It is then that we open up that blank sheet of paper and our eyes fill with fear.
How am I going to condense my amazing book into 250 words?
What will I include?
I’ve read many queries (some being my own) where an important character is missing and in their place is a random grocery attendant. Maybe you’ve done the same thing in your query, and now you’re looking at it and STILL can’t figure out what it’s not working. Why someone doesn’t understand your full story.
Think about this… Just like you need to understand the plot and climax, you need to understand your characters and who moves from point A to point B.
If your main character in a paranormal universe has a ‘protector’ and that protector doesn’t make it into your query, you’ll lose the key part of the story.
Sending it out only to have the agent reject you…and you’re still not seeing the main problem.
There are moments to capture and others that can be tucked in. The key points are the ones you want to share.
Which characters carry the story structure?
If you say the secondary character can be removed then you might want to go back and rework your novel because the secondary character isn’t important enough. Even in the movie Castaway, Tom Hanks is alone but his SECONDARY character is the volleyball, Wilson. Wilson would have made the query. He’s a critical part in the story.
Does a character have a power that’s not being fully utilized?
Did you mention your character has the gift of cleaning? Or the fact that with a single touch she can kill any human, which is why she always wears gloves? What about the fact that a shape-shifter loves a vampire? We must know more about your characters; those details are what bring the story to life.
A story about a character attending high school isn’t nearly as enticing as a girl who can kill with a touch of a finger… making high school that much more difficult. When you leave out key components, you leave the agent out on the juicy news.
Is your character in a love triangle?
Mentioning all three characters in the triangle is pivotal. The agent, as well as the reader, needs to know each person is important. Do you think an agent would have known about a love triangle between Bella, Edward, and Jacob if she’d left Jacob out of the query letter? I think not. It adds depth and it’s something that should be known.
If you’re writing a YA are the parents still alive?
Mentioning that the parents have disappeared or are still alive is a great way to show what developmental stage your character is at. If your main character is about to fight crime, a normal set of parents is NOT going to allow that (if they find out, anyhow). Making a quick comment about where they’re at can be very helpful.
Friends, Frenemies, and enemies, finding out who’s important.
If there’s a villain you’ll want to mention him or her. Adding tension to your query helps not only brings out the voice but keeps the reader (or agent) intrigued to read more. Only talking about those fighting HALF the battle will leave the agent figuring you didn’t finish your novel since the other HALF of the battle isn’t explained.
I should mention you don’t want to get carried away. Agents don’t want to read about 30 guys in a 250 word query. Make sure that who you’re sharing are the MOST important characters, the ones who make the story shine. As much as you don’t want the plot to outshine the characters, you don’t want the characters to outshine the plot. Be sure to keep it equal. Just don’t forget about the key points.
Excellent Examples from the QueryTracker Success Stories Files
Leah Raeder – Full Query
Leah leaves nothing to chance with her query. Right from the beginning you learn the two important individuals in this story. If she were to remove Ben from her query the whole story wouldn’t be the same. The whole reason Rosa is infected is because of him. Don’t you think he’s pretty important? She did, so adding him into the query helped her get requests.
Rosa Farrow didn't kill Ben Waters. She moved in with her brother to get away from violence: the alcoholic father who was behind the wheel the day Mom died. But she's the last one who sees Ben alive. When his body turns up brutally mauled—with evidence of human bite marks—everyone wants to talk to her. Cops. Social workers. Even her brother seems unsure of her innocence. Rosa's starting to feel like she's in some waking Kafkaesque nightmare.
Until Ben's body disappears from the morgue.
And he shows back up at school, bloody, pissed off—and with lots of murderous new friends.
That's when he does the one thing you shouldn't let the recently deceased do: he bites her. She flees with her brother, but something escapes with her, stows away in her veins. She's infected. Changing. Becoming something like Ben. Becoming a monster even worse than her dad.
Rosa's no killer. Whatever happens, she won't follow in her father's footsteps. But how can she fight something that's inside of her?
Ashlyn Macnamara – Full Query
Titles are something to watch out for. Aislinn has titled her novel A TALE OF TWO SISTERS. If her sister wasn't mentioned at least once within the query how many agents would pass it by? My money's on several. If you didn't take the time to show her in the query then you didn't take the time to put her in the novel!
Scarred by her governess' suicide, debutante Julia St. Claire must marry to save her family from financial ruin, so she seeks to guard her heart in a civilized, sensible union. When such an arrangement is offered by the man of her sister's dreams, Julia must either betray her sister or risk giving her heart to childhood friend, Benedict Revelstoke. But Benedict, a second son, fears he has destroyed her trust by revealing his love for her--until she turns up at his townhouse with a scandalous proposal.
Patrick Gabridge – Full Query
In Patrick's novel we have the lovely Tyra and her Grandpa Rudy. She desperately wants to know what he is searching for in the woods when he goes on his many adventures. If the grandpa disappears from the query then Tyra really has no reason for an adventure and Patrick had no reason to write the story.
Eleven-year-old Tyra is stuck spending the summer with her irascible Grandpa Rudy in a lakeside town where she's the only black person (she's adopted). It's clearly going to be the worst summer ever. And a weird one, too. Every night, Rudy disappears into the woods, hauling tools and maps. He's searching for something, and Tyra desperately wants to know what it is.
One night, Tyra follows her grandfather and discovers him digging for an old bootlegger's buried treasure. He swears her to secrecy, but soon Tyra leads her new summer friend, Cory, to Grandpa Rudy's dig site. After being chased deep into the woods by an enraged Rudy, Tyra and Cory uncover clues that lead to Emerald Eddie's secret stash.
Grandpa Rudy isn't the only person in Spirit Lake obsessed with Emerald Eddie's legendary treasure, and it becomes a race to see who will find it first. Someone has been poking around the excavation site and has even broken into Rudy's house. Soon, Tyra, Rudy, and their friends find themselves in very real danger. Only a great sacrifice will allow them to escape unharmed. Through all the ups and downs of their treasure hunt, Tyra and Grandpa Rudy ultimately realize they need each other a lot more than they ever expected.
Jen Daiker writes humorous women’s fiction, where cupcakes and cocktails are always on the menu. She’s spends way too much time on Twitter and can be found on her blog Unedited.