How to Write a Query Letter that Doesn’t Suck

How To Write A Query Letter That Doesnt Suck by HM-WardWriting a good query is HARD.  I went totally insane trying to figure out how to write a killer query letter.  I read, read, read — I even paid to take a class on how to write a query letter.  And guess what?  Every single one of them said what a query letter kinda, sorta is.  Lots of these resources said what a query letter isn’t.  That’s like saying ice cream isn’t an apple.  Correct, but not helpful.

My query letter for DEMON KISSED received several requests for full manuscripts, and multiple offers of representation from top NY agents.  I thought I’d share what I’d learned since a lot of people have problems with it.  The query letter is a crucial part in the publication process whether you self-published or go traditional.  The query is the same thing that goes in the description line on Amazon, and the back cover of your book – minus the intro and conclusion.  The query will also be used when your book goes on submission to publishers.  If you are a writer, the query letter comes up over and over again.  It’s important to rock it.

So, how do I write a good query letter?

These are the best tips I’ve come across.  Forget everything else for a second and see if this helps.  Getting overwhelmed is the track to instant query letter suckage.

Every query needs a HOOK.  A hook is something that ensnares the reader to read on.  Its a concept – an idea that grabs your attention.  A good way to think of the hook for your book is to ask yourself this: what is the one event that spurs my book into motion?  If you removed this event, your book wouldn’t exist.  In my book, it’s the initial fight with Jake and the demon kiss that followed.  That one thing totally screwed up Ivy’s life.  If that event was removed from the storyline, there would be no novel – no series.  It’s crucial.  It’s the catalyst for the entire book.  So, what’s yours?

Less is more.  Hone the body of your query down to 300 words or less.  You’re a wordsmith.  Act like it.  Use the words that pack the most punch.

Word things positively – It uses fewer words and tends to be more concise.

Make the stakes crystal clear.  What happens if your protagonist fails?  What are the repercussions?

Remember that the query is a sales letter.  This is the most important thing I realized.  I’ve been in sales for most of my adult life, so sales is nothing new.  But, I had other writers swear to God that a query was not a sales letter.  They said that I was wrong and going straight to Hell for suggesting such a thing.  Well, my query got lots of attention very fast, so my sales theory worked.  Why?  Because that is exactly what the query letter is doing – it’s selling the highlights of your idea for a novel.  The query is fast, action packed, and a succinct showcase of your book.  They query is meant to grab your attention and make you want more.  It’s a tease.

What does this look like in a query letter?  Here’s the query I used for DEMON KISSED that got so much attention:

“The Valefar boy tricked Ivy Taylor into kissing him, but he took much more than a kiss – he stole her soul and left her within inches of death. By surviving, Ivy is drawn into the conflict between the Martis and the Valefar. The war between these two immortal forces has raged for millennia without distraction. Until now.

Ivy is an anomaly—she is the only person who has ever walked away from a demon kiss alive. Her survival gives her unique and deadly abilities. Too powerful to ignore, Ivy is a threat to both armies. These two ancient enemies will stop at nothing to kill the seventeen-year-old. Surviving is nothing new for headstrong Ivy, but her survival has never depended on another person before. This time it does. And if she misplaces her trust, she’s dead.

To her horror, she starts falling in love at the worst possible time—with the enemy. He appears to be protecting her. But she can’t be certain if he is trying to help her, or help himself to her power. For Ivy, trusting the right person is the difference between love and survival, or a deadly demon kiss.  -Query for YA Paranormal Romance novel Demon Kissed by H.M. Ward.

This is the hook: The Valefar boy tricked Ivy Taylor into kissing him, but he took much more than a kiss – he stole her soul and left her within inches of death.” 

The query is a short little tease – that’s it.  What ever you do – don’t write a summary!  And don’t feel bad if you submit and keep getting rejections.  Many authors will submit a query 100 times before they get positive replies.  The authors who submit one query and then land a legacy book deal with one of the Big 6 – well, they’re imaginary.  That doesn’t happen.  Keep a list of who you submit to, and don’t waste time submitting to agents or publishers who don’t do your genre.  Remember, this is about refining your query til it sparkles.  Make your query a sparklie tease, and you’ll get agents requesting your manuscript in no time!

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