Happy #PitMad, everyone! I started participating in #PitMad when I was still in high school, and it’s always so much fun to connect with other writers during the event. Even more fun is getting those coveted agent likes on your tweets! However, I learned the hard way that it’s better to polish your query as much as you can before you send those emails off. Here are my top five tips for writing an irresistible query!
1. Put your stakes front and center.
Telling the agent you’re querying what your story is about is obviously a must, but it’s nowhere near as important as identifying and emphasizing the stakes that your characters are facing. The root of every story is what your characters want, what’s standing in their way, and what will happen if they don’t get what they want. When I was an intern, I read a lot of queries that detailed what was going to happen in the book, but not why I should care. Yes, a world in which everyone wastes their days away inside a virtual reality simulation sounds interesting, but what’s more interesting is what will happen if an evil corporation takes over this platform, and why our hero is the only one who can prevent this. Yep, I’m talking about Ready Player One by Ernest Cline! Knowing what Wade wants and what he will do to get it is what really draws you in when you read the back cover. The campy fun of the Easter Egg hunt is what makes this one of my favorite books of all time, but it wouldn’t mean a thing if the stakes weren’t clear. If you can’t see your stakes in your query, try writing your hook this way:
[Main Character] must [goal], or [consequence], but [obstacle] stands in their way. Start there and workshop!
2. Give a glimpse of your characters.
Every story starts with character, and your query should tell us something about who your story is about! Some of this will of course come naturally as you flesh out your stakes, as you’ll learn what your character values. However, we also need to know what makes your character unique. Standing out in the slush pile is hard. What’s unique about your character that makes him, her or them leap off of the page and demand attention? Ask yourself why this character is he right one to tell this story, and how you can weave these details into a query without overloading it with detail. Writing short stories is a great way to hone your concise storytelling. For example, in my published short story Stay Here for a Spell, main character Clara deals with the loss of her wedding ring by replacing it with the “most expensive one she could find,” a $32 ring from WalMart. We’re in Clara’s head here, and get a glimpse of how what she’s going through has affected her perception. Obviously, she could have gone to a real jeweler instead of buying a ring from WalMart, and her decision not to speak volumes, all within a few words. If you find yourself putting too many details about your character into your query, look for concise ways to add characterization that show many things rather than tell just one.
3. Don’t Over-Explain
This is one that I struggle with a lot. My plots tend to require a lot of sci-fi world building that doesn’t always fit naturally into a query. Take a look at the world you’ve built and figure out what’s important to the story you are pitching. Tell enough to give a sense of what’s happening, but don’t let details bog down the stakes and characters that you’re pitching!
Good luck to everyone participating in #PitMad today!