Wednesday, June 12, 2013

What I Learned From Reading My Old Queries

The other day I read through the early drafts of my queries for WHERE THE STAIRCASE ENDS. I thought it would be good for a few laughs, but what it actually did was show me how much I've learned in the year and half since I first started the publication process.

You can read through some early drafts here if you're curious (my story was originally called The Stairs and the Fly.) The winning version is here.

For those of you out in the query trenches, I thought I'd share some of the lessons my old queries taught me. Hope you find them useful.  :)

Advice From The Trenches:

1. Getting feedback is essential. But the best feedback you'll get is from the query warriors who've been out in the trenches for a while and have had the chance to learn from their successes and failures.  Don't be afraid to ask them for help.

2. Don't be afraid to start over. Sometimes starting from scratch is the best way to fix a broken query.

3.  Be specific.  Generalities won't help sell your story.  Find what makes your story unique, and make sure you call it out clearly.

4.  Don't try to be too cutesy or use gimmicks.  It can be tempting, but if you're relying on gimmicks to get you noticed there's probably a bigger issue at play.

5.  Read the back of similar books within your genre. Back-of-book summaries are great query examples, and reading story summaries from books that have similar themes to your own can give you an idea of how you should think about your own summary.

6. Conflict is they key to it all - every good query needs to clearly showcase the conflict in the story and highlight the stakes for your MC. Period.  If the conflict is missing, your query isn't properly showcasing your story's plot.

7.  Learn what sounds cliche by reading other queries. If you spend a few hours on sites like AgentQuery Connect and Absolute Write, you'll quickly start to notice some recurring themes across many of the queries. If you think they're all starting to sound the same, imagine how agents feel after reading through the several hundred queries sitting in their inbox. Avoid similar pitfalls so you can stand out in the crowd.

8. Critique other queries.  Learning what doesn't work for others can help you learn what not to do in your own query.

9.  Even the best, most perfectly written queries will get rejections. It's a simple reality, because the business is subjective (I know, I know - I hate that word too.) You don't need to rework your query every time you get a form rejection or a no response, but if your overall rate drops below 15-10% you should consider giving it another look.

10. Writing a query is harder than writing a book (at least in my opinion.)  Be patient with yourself. It takes time.

Got any lessons of your own?  Share them here!

Good luck out there!


  1. Good post. I especially liked points 6 and 7 since that was new advice to me. I also enjoyed reading your queries and seeing them evolve. Congrats on the book deal!

  2. I've got something to add to #10. Start writing your query long before you plan on sending them out. Because as you said, they take a lot of time to make them good. For me, it's been months and months. And I think that's pretty typical.

  3. @Anonymous - so glad you found the post useful, and thanks for the congrats! I think it's going to take a long time for that one to sink in. :)

    @Suzi - that's a great addition. Starting early is critical because it DOES take a long time. The more time you give yourself, the better your query (and your chances) will be.