Writing An Effective, Enticing Query, Method 2

If you prefer a more formulaic approach to writing queries, this method may work well for you! I’ve found this method is especially helpful for beginners who have never written a query before and need a place to start.

To begin: every query needs the following things:

  • who is the character?
  • what do they want?
  • what obstacles are in their way?
  • what’s going to happen if they don’t get what they want?

(Have I seen good queries without these? Yes. But they are very much the exceptions, not the rule.)

But first — how do you start a query?

Let’s talk about the hook.
Hooks often follow one of two patterns:

  1. “When [character] discovers [inciting incident and other shiz], they must [do something cool] or else [really bad shiz] will happen.”
  2. A snappy, grabby line — “Aaron never expected to meet the girl of his dreams in a graveyard . . . but then again, he never expected to be dead at seventeen either.”

Don’t have a hook?
That’s okay — you can also open with your business paragraph instead of putting it at the end of the query. Either way. (AARON BEING DEAD is a 550,000-word YA urban fantasy that will appeal to fans of BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER and FRANKENSTEIN.)

(Please don’t actually comp Buffy and Frankenstein.)

Anyway, you’ve now opened your query — hopefully with “Dear [insert agent name with correct pronouns] before it.

Now to the meat of the query!

This method essentially uses an extended — and slightly more detailed — version of the “When [character] discovers [inciting incident and other shiz], they must [do something cool] or else [really bad shiz] will happen” formula.

So let’s start with the character — Who are they?

  • No, do not give me their entire backstory.
  • No, do not give me a 500-word summary of the world’s politics.
  • No, do not name every member of their family.
  • Yes, tell me who they are with like 1-2 details of why they’re unique

Then briefly tell me what their normal situation is.

  • What’s the status quo?
  • What’s going on BEFORE all hell breaks loose?

This gives us a much better feel for the stakes and the “whoa, all hell broke loose” stuff if we have a point of comparison. If your stakes are “Now Newt Flystalker must fight off wild banthas to survive the Smatooine desert” . . . except that’s what he does every day, this does not exactly inspire confidence in said stakes.

So you’ve established your normal situation. Now it’s time for your inciting incident.

  • What happens to change or challenge this status quo?
  • How does all hell break loose?
  • What jars this character out of their everyday life?

Now give me a reason to care about what happens in this book.

  • What does your character want now?
  • How the hell do they plan on getting out of this mess?
  • Or, you know, fixing it?
  • How are they going to react now that hell has broken loose?

But it can’t be that easy, right? They can’t just make a plan and flawlessly execute it. What fun would that be? What fun is the book if the characters don’t suffer?

What is standing in their way — physically? metaphorically? both?

NOTE: This can be a lot of different things. I’ve seen good books where the obstacle is the MC’s own mind. Or fear. Or a giant rainbow-farting unicorn. Or a mysterious dark lord. Or the MC’s own incompetence. Antagonists and obstacles come in all shapes and forms.

Now tell me how this affects your MC’s plans.

They really want things to go smoothly, but you, my twisted writer, have decided that they must suffer.

  • So how are they planning to overcome that obstacle?
  • Why is this so scary and hard for them?

Give me some stakes and tell me why those stakes matter.

This is something so many queries, pitches, and even manuscripts are missing — specific stakes that we as readers care about. Don’t give me just “OR THEIR LIFE WILL BE RUINED” or “OR THE WORLD IS DOOMED.”

Tell me why.

It’s okay for the world to end. It’s okay for their lives to be ruined. But why does it matter to them? What specifically will happen to them that makes those things even worse?

Time for some examples!

I decided to use Star Wars because lots of people know it, and it follows the heroic journey perfectly.

Hook

“When Luke Skywalker accidentally acquires two droids containing secret plans to defeat the evil Galactic Empire, he must get them safely to the Rebel Alliance or the fledgling band of rebels will be crushed — along with any hope of defeating the Empire.”

Note: this particular hook uses the “when ____ does ____, he must _____ or ______ happens” formula.

It’s not as specific as I’d like, but A New Hope is probably the least “personal” of all the movies. (Talk to me about the gospel of The Empire Strikes Back sometime.)

Now we have our dear friend, Luke, and his status quo.

“Nineteen-year-old Luke Skywalker never set out to save the galaxy. He’d be content just to get off his uncle’s moisture farm and enroll in the Imperial Academy as a pilot.”

BUT LO! ALL HELL BREAKS LOOSE!

“But when his uncle unknowingly buys two droids who carry the plans to the Galactic Empire’s new superweapon, Luke is suddenly pulled into a deadly, galaxy-wide struggle — a struggle which soon claims the lives of Luke’s aunt and uncle.”

Damn, Luke, that bites. So what do you want now?

“Together with his father’s old friend, Jedi Knight Obi-Wan Kenobi, Luke hires two less-than-reputable smugglers to fly him to Alderaan, where the Rebel Alliance is rud to be headquartered. ”

(Don’t talk to me about Dantooine)

But Luke, you didn’t REALLY think it would be that easy, did you?

“However, when they arrive at the planet’s coordinates, they find, to their horror, that Alderaan has been destroyed, obliterated by the very superweapon whose plans his droids carry.”

OH HEY, LUKE. IT JUST GOT WORSE.

“Before they can formulate a new plan, though, Luke and his friends are captured by the Empire.”

WHATCHA GONNA DO?

“Now they must not only escape the Empire’s clutches, but rescue the droids’ true owner, nineteen-year-old Princess Leia Organa, in the process – not to mention deliver the superweapon schematics to the Rebels before the Empire can complete their plans for galactic domination” (AND THE PERSONAL PART) “by murdering millions . . . starting with Luke’s new friends.”

Put it all together and VOILA. You have a query.

And here it is — all 284 words of it. (You generally want queries to be between 250 and 350 words, so it sits right in the sweet spot.)

When Luke Skywalker accidentally acquires two droids containing secret plans to defeat the evil Galactic Empire, he must get them safely to the Rebel Alliance or the fledgling band of rebels will be crushed — along with any hope of defeating the Empire.

Nineteen-year-old Luke Skywalker never set out to save the galaxy. He’d be content just to get off his uncle’s moisture farm and enroll in the Imperial Academy as a pilot. But when his uncle unknowingly buys two droids who carry the plans to the Galactic Empire’s new superweapon, Luke is suddenly pulled into a deadly, galaxy-wide struggle — a struggle which soon claims the lives of Luke’s aunt and uncle. 

Together with his father’s old friend, Jedi Knight Obi-Wan Kenobi, Luke hires two less-than-reputable smugglers to fly him to Alderaan, where the Rebel Alliance is rud to be headquartered. However, when they arrive at the planet’s coordinates, they find, to their horror, that Alderaan has been destroyed, obliterated by the very superweapon whose plans his droids carry.

Before they can formulate a new plan, though, Luke and his friends are captured by the Empire. Now they must not only escape the Empire’s clutches, but rescue the droids’ true owner, nineteen-year-old Princess Leia Organa, in the process – not to mention deliver the superweapon schematics to the Rebels before the Empire can complete their plans for galactic domination by murdering millions . . . starting with Luke’s new friends.

STAR WARS: A NEW HOPE is a (very long bc George Lucas)-word space opera with series potential (lol) that is essentially Tolkien’s THE LORD OF THE RINGS in space.

Thank you for your time, and I hope to hear from you soon,

George “I Love Money” Lucas
LukeIsDefinitelyNotMe@gmail.com
321-111-3333
500 Republica #1138
Corusca City, Coruscant 11111

A few notes!

Your mailing address is not required — I personally just do an email, a phone number, and a link to my website. I couldn’t pass up the 500 Republica joke, though)

–has series potential” is your new best friend. Even if you have a dozen sequels planned, you are only pitching one book. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten queries that say “DELUSIONS OF GRANDEUR is the first of seven epic novels, and they’re all already written.” Talk about specific sequel plans during your call with a potential agent.

AND LASTLY

Here are a couple of things you probably (definitely) want to leave out of your query:

  • “I’m probably wasting your time, but–“
  • “This book is the best book anyone’s ever written.”
  • “I received this book in a revelation from Satan.”
  • “This book will get a major movie deal.”
  • “Nothing like this book has ever been written before.”
  • “I included diverse MCs to make it trendy.”
  • “[Bestselling author I definitely do not know] has agreed to blurb this book.”
  • “I published this on Amazon last month, but it didn’t sell any copies.”
  • “[insert genre] is trash, so I decided I would save it.”
  • “[insert book] made me realize how easy writing a book could be.”
  • Racial slurs
  • Sexist comments
  • Hateful comments on gender identities, sexual orientations, etc
  • Criticisms of other authors, books, genres
  • Explicit photos or information
  • Comments on agents’ looks/houses/children
  • Begging
  • Bribery

I’m not making any of these up. I have seen every single one in the slush pile.