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  • Writer's pictureA.J. Super

Queries: A Formula

Queries are hard. You say? Mind boggling. You say? Whoever decided that you had to sell a book in less than 350 words was a sadist. Then, to make authors tell the majority of the plot, include conflict, character, and voice. You want to die every time you have to write a query?

But... there's a way to overcome this slow query death. It's a formula. A keep it stupid simple formula. "The hook, the book, and the cook." And whoever coined the phrase is a mad genius. I didn't really get queries until I was introduced to that phrase. (Oh, and when I was introduced to the amazing CM McCoy who does a great workshop about pitches and queries during pitching contests, that was a turning point for me too.)

The Hook

This is a simple SET-UP + CONSEQUENCE. An IF/THEN. A "something happens" then a "what's the risk if the goal isn't met?"

Ok, fine. It really isn't that simple. But the idea is to narrow your book down to two or three sentences. "A spaceship crosses the shield-wall protecting Earth, and the crew of the cargo ship, Hopper, is sent to rescue them. (set-up) If they don't, the crew of the Hopper will be executed. (consequence)"

The Book

This has to do so much, I know. It has to focus on character, while explaining the plot, without spoiling the ending, and giving the reader tons and tons of conflict.

This needs to be three paragraphs long. If you have one POV, then you start with your MC and you drill down into the plot from a focused single perspective. Your first paragraph is the beginning, second is the middle, third is not the end, but a combination of character, conflict, and conclusion where you sum up the stakes of the book. The third paragraph should tell us the goal and the risk if the goal is not met, almost a rehash of the hook, a clincher. Just remember as you are writing these paragraphs, if you focus on your CHARACTER the rest will come. Make us care about what your character is going through, find the emotional connection and you'll find the conflict, and if you find the conflict, you'll find your stakes.

If you have two POVs (I won't really address more than two POVs because, seriously hard and unique problems, generally the rule is pick the most important and write the query through that lens.) then your first paragraph is POV one, your second paragraph is POV two and your third paragraph is their shared stakes and should accomplish the same goals as a single POV query. Again, you'll note that each paragraph focuses on CHARACTERS, which in turn pulls you through a lens to your conflict and plot. This will drive your query and make it strong.

The Book also has a short paragraph with word count and comparatives. Comps are hard, and not terribly necessary in many cases. If you can't figure out the "perfect" comps, it's okay to leave them off. Also, round your word count to the nearest 1000.

The Cook

This is a short bio. Be interesting. Be uninteresting. Just be. It only needs to be three to four lines. It should never be longer than the book. EVER.

And remember, all this needs to be done in under 350 words.

That is a query. Seriously. I know it seems like it's hard. But relax. Let it come. The formula is there and if you follow it and focus on character you'll not only get your voice in the query, you'll get your conflict and high stakes as well.


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