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5 Things I Wish I’d Known Before I Queried

May 1, 2016

I’m writing this particular post for both competitors and spectators of the wonderful Query Kombat contest put on by Michelle Hauck, Michael Anthony and Laura Heffernan each year. I’m a judge this time around, and I’m super excited to be involved!

For those of you unfamiliar with the process, Query Kombat is a bracket style competition where 64 query letters and first pages are matched against each other until only one is left. There are six rounds of competition that last the entire month of June, where the  judges leave notes and determine the winners. Agents monitor the contest and make requests based on the queries.

Since we have some time before entries are due (submission is between May 16th and the 21st), I thought it would be fun (and humane) to offer some query tips – five this week, and five next week. No one likes to query (hooray! constant rejection!), but it’s a necessary hurtle toward the end of publication. Without a strong query, this wouldn’t be debuting in September:

MONSTERVILLE finAL

Sorry, I had to insert at least a little self-promotion. It too me years to get here! But in seriousness, here are five things I wish I’d known ahead of time:

  1.  Structure is important. Queries follow a certain format. It’s important to follow that format. That way, agents know you’ve done your research and also that you can properly structure a piece of writing. Go to sites like Writer’s Digest and read the articles on the necessary components to include in a query letter. An excellent article, which includes examples of successful query letters, is here.
  2. Test your query first!!!!! If you think your query is ready to go, measure your success rate. Make sure the font and spelling is perfect, and send it out to ten agents who are not in your top tier. If you get a good hit rate – say, two or three requests out of the ten- you’re ready to go broader. Do not go broader before you do this! If you send your query to fifty agents because you are impatient, and subsequently realize the query isn’t that great, that’s fifty closed doors.
  3. Read awesome queries first. See what works, especially the hook in the first paragraph. I can’t recommend QueryTracker highly enough, especially for its “success story” section. Every success story is accompanied by the query that landed the agent. (This is under the “query” tab, at “success story interviews”). You can search by agent if there’s a particular one you’re stalking. My favorite query ever is Chris Rylander’s (he signed with Stephen Malk of Writers House), but his is extremely out of the box – that won’t work for everyone.
  4. Get peer input. This might sound kind of obvious, but you’d be surprised at how many people are afraid to share their queries before they send them directly to agents. Don’t be. Everyone’s been there, and everyone’s written an awful query. In fact, below this post you’ll find the query for my first book every written, as well as the one for my book that got me my second agent and is being published in September of 2016. (It makes me cringe to share the former with the public, but I tell myself that if you’re brave enough to be in Query Kombat, I’m brave enough to copy/paste!).
  5. Keep track of who you query. I once queried the same agent twice within a week. Oops. Agents get so many emails, they might not remember your name, but they very well might. You don’t want to end up on an “Annoying Persons” list. Also, do not reply to rejections, even if they’re nice rejections.

Good luck in Query Kombat! Stay tuned for my next post on query tips! Also, you can follow me on Twitter or add my debut to your Goodreads list.

The Query That Landed My Agent:

Dear Ms. Galit:

As I understand you represent writers of middle grade works, I hope you may be interested in my novel, LISSA BLACK AND THE MISFIT MONSTER.

Thirteen year-old Lissa is beyond bummed when her parents ship the family off to live in the boonies of Pennsylvania. She can practically hear the banjos playing.

Country life isn’t boring for long. During a walk in her new woods, Lissa’s terrified when a swamp creature crawls from the creek. Not cool with dying, she convinces her neighbor Adam to use his mad Boy Scout skills to rig a trap. They capture a sniffling, shape-shifting little goblin called Monster. Monster’s an escapee from Down Below – the society of creatures beneath the world’s floorboards. A baby, Monster doesn’t know much about Down Below or how he became a monster. When Lissa and Adam help Monster investigate his origins, they’re horrified at what they find. It gets even scarier when Lissa finds a strange board game called Monsterville in her basement. Is it really only a game?

When Lissa’s little sister Haylie is taken on Halloween, Lissa storms Down Below with Adam and Monster. There, Lissa realizes that Monsterville isn’t just a game. It’s a map of Down Below – a cheat sheet of its twists and turns and the monsters that wait around every corner.

Lissa needs to use her Monsterville knowledge and smarts to grab Haylie and get the heck on out of Down Below by daybreak. If she doesn’t, Down Below will have a few more inhabitants.

Complete at 64,000 words, LISSA BLACK AND THE MISFIT MONSTER is GOONIES meets JUMANJI, a fast-paced middle grade urban fantasy with series potential. Please let me know if you’d like to read the novel. Thank you very much.

The Query That Impressed No One:

Dear Ms. Agent-Who-Rightfully-Never-Responded:

I understand that you represent authors of young adult fiction and hope you may be interested in my recently completed novel, The Invisible Kid. Written to appeal to children 10-13, it humorously captures the insecurity that can make being in that age group a misery.

Twelve-year old Mitch Traynor would probably be okay with being ordinary if the rest of his family wasn’t so extraordinary. His antagonistic sister Katie is practically a genius. His mother is a famous author. And Mitch’s father is the beloved coach of the high school football team. After years of feeling invisible in the shadows created by his family’s bright spotlight, Mitch comes to a decision. He figures that since he and his family all share the same genes, perhaps he is extraordinary in a way he just hasn’t discovered. It is only a matter of figuring out how. Mitch begins trying on new roles at random, none of which fit and all of which end in humiliation or frustration. As he stumbles along on his ill-fated journey, it becomes clear to the reader that Mitch’s family members aren’t as extraordinary as he thinks they are, and that he isn’t as ordinary. The question is whether Mitch will see this.

Mitch of The Invisible Kid is a sweet, self-deprecating child with whom young readers will identify, his narration echoing their typical feelings of self-doubt. Mitch’s unconsciously humorous efforts to find his extraordinary side will resonate regardless of social or economic context. And the central role played by his family members subtly conveys the importance of having a strong support system.

I am a young lawyer working in Washington, D.C., and this is my first novel. The manuscript is complete (43,646 words). Thank you very much for your consideration.

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