I attended Elana Johnson's fabulous query workshop last week and got some great information (aside from the illegal candy that got me through the afternoon/evening). It inspired me to rethink my query.
As a general rule, writers hate queries. I'm no exception. But it's good to have an outline of what a query should have. Now, everything Elana taught us is copyrighted and I can't share it with you. Sorry! But I can share with you my knowledge of queries--and how it's improved.
First, your intro. Here is where you want to address the agent you're querying and tell them why you're querying them. I.E. "I read that you are looking for boy fiction" or "your agency is looking for writers to grow with them." Basically you want the agent to know that you sought them out for a reason. So if you don't have a reason, find one. This is also where you usually say your novel title, genre, and word count.
Second, your hook. This is kind of a one-sentence summary of your novel. You want to get it into your query as quickly as possible. Maybe at the end of the intro, or maybe a one-sentence paragraph right after. Ask yourself this: "What makes this story more interesting than the last romance/mystery/YA/thriller that this agent read? What is the whole point to my novel?"
Third, set the scene. Lay out in 3-5 sentences who your MC is, where this is, what's going on. Give the agent a picture of your book. (Figuratively.) You want YOUR VOICE to sneak into this paragraph. I've heard lots of people advise writing this and the next paragraph from you MC's POV so you get the right voice. Then change it back to the POV of your query, keeping the voice. I've tried it and it worked for me!
Fourth, the conflict. Your next paragraph should tell us what your MC wants and what obstacles are in the way. This is the reason you have a book and not a travelogue! (I hope it's okay to mention here that Elana said NOT TO FORGET THE CONSEQUENCE.) What happens to your MC if the conflict isn't resolved?
And fifth, your closing. This is where you mention all the great things you've accomplished as a writer. Probably not a good place to mention the five books you self-pubbed and only sold 30 copies of. If you have no bragging rights, leave it out. No problem. Be sure and tell your agent if this book is completed or not (which is silly to me, because nobody in their right mind would query if it weren't finished)!
Don't forget your contact information! And if you want to make your book title POP, put it in all caps instead of italics.
And finally, just to ice the cake, I'm going to make up a query following these examples.
Dear Heidi Bogart,
Since your website says you are looking for dramatic women's fiction, I thought you would be interested in my novel ROCK THE BOAT, a romantic drama that takes place in the 1980s. Carmen and Justin work hard to keep their marriage intact after a coworker begins to show an interest in Justin, and he finds himself returning it.
Carmen meets Justin on a starry night after a lakeside barbecue, and she thinks that romantic kiss in the moonlight meant they would love each other forever. Justin takes Carmen to a beautiful house in the country, where she spends all her time doing what she wants. She doesn't see much of Justin, but as he says, it's his job that keeps her at home with the kids.
But then Carmen finds the sexy text messages in his phone, she realizes that he isn't working late for the money. Furious, she starts her own investigation. What she discovers is that she doesn't want to lose him. So she does the only thing she can think of: Carmen fakes her own kidnapping. She just wants him to come and find her. And if he does, she has a special reunion planned.
ROCK THE BOAT is complete at 58,000 words. The full manuscript is available upon request. Thank you for your time!
231 Ingletree Ave.
Beha, OH 89789
And here's a video that made me laugh and cry and inspired me to write that silly query.