Lake Atitlan, Panajachel, Guatemala

“Reading and writing are acts of empathy and faith. Guard that trust carefully — in this rapidly changing business, it’s the only sure thing.” ~Erin Keane
"Never give up. And most importantly, be true to yourself. Write from your heart, in your own voice, and about what you believe in." ~ Louise Brown

"Write something to suit yourself and many people will like it; write something to suit everybody and scarcely anyone will care for it."
~Jesse Stuart

"A writer's job is to take one thing and make it stand for twenty." ~ Virginia Woolf

Saturday, July 10, 2010

How to Write a Query to Get You Published

Thanks to all who submitted entries to the query contest. And you still have until midnight tonight (Saturday) to submit. Allie will have a winner next week, I'm guessing Monday. Or Tuesday. Or Monday. Meanwhile, she gave me permission to post her fave from WiDo's files. Not one of the contest entries, this query came through submissions and made her say "YES!" The project is currently in editing and scheduled for 2011 release. Let's take a look. (editorial comments in red).

(This was copied and pasted from a PDF file and it is doing odd formatting things in blogger. I'm not sure I want to keep messing with it or formatting may get worse instead of better. Just be aware that the spaces and weirdness came from me and Blogger, not from his query letter.)

Dear WiDo Publishing,

You know the neighbor down the street who looks a little like a rodent? What if he’s actually part
gerbil? Or that beaky store clerk? She could be one-fifth cockatoo. What if half-humans/halfanimals
have lived incognito for centuries, blending in seamlessly? And what if you were the only person on earth who could see through their ruse?  A few too many "questions" in the opening paragraph. Better to balance it with statements. For example, change 3rd question to "Take that beaky store clerk." And change the What if half-humans/half animals... question to "Imagine a world where half-humans/halfanimals have lived incognito for centuries, blending in seamlessly." This mixes it up a bit for easier reading.

Thirteen-year-old Wilhelm Tuttle (aka Will) lives a boring, friendless life trapped in a sterile
bubble, suffering from mysterious allergies no doctor can explain. A bubble boy! Intriguing to insert this element into an already interesting plot idea! Who doesn't love a bubble boy? But everything’s about to change Every query needs an "everything's about to change" section, whether you use those exact words or not. The everything changing for the MC is what makes the story. Include it in your query. as he learns his countless allergies have a single, bizarre source—enchants, a society of half-humans that have lived among mankind for generations. Their existence is history’s best kept secret. Spotting them is next to impossible. Enchants have become far too clever at keeping their tails, scales, claws and feathers hidden from everyone…everyone but Will. This last section of the paragraph is killer. The first paragraph was a tiny bit weak with all the questions, but this second paragraph has it all. An intriguing MC, the everything's about to change hook, and the plot turns & twists SUGGESTED, NOT OUTLINED. Now the editor's  imagination starts working overtime and she can't wait to read the sample chapters.

The ability to see enchants makes Will something special, but it also makes him a target. Soon a
misfit team of half-human bodyguards has to be sent in to keep him alive. Awesome! In two brief statements, we have numerous story possibilities-- conflict, characters, tone, strange world environment, life or death situations, what's at stake-- nicely wrapped up here to make this a query no editor could resist. Especially not one who loves fantasy, and enjoys medical/health complications (he probably had her at "bubble boy.")

Enter Dr. Noctua, a feathery physician with the face of an owl; Kaya, a beautiful tigress plagued
by anger issues; and Rizz, a wisecracking man-ram who never acts his age. Ahh, the possibilities for characters!. These sound intriguing, with the promise of even more to come. Their assignment: to
help Will overcome his fears and blend into a society that isn’t supposed to exist. But when Will
stumbles upon a sinister plot that threatens to destroy enchants everywhere, blending in becomes
the least of his worries. More hooks to let us know what's at stake. Faced with wolf-man attacks, deadly stampedes and carnivorous enchants with a taste for thirteen-year-olds, Will scrambles to discover who’s forcing enchants to lose their humanity. Hints of thrills and action to keep the reader turning the page Can Will find the culprit in time? Or will he have to sacrifice himself to save his newfound friends from becoming slaves to their own instincts? Another perfect paragraph. I'll bet by now everyone of you WANT TO READ THIS BOOK.

Wilhelm Tuttle and The Silent Sanctuary is an 87,000-word middle reader fantasy adventure with
a powerful value-centric message. Think Men in Black meets Fablehaven (A bit long but generally our editors prefer more material going in that less, for reasons too detailed to go into here.)

On a personal note, I studied creative writing (studied writing a plus, always include albeit briefly if you have educational background in creative writing) at Brigham Young University where I double majored in Communications Marketing and Visual Arts Design with a minor in English. Without being lengthy he's saying that he's well-educated in areas which will contribute to his success as an author. For the past decade I’ve worked the Madison Avenue and Detroit advertising circuits, where my writing (note how he emphasizes writing again) and marketing earned a New York Festivals Silver World Medal, a Cannes’s Finalist nod, and six note six!  IAAA awards. He's in advertising? And marketing? By now WiDo submissions editor is giddy with enthusiasm. Once, I thought I saw a well-dressed possum in Grand Central Station and I’d be
willing to bet the night guard in Detroit was half pit-viper, but it’s so hard to be sure. This sentence is the clincher. He's clever and witty, and sounds fun to work with. By now Allie is laughing with delight saying "I WANT THIS!"

As per WiDo Publishing submission guidelines, I’ve included the first three chapters of my finished manuscript for your review. ALWAYS FOLLOW THE PUBLISHER GUIDELINES. This is so important. Read the submissions instructions very carefully. This writer did his research. He studied WiDo's website and knew his story was a good fit. Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you. He doesn't include any personal information, but limits his letter to the story and to his qualifications-- which is excellent. Although our families and marital status are important to us, they don't matter to an agent or editor. Keep it business-like, yet not stiff. James pulled off the exact right tone here.

James Gough

This one is about as good as it gets. Though his opening paragraph, which should be the strongest to hook the agent or editor, is actually the weakest, it's followed by a very strong one, and another and another. So the one question after another opening is quickly overlooked.

Make every word count. This query is not wordy or rambling, but concise and pithy. The tone is perfect-- professional yet not stiff, clever and personable without taking liberties and pretending like he and the editor are buddies. Pay very close attention to the tone of your query. You do not want to come across as being too odd, too friendly, too stiff, too arrogant, or too-- anything. 

Be sure to save the background and personal information for the last. Your opening paragraphs must hook the reader. Get right to the story.

Thank you, James Gough and Allie for letting me use this query here. It's  an excellent example of  how to write a query to get you published!


  1. Have I missed the deadline for submission?! I thought it said midnight tonight, but I may have misread....please let me know! Thanks!

  2. Hi Jamie, No you haven't missed it. Midnight tonight it is.

  3. I just went in and adjusted the opening of my post for better clarity. Thanks Jamie, sorry for the confusion.

  4. Oh thank you!....finishing it up right now!

  5. It's so interesting to see this query taken apart like that. What a helpful critique. Thank you so much for this.

  6. What an excellent example! Thanks so much.

  7. Good luck with your competition!! Good luck those entering!

    And thanks for the real query dissection. Scary but helpful!

    Take care

  8. Very illuminating info about the query and boy do I want to read that book!

  9. Just love the format with your hilarious helpful comments in red. Thank you for such a refreshingly direct approach!

  10. How very helpful it was to read this great query with the editor's reactions and comments. It had me wanting to read the book, too. I am noting down some of the tips for future reference.

  11. Love this--from the query to the comments. Looks like you've got a winner on your hands.

  12. These kinds of posts are so educational. Thank you for taking the time, Allie!


  13. Thanks for posting an example query. I learn something new about my own when I read each one.

  14. Great post, Karen! Thanks for sharing James' query. It sounds like a really fun book. :)

  15. Some excellent advice there. Many thanks.

    However, it does illustrate how subjective the query letter is. The one printed here starts with a question, and yet I know many agents publically state you should never, ever start a query with a question.

    Just shows what one loves, another may dislike.

  16. I love queries! Thanks for sharing!

  17. Donna, I marked the opening paragraph as the weakest, especially as it not only had one question but a series. However, he followed it so strongly that it didn't hurt him. But you're right, query responses are very subjective. There are guidelines to follow but still a good one can break a few rules here and there and still make it work.

  18. "Every query needs an "everything's about to change" section, whether you use those exact words or not. The everything changing for the MC is what makes the story. Include it in your query."

    Great advice! I found this very useful. Thanks.

  19. Alright, now you've got me hooked, I want to read the book. I also found the "Every query needs an "everything's about to change" section, whether you use those exact words or not" advice extremely helpful. And I liked that the author doesn't outline the plot twists, but so adeptly suggest hehm.

  20. Thumbs up on this! I want to read the book too!

  21. Loved your advice Karen. Especially about the "everything was about to change' section. I will remember that one. And, great query letter. No wonder you were interested in this book. Me too!!


  22. awesome query. though not perfect, whose is? and it totally made me want to read the book and meet the author.

  23. Thank you for this very helpful advice, Karen.

  24. Thanks for shredding this query for us, Karen! Very informative. :-)

    - Corra

    The Victorian Heroine

  25. I wish my MS. were at the query point, but as usual,I'm close but no cigar.(: Thanks for sharing this query, I learned a lot from it. All the best Karen.

  26. That is a great query! I must read that book.

  27. Great query - I definitely want that book in my classroom once it's out! Thanks for sharing :)

  28. a query that gets imagination going on the story and points up qualifications to write it succinctly -- and with a touch of humor. sounds like a winner -- and makes me wonder what James' next book wil be about.

  29. Killer query! I especially like the part where he talks about the “well-dressed possum” and “half pit-viper.” It gives us a clever glimpse into James’ vivid imagination and the inspiration behind his novel, which, by the way, I NEED to read!

  30. Excellent advice on writing killer query letters. I'll be excited to read your book to my kids when it comes out!

  31. I'm sorry I'm so late getting to this, Karen. I've been very busy, and still catching up from being away so long. WOW. I've missed out on some awesome fun around here. :)

    I love this query (thanks to Wido and James for sharing), and the breakdown. What a fun story idea and query.

    Happy Tuesday, Karen.