A query on writing queries

Writing query letters is probably the last thing writers want to do once they’ve finished their work. But a query that arrests the attention of an editor or agent will justify the hours you’ve just spent agonizing over your book.

Writers are always asking about the best way draft query letters. While there is plenty of narrative about how to write a query letter, the best advice is specific, even if does follow a form. Moira Allen writes that a query should have five elements:

  • The hook
  • The pitch
  • The body
  • The credentials
  • The close

WritingMystersGraftonG. Miki Hayden (“E-Media–Crime Fiction E-Volves,” Writing Mysteries, Sue Grafton, editor, Writers Digest Books) says the hook might be something like: “”When Rona Bennet finds a dead body on her seaside property, she knows that she will be a suspect. A year before, she was tried and acquitted after a similar killing.” The idea is to lead with the best example of your skills in action. In other words show, don’t just tell. The fest of the formula explains itself.

Allena Tapia offers a sample query for nonfiction that follows a similar format. British crime and literary fiction author Alex Keegan (creator of the Caz Flood novels) provides the query that landed a contract as well as the editor’s reply—and the novel wasn’t even finished. Charlotte Dillon offers a host of sample query letter on her site.

And don’t forget your background and platform, if either would help you write or market your book. That might just be the writing that hooks the deal.