4 Ways Querying A Novel Is Like A Religion

4 Ways Querying A Novel Is Like A Religion

Most agents, especially in America, like query letters. These are somewhat formulaic introductions to your novel’s characters and plot, that give the agent a feel for your writing style and story.

(I’ve heard ones in the UK and other places like cover letters? But I fear what those might entail, and have never studied their holy scripture.)

1 – Adherents should follow certain tenants

Like most types of religious doctrine, there are different sects, but they agree on a lot of the basic tenants.

The Basic Tenants of Querying

  • Include at least 2 short paragraphs about the novel
  • Include a paragraph with the novels stats
  • Include a short author biography
  • Try to keep the query under 250 words or 1 page
  • Avoid rhetorical questions – they’re overdone and not compelling
  • Avoid ‘in character’ queries – they’re confusing and trite
What they don’t agree on? Everything else.

2 – Different Sects Have Different Rules

If you ask 20 agents what a query should look like, you’ll get between 10 and 20 different answers. Some will overlap, and some will contradict everything the other said.

Querying Doctrinal Differences

  • If the stats paragraph goes at the start or the end
  • If you should include a single pitch sentence, or just get to the story
  • If personalization is something desirable or feels like trying too hard to be friends
  • The length of the story section of the query (1, 2, or 3 paragraphs)

3 – Ritual Observance

To offer the best odds for a query to succeed (i.e. result in additional pages requested, the story sells itself), many query practitioners concoct different rituals.

  • Querying at specific times and days of the week, month, or year
  • Tweaking the query based on #mswl or other stated preferences
  • Following and commenting on the agent’s social media in the hope of connecting such that they recognize your name in a fond way when you query (in a RESPECTFUL and NON-STALKERISH way)
  • Selecting agents based on the assumed personality extracted from their profile
  • Number of queries sent at a time
  • Number of outstanding queries at any time
  • Number of query rejections between revamping pages and/or their query

4 – Heretics!

There are heretics who hate the formula and strive to stand out, to be different, to break the mold and catch an agent’s attention.

  • They’ll write from the character’s point of view
  • Send the letter as though they were writing a friend
  • Send a stream of consciousness message
  • Talk about why they wrote the book and themes, (rather than letting the story demonstrate these things itself)
  • Go on for pages
  • Write 3 lines and their salutations
  • Write in verse — iambic pentameter, haiku, or free verse

I’m not saying none of these will ever work with any agent, ever. I’m just saying, most agents like the formula for a reason. And if the agents are bored by the formula, that just means your opening pages count for more.


Do you have any rituals I missed?

Which query sect do you belong to?

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#13 Query Corner: ‘IMAGINARY’

Welcome to:

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Morgan’s Query Corner:

Answering Your Query Quandaries

IMAGINARY is a YA fantasy.

Tylin is a homeschooled teen, applying for early college admission. Glimmer is an imaginary friend, assigned to a teen who’s far too old for him. Glimmer’s job is hard enough. One problem, his agency has bigger plans.

NOTE: If you submit your query to me (morgan.s.hazelwood@gmail.com), and you are selected for inclusion, I will give you a high-level review, in-line feedback, and my own draft of your query. If this is your query, feel free to use or ignore as much of the advice and suggestions as you wish.

[Disclaimer: Any query selected for the page will be posted on this website for perpetuity. I am an amateur with no actual accepted queries and a good number of form rejections. This does not guarantee an agent or even an amazing query, just a new take by someone who’s read The Query Shark archives twice and enjoys playing with queries.]

pexels-photo-246367.jpeg

This querist sent in their original query and their updated version.

Overall Impression:

First off, what a fun, unique story! I love it.

You’ve REALLY changed the story! From a younger MC, and slightly different goal, to a barely-performing field agent…

The query is well-written but it’s a touch long. Dual point of view is hard, though.

Here are my suggestions. As always, take ’em or use ’em or build off of them. Whatever makes the story ring true for YOU.


Querist’s Original:

[my comments are in blue/italics/brackets]

Dear [Ms./Mr. Agent Last Name],

What if imaginary friends aren’t just fleeting figments of children’s imagination? What if they’re really a race of magical beings with the day job of collecting the magic that is produced when a child uses his or her imagination?

This revelation comes as no small shock to fourteen year-old sophomore, Tylin Kane, when she is unexpectedly “assigned” a cocky, sarcasm-immune imaginary friend: Gimmer. As the only child of a patent attorney and an aerospace engineer, Tylin was looking forward to finally being lost in the crowd of public school, after ten years—and summers—of homeschooling. So, being able to see (and be irritated by) someone whom no one else can see or hear? That doesn’t remotely fit within her parameters for “blending in.”

Gimmer, hailed (by himself) as being the best field agent ever, has his own reservations about being assigned to a teenager. A teenager. Who does that? They’re ancient, with practically no imagination! Not to mention the fact that the ‘child’ he was assigned to can’t even see him, although it would appear that some random, over-correcting know-it-all can. But, with his job—and possibly his existence—on the line, Gimmer will make this assignment work…no matter how much she protests.

But, unbeknownst to them, the governing body of Gimmer’s world is close to completing a spell that would allow them to use their magic to enslave Tylin’s world—the real world. The only missing piece? Gimmer’s unique power. To save Gimmer, and stop the Council, Tylin will have to dig deep into her imagination and work together with some terrifying—and terrifyingly rude—magical strangers. For if she fails, it’s not just Gimmer’s life that is at stake—it’s the entire world.

Gimmer is a fantasy adventure for young teens (12-16). It is complete at 75,000 words and is available at your request. I feel that Gimmer would be a good fit with your agency because {personalize}. As for me, I am a fledgling video game attorney with a film production background.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

Q13


Queriest’s Reworked Draft:

Dear [Ms./Mr.][Agent Last Name]:

After a decade of homeschooling and a year of correspondence physics classes, sixteen-year-old Mira Kane is ready to slay the entrance exam for the world’s most elite S.T.E.M. university. However, studying overseas isn’t exactly affordable, so she—and her moms—need a glowing recommendation for a scholarship from a couple more likely to be impressed with the Kardashians’ latest debacle than scientific achievement. On the night of a dinner party for the couple, however, Mira is confronted by an insufferable, arrogant, mildly attractive boy whom no one else seems to be able to see. While raving about how he’s her “imaginary friend” or some nonsense, the boy’s antics threaten Mira’s chances of getting the recommendation for the scholarship. [Maybe we can trim the backstory] Mira’s calendar has ninety-nine events this week, but going insane isn’t one.

Gimmer is a field agent—a.k.a. his job is being an imaginary friend to humans to collect their imagination energy. Despite this, Gimmer’s magical essence marks him as the lowest rank in society still considered to be magical. This current assignment will his last before he has to submit his “reel” to the Council for review on a promotion that could forever change his lot in life. And yet, he’s been assigned to a teenager. Something he thought impossible. Or illegal. Getting someone who listens to recordings of math concepts instead of music while studying to “play pretend” will be no easy feat.

Unbeknownst to Gimmer and Mira, the governing body of Gimmer’s city is close to completing a spell that will enslave all of humanity à la The Matrix for its imagination energy. The only missing piece? Gimmer’s unique teleportation ability that could be used to merge the worlds. The Council will do anything to get their hands on Gimmer, and Mira must choose between staying the course of her known, successful future, or risking everything she believes—and possibly her life—to save an imaginary friend she didn’t even create.

IMAGINARY is a dual POV young adult contemporary (and portal) fantasy complete at 87,000 words. It can be described as Monsters, Inc. meets Lindsay Ribar’s The Art of Wishing, with a dash of Rick and Morty. I am a California entertainment and employment attorney with a degree in film production.

I thank you for your time and consideration.

 Sincerely,

[Q13]


My Reworked Draft:

Dear [Agent],

When sixteen-year-old Mira Kane and her moms are invited to a dinner party by the couple Mira needs a glowing recommendation from, to get a scholarship to the school of her dreams, the homeschooler didn’t expect to deal with a boy’s antics. Especially not a boy no one else can see, claiming to be her “imaginary friend.” Mira’s calendar has ninety-nine events this week, but going insane isn’t one. [Only other thing that could be cut, but it gives us personality for Mira!]

Gimmer barely has enough magic to qualify as a field agent—a.k.a. being an imaginary friend to humans to collect their imagination energy. His last assignment before he has to submit his “reel” to the Council for review on a promotion lands him with a teenager. Something he thought impossible. Or illegal. Convincing someone who listens to math concepts instead of music while studying to “play pretend” will be no easy feat.

Unbeknownst to Gimmer, his Council is close to completing a spell that will enslave all of humanity à la The Matrix for its imagination energy. All they need now is Gimmer’s unique teleportation ability to merge the worlds. The Council will do anything to get their hands on Gimmer. Mira must choose between staying the course of her known, successful future, or risk everything she believes—and possibly her life—to save an imaginary friend she didn’t even create.

IMAGINARY is a dual POV young adult contemporary (and portal) fantasy complete at 87,000 words. It can be described as Monsters, Inc. meets Lindsay Ribar’s The Art of Wishing, with a dash of Rick and Morty. I am a California entertainment and employment attorney with a degree in film production.

 Thank you for your time and consideration.

 Sincerely,

Q13


It’s amazing to see how far the story and the query has come since the beginning. Cutting setting and backstory really let the actual story shine through.

Best of luck to Q13!


And for the rest of you out there?
Best of luck in the query trenches!

#12 Query Corner: ‘GLASS’

Welcome to:

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Morgan’s Query Corner:

Answering Your Query Quandaries

GLASS is a YA fantasy. This Cinderella retelling begins after the ball. The glass-maker’s niece and a reformed playboy prince plot to end their engagement is paused when a plague starts sweeping the nation.

NOTE: If you submit your query to me (morgan.s.hazelwood@gmail.com), and you are selected for inclusion, I will give you a high-level review, in-line feedback, and my own draft of your query. If this is your query, feel free to use or ignore as much of the advice and suggestions as you wish.

[Disclaimer: Any query selected for the page will be posted on this website for perpetuity. I am an amateur with no actual accepted queries and a good number of form rejections. This does not guarantee an agent or even an amazing query, just a new take by someone who’s read The Query Shark archives twice and enjoys playing with queries.]

girl-lavender-cos-flowers-160555.jpeg

Overall Impression:

I love retellings and this sounds like a fun one.
There are a few things I’d tweak:
  • Start with ‘Dear’, end with ‘Thank you for your time and consideration.’
  • Cut down on some of the backstory
  • Your query is actually a bit short! Not too short, agents don’t mind you getting straight to the point. BUT, you do have space if you want to expand upon that disease and the prince’s past (any children?) if you’d like
  • Does Charles end up with Collin? Does Sabine? If not, he’s only mentioned once in the query and should be either cut or expanded upon.

Original:

[my comments are in blue/italics/brackets]

Hello _________,  [‘Dear’ is usually expected]

Based on your interest in _________, I would like to introduce my Cinderella re-telling: Glass. It is an 87,000-word young adult fantasy novel. Glass looks at the ending of Cinderella, and turns it into a story not about love at first sight, but the power of politics and friendship. [You don’t need to say what the story is about, the query should explain it]

Glass, begins after the ball. Sabine grew up in the shadow of the castle, but she never dreamed of royalty. She doesn’t even bother herself with the rumors surrounding Prince Charles’ true love. All she wants is to somehow find a loophole in the law that keeps her from inheriting her uncle’s glass shop. [I read this twice, at 1st thinking she did NOT want to inherit the shop] But a pair of hand-made glass shoes and a rumor of true love accidently plunges Sabine into the world of castle politics. Thrown into an engagement that neither of them wants Sabine and the prince, along with Charles’ childhood friend Collin, attempt to prove that Charles is no longer a playboy who needs to be tied down, but a leader who is respected by his people. But, as an unexplained disease threatens the country, loyalties are questioned, and the prince’s less than stellar past comes to light, the attempt to get out of the marriage and the state of the country looks bleak.

I attended [X] University and graduated with a BA in English with a Creative Writing emphasis. I currently work as a high school English and Creative Writing teacher in [X], [State]. Thank you for taking the time to read this expert from Glass, and I would be delighted to send you the completed manuscript if you request more. [The QueryShark claims this is presumptuous and suggests just saying “thank you for your time and consideration”.]

Q12


The Revised Query:

Dear [Agent Name],

Based on your interest in _________, I would like to introduce my Cinderella re-telling: GLASS. It is an 87,000-word young adult fantasy novel.

GLASS begins after the ball. When Sabine went to the castle to find a way around the law preventing her from inheriting her uncle’s glass shop, she never expected to end up engaged. Forced to play politics to get out of the engagement, Sabine and Prince Charles attempt to prove that Charles is no longer a playboy, but a respectable leader. But, as an unexplained disease ravages the countryside, loyalties are questioned, and the prince’s less-than-stellar past comes to light, the odds of both ending the engagement and the state of the country itself look bleak.

I attended [X] University and graduated with a BA in English with a Creative Writing emphasis. I currently work as a high school English and Creative Writing teacher in [x] state.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

 Sincerely,

[You!]

email
phone
twitter (if they’re that sort of agent)


With a few tweaks, the plot really shines through! Decide if you need to add a sentence about that best friend and…

Best of luck to Q12!


And for the rest of you out there?
Best of luck in the query trenches!

#11 Query Corner: ‘Konadai’

Welcome to:

logo5

Morgan’s Query Corner:

Answering Your Query Quandaries

KONADAI is a YA fantasy. When 17-year-old Hiromi’s island city is ravaged by a virus mutating people into Konadai-vicious undead things w/tentacle tongues, she’s willing to search beyond the city walls for a cure.

NOTE: If you submit your query to me (morgan.s.hazelwood@gmail.com), and you are selected for inclusion, I will give you a high-level review, in-line feedback, and my own draft of your query. If this is your query, feel free to use or ignore as much of the advice and suggestions as you wish.

[Disclaimer: Any query selected for the page will be posted on this website for perpetuity. I am an amateur with no actual accepted queries and a good number of form rejections. This does not guarantee an agent or even an amazing query, just a new take by someone who’s read The Query Shark archives twice and enjoys playing with queries.]

pexels-photo.jpeg

Overall Impression:

Solid query! There’s a lot you do right:

  • Starts off by establishing everything in the first sentence
    • location
    • character name
    • age-of-main-character which establishes it is YA
    • the main problem
    • with the reason for the Main Character’s involvement
  • Focuses on stakes and motivation
  • Personal flare to the bio, without being overly long
  • Query length
Things to fix:
  • Imply what role magic has in this world
  • Try not to use the same pronoun for more than 1 person in the same sentence
  • Put lists in order of severity

Original:

[my comments are in blue/italics/brackets]

Dear Agent,

When a deadly virus ravages her island city, seventeen-year-old intern Hiromi works to cure it. [You start off with location, character name, and age, establishing it as YA] The virus mutates people into Konadai—vicious undead creatures with tentacle tongues. [Could be combined with first sentence, maybe?] Although she is safe behind the city’s walls, Hiromi is running low on the infected samples she needs for research. Desperate to gather more, Hiromi reaches out to her childhood friend Kenji, a city guardsman skilled with fire magic.[The magic is literally never mentioned again. But does establish this world has magic?] When Hiromi joins him and his unit on a mission to investigate a horde of infected, one of Kenji’s friends is bitten—but he doesn’t show signs of infection. [That’s a LOT of he/hims] It’s the breakthrough Hiromi’s been searching for. 

Soon Hiromi learns that the growth [is this THE growth – i.e. related to the infection? or A growth – i.e. not caused from this exact infection] inside the friend’s heart is the key to his immunity. But the research team isn’t sure how to extract the growth and keep him alive.[You present the problem very cleanly] Fearing for his friend’s life, Kenji refuses to let Hiromi take his friend back to the lab. With their friendship shattered and the virus running rampant, Hiromi is forced to choose between betraying her life-long friend and sacrificing an innocent life [I like to order these in level of severity and the plot suggests her friendship is more important than patients? Or am I wrong.] or surrendering a chance for a cure.

KONADAI is a YA fantasy novel with science fiction elements complete at 70,000. It is a standalone novel with series potential [NOTE: Only say this if a- the story truly can stand alone], and will appeal to fans of PARTIALS, ENCLAVE, and THE 5TH WAVE. 

I was born and raised in Arkansas where my biggest accomplishment in life was being an extra in my high school’s performance of High School Musical. That may not seem like much, but I bopped to the top of the extras list by being the only student who knew the original dance moves. [Cute! Should add some flavor to your bio] When I’m not writing, I indulge in role-playing games and way too much sushi.

 Thank you for your time and consideration.
Q11

The Revised Query:

Dear [Agent Name],

When a deadly virus ravages her island city, seventeen-year-old intern Hiromi works to cure it. The virus mutates people into Konadai—vicious undead creatures with tentacle tongues. Although she is safe behind the city’s walls, Hiromi is running low on the infected samples she needs for research. Desperate to gather more, Hiromi reaches out to her childhood friend Kenji, a city guardsman recruited because of his skill with fire magic [makes the magic more obviously accepted in their culture and more common, potentially]. She joins Kenji and his unit on a mission to investigate a horde of infected. When one of Kenji’s friends is bitten—without showing signs of infection—it’s the breakthrough Hiromi’s been searching for. 

Soon Hiromi learns that a different virus growing inside the friend’s heart is the key to his immunity. But the research team isn’t sure how to extract the growth and keep him alive. Fearing for his friend’s life, Kenji refuses to let Hiromi take his friend back to the lab. With their friendship shattered and the virus running rampant, Hiromi is forced to choose between sacrificing an innocent life and betraying her life-long friend or surrendering a chance for a cure.

KONADAI is a YA fantasy novel with science fiction elements complete at 70,000. It is a standalone novel with series potential and will appeal to fans of PARTIALS, ENCLAVE, and THE 5TH WAVE. 

I was born and raised in Arkansas where my biggest accomplishment in life was being an extra in my high school’s performance of High School Musical. That may not seem like much, but I bopped to the top of the extras list by being the only student who knew the original dance moves. When I’m not writing, I indulge in role-playing games and way too much sushi.

 Thanks for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

[You!]

email
phone
twitter (if they’re that sort of agent)


 

With a few tweaks, you can really make a query shine!

Best of luck to Q11!


And for the rest of you out there?
Best of luck in the query trenches!

#10 Query Corner: ‘Invisible Me’

Welcome to:

logo5

Morgan’s Query Corner:

Answering Your Query Quandaries

INVISIBLE ME is a YA. When high school senior Ana’s genius best friend, Isaac, turns her invisible to save her from his kidnappers, she has seven days to rescue him or be invisible forever.

pexels-photo-246367.jpeg

NOTE: If you submit your query to me (morgan.s.hazelwood@gmail.com), and you are selected for inclusion, I will give you a high-level review, in-line feedback, and my own draft of your query. If this is your query, feel free to use or ignore as much of the advice and suggestions as you wish.

[Disclaimer: Any query selected for the page will be posted on this website for perpetuity. I am an amateur with no actual accepted queries and a good number of form rejections. This does not guarantee an agent or even an amazing query, just a new take by someone who’s read The Query Shark archives twice and enjoys playing with queries.]

Overall Impression:

Fun story! Clear stakes.

There’s only a few things I would fix:

  • Agents are known for disliking rhetorical questions
  • Clarify who the characters are immediately
  • More specificity

The Original:

[my comments are in blue/italics/brackets]

Dear [Agent Name],

When Ana turns invisible and Isaac is kidnapped, she has seven days to find him or be invisible forever. [Who is Issac to her? How old are these characters? How do we know she has 7 days? Did they give her a ransom note?] His abductors are after her next since she holds the key to invisibility. In her search for clues to Isaac’s whereabouts, she is surprised to discover a love note from him. Deciding on her own feelings will have to wait as she avoids the kidnappers’ traps, and the police who believe she’s responsible for Isaac’s disappearance.[Really? If she’s missing too, why don’t they think they ran off together? or she was taken as well?] Why does rookie cop Ben Cody, her crush from high school, act strange whenever she’s near? Is what she deciphered from Isaac’s notes true—that those who love her can see her? And if so, will Ben arrest her? Or will he help her in her mission, even if it means reuniting her with a romantic rival?[So many questions!]

INVISIBLE ME is a 64,000 YA about a high school senior who feels invisible. [Oh! Now I know what we’re dealing with.] When her feeling becomes reality, she finally attracts attention, but from the wrong people. [Spelling out morals can make agents think this is an ISSUE BOOK, rather than a story, that addresses certain issues. If it’s clear in the story, the story will speak for itself.] This book could sit on the shelf next to THE BLOOD BETWEEN US by Zac Brewer and OVERTURNED by Lamar Giles.

Q10

The Revised Query:

Dear [Agent Name],

When Ana spots her classmate-and-crush, Isaac, being shoved into a van, she finds herself safe, but invisible. Thanks to the ransom note, Ana learns she has seven days to find him or be invisible forever. His abductors are after her next since she holds Isaac’s key to invisibility.

As Ana desperately searches Isaac’s [locker/bedroom], she is surprised to discover, amongst the notes about the invisibility he’d been developing, a love note from him. The notes also claim Ana is only invisible to those who don’t love her. Unfortunately, the kidnappers have set out traps for her and the police think she’s a person-of-interest. And the rookie-cop on the case just happens to be Ben, her recently-graduated, former high school crush. Ben, who acts oddly when she’s spying nearby.

Time is running out. Ana must decide if she can trust Ben to help her rescue Isaac, or if he’ll simply arrest her.

INVISIBLE ME is a 64,000 YA about a high school senior who feelings of invisibility become a reality. INVISIBLE ME should appeal to fans of THE BLOOD BETWEEN US by Zac Brewer and OVERTURNED by Lamar Giles.

I write from the [location]. When not writing, you can find me [X] or [Y]. I am a member of [anything writing related? Nah, me neither. Although, I’m investigating the SCBWI ]

Thanks for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

[You!]

email
phone
twitter (if they’re that sort of agent)


My version didn’t quite mesh with her version of the story, but with a bit of back and forth, we’ve hammered out one we both are pretty pleased with.

Dear [Dream Agent],

When high school senior Ana’s genius best friend, Isaac, turns her invisible to save her from his kidnappers, she has seven days to rescue him or be invisible forever. His abductors are after her next, since she holds the key to invisibility. In her search for clues to Isaac’s whereabouts, she is surprised to discover a love note from him. Deciding on her own feelings will have to wait as she avoids the kidnappers’ traps and the police who believe she’s responsible for Isaac’s disappearance.

Rookie cop Ben, her crush from high school, acts strange whenever she’s near. Ana wonders if what she deciphered from Isaac’s notes is true—that those who love her can see her. She must decide whether or not to tell Ben her secret, not knowing if he’ll arrest her or help her in her mission, even if it means reuniting her with a romantic rival.

INVISIBLE ME is a 64,000 YA about Ana learning what she’s made of when it’s up to her to rescue not only herself, but also her best friend. This book should appeal to fans of THE BLOOD BETWEEN US by Zac Brewer and OVERTURNED by Lamar Giles.

[Insert Bio Paragraph.]

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

Q10

[contact info]


Don’t be afraid to go a couple rounds. Building off what you’ve edited last time can lead to some pretty amazing things.

Best of luck to Q10!


And for the rest of you out there?
Best of luck in the query trenches!