To what depths the Query Letter descends?

English: Dante's Inferno

Writers and Agents in years past? (Image via Wikipedia)

So it’s that time again, that time many writers loathe, the time where decisions must be made about playing the agent / publisher game and if so, when to start dancing with the dogs and ponies. Yes, I have started composing my query letter.

Writing the query letter. Meh. Like being in the original cast of Dante’s Inferno.

The short, three paragraph pitch to the unknown gatekeeper. The 200 or so words that completely and accurately summarize your 51,000 word novel.


Having not written one before, I consulted with experts (the Internet) and found, like writing in general, there are many styles of query letter, all of which can work. The trick is finding the right one and using the right words. Kinda like asking a girl out on a date, but I digress. So anyway, I decided to play safe and go with a common format, the “when this happens, that happens” format.” Boring perhaps, but concise and it puts the gist of the story out there.

Thanks to Agent Query for the help. For those looking for an agent, this is a great website. (Common disclaimer applies. I receive nothing for plugging them.)

Here’s the opening paragraph to the query for Hell in High Heels. Let me know what you think. Would you want to read more of the novel? Rewrite the paragraph? Should I scrap the whole thing and take up accounting? I’d be happy with either of the first two options. Crossing fingers, hoping no one votes for the third, though, now that I think about it, accounting pays better. (Or is that the lowest level of Dante’s Inferno?)

When a young sailor finds herself about to be dishonorably discharged from the service, she unwittingly accepts orders to become the Navy’s newest covert agent, having to face such adversaries as the Iranian military, a North Korean arms merchant, and her parents.”

The query letter. The key to the gate. But what door does it open?


17 thoughts on “To what depths the Query Letter descends?

  1. I’ve never done a query letter DJ and I’m nowhere qualified to give advice. I like everything you say in the paragraph–are you OK with it being one sentence?

    • The 1st sentence is the attention-grabber; the 1 sentence hook. The 2nd paragraph actually explains. The last paragraph is the author bio. That was the easy part – not much to say there!

      Still a W I P. Thanks for the input!

  2. Noah Lukeman’s HOW TO WRITE A GREAT QUERY LETTER has some fantastic advice on query letters. I like your summary (funny and informative), but I don’t feel a connection with it. Can you give the reader a reason why this matters to the character in a follow-up sentence? Just my thoughts.

    • Thanks! I see what you are saying about emotional connection. I will try to fix it later, tonite. Thanks for stopping by, as well!

  3. I have done so many query letters that I can’t remember how many. So far only a couple made it through the three-headed gatekeeper. –a few poems and a short story– and nothing else.

    So looks good for what it’s worth.

    And yes, Dante could tell you which gate of hell to go into for that perfect query. lol


    • Couldn’t pass up the reference to Dante. Thanks for reading, Cyn. I’ll follow up with a post on the “meet the agent” day coming up.

  4. Heehee — “…and her parents.” That tickles.
    If you’re looking for ways to aid connection, I would suggest giving us a name for “young sailor” right out of the box. Names are relatable, anonymity is distancing — or such are my feelings on the matter.

    • I had put her name in the second expository paragraph, but changed it just now. I also changed the humorous twist at the end. Hopefully a good decision. Still a WIP. Thanks for the input!

  5. 1st Paragraph v2.0:

    “Desperate to prove to her family – and herself – that she can be a success on her own, young Elena Martinez joins the Navy, only to soon find herself about to be dishonorably discharged. She unwittingly accepts orders to become the Navy’s newest covert agent, and is given a mission where she will face treacherous arms merchants and Iranian commandos while trying to save the world from evil domination. What could her old-fashioned father say, then?”

  6. I’m no expert, but have pounded out my first query letter and had it beat up by several who are close to experts (and now have to change it because of a change I made in the plot – AARRRRGGGHHH — ergh Sorry, I was saying?) First blush without reading anyone else’s comments: what’s her name? Give it to me, right away because otherwise I don’t care about her. Rather a long sentence, leaving me breathless at the end, and I would have stopped there except for the “and her parents” line. That gave me a chuckle and made me wonder why.

  7. I like it…but the word “unwittingly” confuses me….did she sign up accidentally or was it an option she couldn’t turn down?

    • I have been thinking about ” unwittingly” since I wrote it. There is a better way to say what I mean so hopefully v3.0 will solve the issue. Great input. Thanks!!

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