Querying Isn’t Algebra: There’s No Set Formula

Recently I participated in an online chat about queries. Everyone was throwing their ideas out, so I decided to give some opinions, based on what worked for me.

First, some stats. I sent out 17 query letters. Based on my letter and sample pages, I received 9 requests for a full. Also, I broke just about EVERY query letter “rule” there is: I wrote in first person; I used more than 500 words; I used a freaking split infinitive; and I wrote a long paragraph about myself.

So during this chat, I said:
“I think it’s a good idea to compare your book to other books. It will show that you read in your genre and that you understand the market. For instance, if you’ve written a book about angels, you should say, ‘My book is different from HUSH, HUSH and FALLEN because _____.’ Why? Because everyone already has their angel book, so yours really needs to stick out if you want to get pulled out of the slush.”

This piece of advice, which worked for me when I queried, just set people off. Other chatters said, “You should never compare yourself to other writers!” and “Comparisons like that make agents mad!” and “You should never say you’ve written the next HARRY POTTER or TWILIGHT!”

That’s not what I said.

I’m not trying to tell you what’s right or wrong in terms of querying, but what MATTERS. All that matters is that you’ve written a crazy awesome good book that people will want to read. Who cares what you write in your query letter as long as you show:

1) A powerful hook
2) Originality
3) Voice
4) A command of English grammar
5) A link to your website/blog/Twitter feed
6) You aren’t a complete nutjob

** Of course, follow the agent’s/agency’s guidelines.

This is just my opinion, but I’ve seen other people who’ve broken all the “querying rules,” and have ended up getting agents and book deals.

Query what feels natural and forget the formula.

Spend the time you use looking for the formula to edit and make your book even more awesome.

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5 thoughts on “Querying Isn’t Algebra: There’s No Set Formula”

  • I loved that you brought that up in chat, because so many people *did* take it the wrong way, and I think it made writers stop and think. Being aware of what’s just sold, what’s doing well now, what titles are getting buzz etc. – that shows that you have researched the market and know what niche your book fills. And that’s a good thing.

  • I think you’re right. There is definitely no formula. I went to a panel at RWA that had 5 agents on it. All of them agreed that they liked comparisons IF (big IF) the comparison was accurate.

    I didn’t compare my book to other novels in my query, but I did say “I think this novel would appeal to readers of A, B, and C authors.” That way, I wasn’t saying I was as awesome as those authors, just saying I should fit in with that group of readers.

    It worked for me! 🙂

  • 9 out of 17 is an excellent track record, and I think your advice is spot-on. I would add that it’s important to write the query in the same voice/tone of the novel you’re trying to spark interest in. Even if you don’t go the first-person route, you can write in a style that gives the agent a sense of the piece. Great post.

  • I agree with what you said here. I think you have to write a query that works for you. Following some set formula isn’t going to let the agent feel the “vibe” of your voice or your story.

  • Amen sister. I always feel silly when query conversations come up because, to be honest, my query kind of sucked. But it did it’s job! I think the key to a good query is writing a good story. If there’s a great hook agents will read pages. If the first few pages are awesome they’ll keep reading.

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