Monday, June 27, 2011

A Lil' Query Help From Shelly Beach

I had the privilege to attend the Christian Writer's Workshop in Cedar Falls, Iowa with Christy Award winner, Shelly Beach. Although my attendance was limited because of the need for childcare (can I just give kudos to my hubby for making it work by taking time off and working out of the house? What a supporter!!), I still walked away from the sessions with a bunch of knowledge.

Can I say, the one word that makes me shudder and want to throw in the towel?


Wouldn't it be great if a you could slip your manuscript under the nose of an agent or editor without having to figure out how to wow them in summaries and pitches? Well, Shelly did a fabulous job at summing up the elements of a query, so although my technical writing skill is subpar, I think I have a better grasp on my once dreaded task. ;)

Shelly defines the query as “a single page cover letter, introducing you and your book. A query letter has three concise paragraphs: the hook, the mini-synopsis, and your writer's biography.”

You want to use a professional business letter tone, but still allow your voice to shine through your query and reflect who you are.


Paragraph 1: The Hook
  • You should get the agent/editor's attention in the first paragraph by using a hook or “one concise sentence." Shelly referenced the AQ database at You can link to agencies' websites who represent your genre and find examples of loglines of their books.
An example from The Kite Runner-- "An epic tale of fathers and sons, of friendship and betrayal, that takes us from Afghanistan in the final days of the monarchy to the atrocities of the present." 
    • This paragraph should also include the genre, title of your book, word count, and why you are querying that agent/editor...see tips below.
    Paragraph 2: The Mini-synopsis
    This should be around 150 words, and it expands on the hook. It should show the main character and conflict that changes the lives of the characters. You should convey the story arc in this paragraph. Your voice should be present!

    Paragraph 3: Your Writer's Biography
    Something I didn't realize, is you don't necessarily need your educational background here, unless it specifically relates to you as a writer or your expertise in writing for a non-fiction topic. What you do want to include is:
    • Your writing background, publications
    • If something in your life relates to your main character, you could mention it to show you have first-hand knowledge of what you are writing
    • Contests and awards
    The Closing:

    And close the letter by thanking the agent or editor for their time.

    • Send thank you's even if your letter is rejected, and especially if they take the time to give you input.
    • Don't query unless you finish the manuscript: They want to know you can write your way out of a corner, and see the plot concluded.
    • Address agents/editors specifically. Know that they can change publishing houses, so check where they are going. Let them know why you chose to query them. Read their blog, website.
    • Make sure your book has a catchy, memorable title. :)


    Chuck Sambuchino's blog:

    Query Shark blog:


    Jeanne Takenaka said...

    Angie, what an informative post. I recently did my first query with a magazine article, and that was hard enough. Haven't completed my wip yet, so I haven't braved this kind of letter yet. :) I am going to remember this post for when I need it, though. You covered the aspects of a query in an informative and personable way. Thanks for sharing what you've learned about a tricky aspect of writing!

    Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

    Oh Angie, this was so informative! I am bookmarking this for future reference. I've never queried, and the task seems like a daunting one!

    Can't wait to see what else you learned at that conference!

    Beth K. Vogt said...

    Excellent information--and I like the advice to send a thank you, even if they reject you.

    Angie Dicken said...

    Jeanne, good luck with your magazine article! Thanks for commenting.
    Sherrinda, I feel like I am always searching for good advice on this (tempted to stick in Sarah's info, but I'll let her have that. :) ) I have a few more ideas for posts from that workshop. I was only there for two half days, but the wealth of information was phenomenal!
    Beth, I liked that advice too...It's sometimes hard to get past the bruised ego of rejection, but sending a thank you is a sign that the writer is working to better their craft, and not sitting there stewing. :)

    Faith said...

    Great advice! I liked how it was all laid out and not vague at all!
    Thanks so much!

    Pepper said...

    WONDERFUL post, Angie.
    I just finished sending off a query (after author Ruth Logan Herne previewed -and edited it- for me.
    Your post hits the query nail on the head. What a fantastic resource.

    Sarah Forgrave said...

    Wow, that IS an awesome hubby you have there! You nailed all the essentials here, Angie. And I like your advice to send a thank-you. A little courtesy and teachability never hurts. :)

    Angie Dicken said...

    Thanks Faye! Ooh, Pepper, it is so great to have someone take a look at queries...ahem's nice to get another's opinion on something so crucial in this process.
    Sarah, I know, he's pretty great! He's also the one who told me a couple of years ago, that I need to get connected with other writers to know what's expected in the craft...I finally listened! :)

    Silent Pages said...

    Great post. ^^ Querying is still one of the things I'm dreading... But right now I need to do a lot more revision on a rough draft or two before I'm ready to tackle it.

    Again, it was great seeing you at the conference. :)

    Angie Dicken said...

    So glad you stopped by! It was great meeting you. Hope you had fun at camp! ;)