Showing posts with label queries. Show all posts
Showing posts with label queries. Show all posts

Hook 'em in: a three step process to writing a great query

The first thing any writer who wants to be published has to learn is how to put together a good query. Nearly every journal, magazine, editor, publisher, and reviewer wants you to send a query first. Often you'll be asked to include a synopsis.  For newer writers or writer who haven't submitted for a while, these terms can be both daunting and confusing, and they aren't made easier by the fact that words can mean different things in different contexts.


Think of a query as a proposition. It is the first presentation of you as an author to an editor and you’re proposing that they consider taking the next step and request a whole article or manuscript. Depending on what you’re sending a query for, it can be an idea that you’re pitching as a freelancer, or it can be a single page cover letter which proposes that they request a full manuscript. It must be concise.

Why Do Queries Matter?

Most publishers, agents, reviewers are busy and inundated with requests for their attention. Few will read an entire manuscript without having had a query first. So if you want your manuscript read, you need to query. Queries tend to be used as a first gate to assess how well you can write, how marketable your idea or manuscript is, and your overall professionalism. They are used to demonstrate your ability as a writer, to generate interest in the work, and to convince the recipient that you are professional enough to be a good long term risk. You will be judged by it.


The format of a query is fixed. It should have three paragraphs: the hook, the proposal and mini-synopsis, and the credentials or biography.

1.  The Hook

A bad or nonexistent hook will end your chances immediately. Generally speaking, it should be a single sentence. If your first sentence doesn’t grab attention, and isn’t well-written, the rest of your query won’t be read. It should be provocative, and ideally, topical.  Here are a few examples of hooks for well-known novels:

House of Sand and Fog: When Massoud Amir Behrani, a former colonel in the Iranian military, sinks his remaining funds into a house he buys at auction, he unwittingly puts himself and his family on a trajectory to disaster; the house once belonged to Kathy Nicolo, a self-destructive alcoholic, who engages in legal, then personal confrontation to get it back.

The Kite Runner: An epic tale of fathers and sons, of friendship and betrayal, that takes us from Afghanistan in the final days of the monarchy to the atrocities of the present.

The Da Vinci Code: A murder in the silent after-hour halls of the Louvre museum reveals a sinister plot to uncover a secret that has been protected by a clandestine society since the days of Christ.

Different types of hooks

• Era and location openers
• Character openers
• When/how/why formula
• Question
• Informative
• Attention grabbing:

2. The Proposal and Mini-Synopsis The proposal is generally one sentence put into the second paragraph. This is where you tell the publisher or editor what you’re offering. You need to be very clear, and include a title, a word-count, and a summary of what you’re proposing.   This is followed by a mini-synopsis, which is your entire novel condensed into 2 or 3 sentences. You’ll want to provide a little information on the protagonist, his or her dilemma, and how the dilemma is resolved. That’s character, conflict, resolution. It should sound exciting and should be brief – one paragraph of about 3-4 sentences is ideal.

3.  The Credentials/Bio This is the simplest part of your query, but get it wrong and all your earlier good work will be undone. Here you have to state your qualifications. This is especially important if you’re pitching a nonfiction book. All credentials must be related to writing or to the topic in your book. Competition wins, kudos of any kind, and publications are all relevant.

Finish with a good clean close that thanks the recipient for their time. If you’re querying for nonfiction, you’ll need to include a full outline, table of contents and one or two sample chapters. Fiction should be complete and as ready for publication as you can get it, and you should let the recipient know that the full manuscript is available upon request.

That's it!  Easier said than done, to be sure, but well worth taking trouble over.  Otherwise it won't matter how good your writing is - it won't get a look in.

Magdalena Ball runs The Compulsive Reader She is the author of a number of novels, poetry books and a nonfiction book.  Find out more about Magdalena at

Querying Publishers and Agents: 3 Steps

3 Steps to Querying Publishers and Agents

You’ve been slaving for months, maybe years, on your manuscript. You’ve read about belonging to a critique group to help you hone your work and took the advice to heart. You have also listened to the advice about submitting your manuscript to an editor after your critique group is done with it, and after you’ve meticulously self-edited it. Now, you’re ready to begin submissions.

While some authors choose to send queries to a publisher or an agent, there is no reason to choose, send queries off to both. But, there are a few steps you need to be aware of before you actually start submitting:

1. First Impressions

Professionalism, professionalism, professionalism. Yes, be professional. As with any business correspondence, do not use colored stationary, colored text, elaborate font, scented paper or envelope, or any other unprofessional features. You get one shot at making a first impression; don’t blow it on silly additions. And, don’t try to be cute or send a gift. Again, be professional.

2. Research

So, you understand you need to appear professional, but you also need to send your query to the right recipients. You can have the most professional looking query letter, but if you send a query to a romance publisher and you have written a children’s picture book, guess what? You’ll be out of luck.

Research for publishers and agents who work within the genre you write. There are services, such as WritersMarket ( that provide information on where and how to sell your articles or manuscripts. While these services may charge for the service, it is a worthwhile investment.

There are also books that offer the same information, such as Writer’s Market, and Children’s Writers and Illustrator’s Market. If you choose this option, you will need to get the new versions each year. Agents and publishers are changing staff all the time, new companies are popping up and others are closing down, you will need up-to-date information for your query submissions.

3. Content

In the February 2011 issue of the Writer, agent Betsy Lerner explained, “Editors and agents alike enjoy nothing more than being startled awake by a witty or moving letter.” They want to see something special and unique; this is where your pitch comes in.

While you may have taken heed and had your manuscript critiqued and looked at by an editor, you can do the same with your query letter.

You want to give the impression that you are intelligent, so your query letter must reflect that. Get it in the best shape possible, with a great hook, and then send it off to be critiqued.

Publishers and agents receive more queries than they can comfortably handle, so don’t give them a reason to simply reject yours because of unprofessionalism. Give your query and manuscript every possible opportunity for success.

Karen Cioffi is an award-winning children's author and children’s ghostwriter as well as the founder and editor-in-chief of Writers on the Move. You can find out more about writing for children and her services at: Karen Cioffi Writing for Children.

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