Without a doubt one of the biggest struggles of an aspiring writer’s life is penning the perfect query. I’ve done many author interviews, and while each writer has had their own individual journey to publication, they ALL have one thing in common: they struggled to write the perfect query.
Now is there such a thing as the perfect query? Of course not. But I’ve seen many that have come very close.
Is there a special formula or key ingredient that makes a query stand out? Some say yes. Some say no. In my personal opinion it comes down to three things: Hook, Voice & Story.
Below are examples of queries that include all of these elements:
Query #1 – Example of Great Hook: Mindee Arnett’s query for THE NIGHTMARE AFFAIR
16-year-old Dusty Everhart might make a regular habit of breaking into houses late at night, but she’s no criminal. She is a Nightmare, a magical being who must feed on the dreams of others, and in doing so experience those dreams, too. But when her latest dreamer, Eli Booker, the hot guy from her old high school, turns out to be dreaming about a murder which shortly comes true, she goes from non-criminal to reluctant crime fighter.
Dusty learns that together she and Eli posses the rare ability to predict the future through dreams. They are soon enlisted by the magickind government to help identify the person killing students at Dusty’s high school, Arkwell Academy, a secret school for magickind. Now Dusty and Eli must follow the clues both within Eli’s dreams and out of them to stop the killer before more people turn up dead. And before the killer learns what they’re up to and marks them as the next target.
After the first line in this query, you are immediately drawn in. Why would a 16-year-old break into a house at night? And then the following line, “She is a Nightmare,” immediately lets the reader know what kind of story this is going to be. The tone for this book is perfectly set in two lines.
Query#2 – Example of Great Voice: Mary Elizabeth Summer’s query for TRUST ME, I’m LYING
Julep Dupree is not a real person. In fact, Julep isn’t even her real name. She’s a grifter, a con artist, a master of disguise, and a sophomore at St. Agatha High. The downside of St. Agatha’s is that its private-school price tag is a bit higher than Julep’s father, an old-school grifter with a weakness for the ponies, can afford. So Julep makes up the difference by running petty scams for her classmates, while dodging the dean of students and maintaining an A+ (okay, A-) average.
But when she comes home one day to a ransacked apartment and a missing dad, Julep’s carefully laid plans for an expenses-paid golden ticket to Yale start to unravel. Even with help from St. Agatha’s resident Prince Charming, Tyler Richland, Julep struggles to trace her dad’s trail of clues through a maze of creepy stalkers, hit attempts, family secrets, and worse, the threat of foster care. With everything she has left at stake, Julep must tap all her resources and use every grift in the book to find her dad before his mark finds her.
Again, great hook, but what follows is more important: The Voice. Immediately, we learn what kind of character we’re going to encounter in this story: guarded, bright, and a total smart aleck. But as you move through the query the voice tells you more: Julep’s also vulnerable which you want in your main character. What this query proves is that not only can you tell the story in a few lines, but through voice, you can show the heart of a character and draw in potential readers.
Query #3: Telling a Great Story: Lisa and Laura Roecker’s Query for THE LIAR SOCIETY
Kate Lowry didn’t think dead best friends could send e-mails. Not even on the anniversary of their disappearance. Of course, that was before this message from Grace appeared in her inbox:
I shouldn’t be writing.
They’ll hurt you.
Most girls would ignore the warning and go straight to the police.
But Kate isn’t most girls.
Instead, she decides to channel Nancy Drew, pearls and all. Of course, Kate’s pearls are faux, her skirts are way shorter and she’d take everyone’s favorite teen detective in a girl fight, but you get the idea.
The e-mails continue and Kate’s quest to solve the mystery takes a dangerous turn when her confrontation with Christian, Grace’s addict brother, almost gets her killed. Good thing she finds a couple of knights-in-(not so)-shining armor in sexy bad boy, Liam, and her awkward neighbor, Seth. Armed with her newfound sidekicks, the investigation continues, uncovering a secret lurking in the halls of their elite private school that threatens to destroy them all.
Kate knew finding Grace wasn’t going to be easy, but figuring out who to trust is more difficult than she ever could have imagined.
After all, everyone’s a suspect.
The use of an excerpt from the book is an unusual way to start a query, but here it works. In just a few lines, you know the story. The rest of the query fills in the blanks with great voice, but it’s those beginning words that let you know this is going to be a story full of mystery and twist and turns. It pulls you in and has you asking questions, which is what a good query should do.
Now these are just three examples of what I think make up great queries. Are they perfect? No. But they are pretty close because they do their job. They set up the story, characters, and conflict, which makes an agent want to read more. And in the end, isn’t that what all aspiring writers want?
What do you think is required to make a perfect query? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!