I recently did another round of Hook Me, an exercise I do with my followers where they send in fake query letters and I critique them.
A query letter is a short summary of your novel (a “hook”) that is used to pitch a novel to an agent or editor. Anyone who wants to get published needs to know how to write one.
So here are problems I saw in the majority, though not all, of the query letters I received.
1. My Story Is About…
Don’t use any of the following phrases in your query letter:
- My story is about…
- My story features…
- This story is…
- The main character is…
- Throughout the story these characters encounter…
- This story features themes such as…
- This story has characters who are…
- In a world where…
When writing a query letter, every word counts. Just jump right into it. Instead of starting with:
- My story is about a spiteful, long-haired kitchen manager named Abbie who must track down the vampire who bit her and kill him to avoid becoming one herself.
- Abbie was just bitten by a vampire. To remain human, she must track down the one that bit her and kill him before the seven-day transformation can be completed.
And let the story speak for itself. Don’t just tell me that your story features the trials of friendship or that you have three lgbt characters or that it deals with heavy themes. Show me. In the manuscript.
2. Unnecessary Character Descriptions
I don’t need to know that the main character is a red-haired spunky teenager with three piercings and freckles and a knack for math. I don’t need to know these useless details.
Only tell me what I need to know about this character. What is relevant to the plot? To their motive? One of the few descriptors that you can add that may not be entirely relevant would be the age of the main character.
3. Comparing Your Story to The Wrong Thing
Your story is not like Star Wars or Harry Potter or Twilight or The Hunger Games. Nor will your story appeal to any of those audiences.
Those audiences have millions of people. Many of those people fall outside of the initial target audiences. Many of those people don’t particularly like fantasy or sci-fi or vampires or anything like that, but when something gets as popular as the series above, it draws all kinds of people.
Don’t compare your story to some of the biggest franchises in the world. This doesn’t tell agents or editors anything about your target audience. It can also show you don’t really know your genre. If you write a sci-fi and only compare it to Star Trek and Star Wars, then it’s likely you haven’t read a lot of sci-fi.
4. Vague Blurbs
I don’t need a blurb or a vague logline. I’m not sure why you would include one. Unless you’re writing a screenplay, you really do not need one at this stage.
5. Too Much
I need the protagonist and the main conflict. That’s it. Don’t give me the back story of every major character. Don’t tell me about subplots. Don’t tell me ¾ of the book.
And do not tell me the ending. Never tell the ending in a query. The point is to hook someone. You’re trying to get someone to read your story. You’re trying to intrigue them. Telling me the ending does not do that.
Also falling into this category is too many details. You need to learn how to cut down that background information into succinct sentences. Only give what is necessary. You shouldn’t spend a whole paragraph describing your protagonist and their world before you even mention the main conflict.
6. Too Little
In contrast with #5, some of you did not give me enough information. Or, at least, the information you gave was vague.
I need to know the plot. Describing the protagonist and the themes and some of the other characters and how their friendships might be in danger does not tell me anything. I don’t care about their relationships yet. I need to know the actual conflict.
7. Did Not Follow Directions
When writing a query letter or when submitting your writing, you have to follow directions.
If you wanted a private critique, I asked you to put “private” in the title. I didn’t say to put it in the body. I also asked you to keep your submissions open so I could reply. Few people followed these directions.
It may seem nitpicky to complain about this, but you have to follow directions when submitting something.
Some people ignore anything that ignores directions because they have a lot of submissions to get through and it’s an easy way to filter out people they don’t want a business relationship with.
Some people need certain words in the subject line so that submissions don’t end up in the spam folder or so the interns know which submissions to open.
Follow the directions. Show that you’re serious enough about writing that you took the time to read the directions.
8. Lack of Voice
Your letters need to have a strong voice. The mood and pacing needs to match the book. If you’re writing a query letter for a murder mystery, the voice should be suspenseful.
Putting this here for later!~