I had the pleasure of attending SCBWI MidSouth two weekends ago, and the teaching was incredible. These notes are from the Query Letter sessions, which were taught by two agents.
- Make them want to read the book. This is 60% of the battle.
- Don’t give the agent a reason to say no. All the little details need to be fine-tuned, because good isn’t enough for a yes. As they’re sifting through a hundred queries in an hour, one single reason to say no earns a pass. It has to be all yes, or it won’t be.
- Conflict, Character, Concept. Do we know these three things?
- Don’t give too much detail. Just enough. Only what we have to know to understand the query version of the story. If those parents, that best friend plot doesn’t matter in this two second version, skip it. Long enough to cover everything, short enough to keep it interesting.
- Never talk about the life lesson your book teaches. That should be clear enough from your synopsis, and mentioning it makes the book sound like it will be preachy.
- Never be negative. Don’t say, “Because twilight is so awful,” etc. Never criticize.
- The book needs to be the same as what’s out there, and different. Same means it will sell. Different means people will care. Percy Jackson is like Harry Potter, but different enough to be original.
- Comparative titles should be within the last three years.
- We don’t need to know how normal your MC is. All MCs are normal until they’re not. Don’t waste a whole paragraph describing how normal they are. 😉
- White space breathes. Cut up your paragraph into two or three easily scanned sections.
- Your bio is there to show you’re a serious writer (or that you have experience relevant to your book.) That’s it. It doesn’t have to be impressive, it just has to show that you’re participating in QueryKombat, you’re involved with critique groups, etc.
- If an agent ever emails you with a pass, but says “come back”—come back. They don’t say that lightly.
Hope this helps on your wonderful hunt towards the magical world of publication! You’ve got this!