was very brilliant. My mom loves it. She's a woman just like you, so you should love it too. If you become my agent, I'll send chocolate. Oh and it's a fictional novel<-- I almost forgot that. Do you forget things too? I knew there was a connection because my numerologist told me you were the right one.

How's that? :-P

GillyB said...

My book is about how guilt can tear you to pieces. My main character's name is Chrysanthemum. She must learn how to not feel guilty about things that happened in the past so she is no longer ripped to shreds by the specter of darkness cast over her by her actions. My antagonist is Ezekiel. He wants to thwart Chrysanthemum's goal by not letting her learn how to not feel guilty about things that happened in the past so she is forever ripped to shreds by the specter of darkness cast over her by her actions.

Nobody ever said writing was easy.

BTW, my captcha word is gladvcr- and I sure am glad we don't have VCRs anymore. Though what the heck am I going to do with all these old Disney tapes??

Andrea Dalling said...

One can only hope that writers will know how to take these sample sentences and construct elegant paragraphs out of them.

BTW, for some reason, the Twitter button on this page reads "Suivre @Janet_Reid." On parle francais ici? Or perhaps it's just me.

Fred said...

If I tell you what it's about, it'll spoil it! :)

Bonnee Crawford said...

Isn't the main point of sending a query to tell your agent what your book is about and convince them that the STORY is good? Silly people... that's a good basic formula to use, I might bookmark this and come back to it when I'm ready to start querying... :)

Sundi Jo said...

Well said.

kbrebes said...

OMGOSH. Thank you for helping me to tweak mine. I thought there wasn't a book 2, but there's a FABULOUS book 2 and probably a 3! I LOVE it!

Graeme Smith said...

Lady Shark

Er - as far as I remember, I only covered Segorian's name (blushes). But you let me get away with it - that once, anyway :-).

The Idiot