This is post 2 in the series of How to get a Literary Agent.Read Part 1 here.
This week we’re tackling one of the most difficult issues of the writing life: the query.
I love queries. That might sound weird, but I’ve loved them ever since I’ve learned to write them. I particularly recommend the guide that you get when you sign up for Susan Dennard’s newsletter on her site, and here you go through the same principle.
We’re tackling queries, from beginning to end.
As an example, I’m using my own query that got me my agent. It’s not a perfect query (perfect queries are hard), but it fits enough all that we should look for in a query. This book not only got me my agent, but my first book deal. You can add it to goodreads here. I’m keeping the original title for the query, but this book now is called THE LAST 8.
Let’s get to it!
Always start with “Dear Agent Name”. Make sure you’ve addressed them the right way, with their prefered pronouns, etc. Begin introducing a little about yourself and your manuscript, but don’t give away too much. I usually start with why I queried the agent in the first place. So it looks a little like this:
I’m querying you because I read in your twitter that you’re interested in represeting authors from marginalized backgrounds, as well as would like a book about girls in STEM. As such, I thought you’d like my novel, THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT EARTH.
You’ve got an introduction, why you’re querying said agent, and the title of your novel. Keep it short and simple. The parts in italic is what you can change and adapt for your own needs, and tailor it specifically to each agent you’re querying on your list, and why you think you’re a good fit for their list. Also notice your title in caps: it brings attention to the book you’re writing.
Now you’re ready to get to your query. The opening should present two things: your setting and your main character. Agents should care about your concept and your main character before getting to the rest of the story. We want to know who your MC is and what they want, and why they can’t get it.
When the aliens land on Earth, Clover Martinez – a 17-year-old who comes from a family of fighter pilots – wants to prove she’s ready to fight. But after a close encounter with the invaders, Clover narrowly escapes with her life while the rest of humanity perishes in the invasion.
Here you can see I’ve done both things. I’ve introduced the setting, the alien invasion, and I’ve introduced the MC, Clover Martinez. You should not only introduce them by name, but tell them what they like and what they want. Clover is a 17yo from a family of fighter pilots, and she wants to prove she’s ready to fight the aliens. In the same paragraph, I introduce what happens next: she has a close encounter and escapes, but the rest of humanity perishes. You have the opening image, the setting, and the main character, all wrapped in one.
The middle of the query should be around 2 paragraphs long at most, and introduces the rest of the story. We get the obstacles, the problems the MC must face, and what choices they have to make.
Six months after the attack and struggling with PTSD and suicidal thoughts in a post-apocalyptic world, Clover discovers survivors in the former Area 51, the self-titled “Last Teenagers on Earth.” Finally, there’s hope for fighting back.
What Clover isn’t expecting is their unwillingness to take on the enemy. Not a single person will stand by Clover, and worse, one of them might be one of the aliens she has sworn to fight. Area 51 piles secret on top of secret, and when she finds a spaceship hidden in the basement, Clover doesn’t know what to believe anymore. Everyone is a potential liar, and if she trusts the wrong person, she puts the last stronghold of humanity in danger. Clover needs answers, even as her mind spins with thoughts of suicide.
I’ve put all the obstacles and the events that happen in the story here in these paragraphs, because that way the agent knows what happens in the story. Clover finds survivors, and she wants to fight: but they don’t. She needs to convince them to fight the aliens with her, and she’s struggling with her own PTSD and suicidal thoughts at the same time. She needs the answers and to discover all the secrets that Area 51 hides if she wants to fight the aliens. These are the obstacles she must face, and these are the choices she must make if she wants to succeed.
The stakes are one of the most important part of the queries — an agent must know what’s at stake for that main character to succeed, and what happens if they don’t. They need to be invested in the story you’re about to tell them.
There’s only one thing keeping her grounded: fighting for Earth. And if Clover wants to live, she needs to spot the liar and convince her friends to fight – and, most of all, convince herself there’s more waiting for her than putting a bullet to her head.
There are two types of stakes: the personal ones, and the general ones. The general ones are “if they don’t save the world, everyone is going to die”. I’ve decided to take a more personal route – Clover needs to convince her friends to fight or else she may lose herself to her own suicidal thoughts. These are the stakes I’m telling the agent, and this is what my story is about. It’s about a girl who wants to fight, but she needs to convince herself or others that there is a good reason for living.
Now it’s time to introduce the particulars of your novel.
THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT EARTH is a stand-alone post-apocalyptic YA sci-fi complete at 90,000 words. The manuscript is “Independence Day,” but seen through the eyes of a girl who suffers from mental illness. I believe it will appeal to fans of Rick Yancey’s THE 5TH WAVE and Courtney Summers’s THIS IS NOT A TEST. This is a ownvoices novel.
Here you can see I’ve not only added my title, but the genre of my novel and my word count. My pitch can also be seen here “Independence day through the eyes of a girl sho suffers from mental illness”. I’ve added my comp titles, which are extremely important to help the agent place it in a book shelf and know where the novel fits in the market, and I’ve added that the novel is also ownvoices. This paragraph contains all the technical information an agent needs to know about my novel.
The Bio should include something small and personal about you. It doesn’t matter if you have publishing credits or not. Include a line about who you are, what you do, and why it’s relevant that you on particular have written this novel.
I live in Brazil, where I’m currently finishing my BA in Literature and where I work in a game development company. I’m also the creator of #PitchAmérica, a pitch contest that focuses on bringing Latinx voices to light in publishing.
Sign off with your name, and your query is done!
Please remember other important info: your query should have less than 250 words. It’s short and only an introduction to your novel. Your pitch should not take more than 250 words. It must contain the MC’s goal, why the MC is choosing to act and what happens to them, and the stakes if they fail. Do not ever tell the ending in a query, that is for the synopsis only.
Your query is the agent’s first contact with your book. Send it to your CPs, and polish it as many times as you’d polish your manuscript. Your query has to be great so the agent knows what they’re reading, but also because it makes you look professional when you hand in a polished query. Send it to your CPs, get feedback, rewrite it, rewrite it again. It took me four different drafts to get to this query you see now
Make sure you check out the other posts in the series! And let me know if you have any other ideas that help you write a good query.