Exciting news, folks – I’m back in the query trenches again! (screams internally) We’ve all been there before and some of us will be there again. It’s difficult. It’s demand. It’s downright daunting. But in the end, we all hope it will also be rewarding. It’s taken about a month for me to get the letter for THE RADIANCE OF BLACK into something worthwhile (in my most humble of opinions, at least), and I think it’s as good as it’s going to get.
I thought, while it’s timely and topically, why not write about query letters this week? So without further delay, I’m going to outline what I think are the essential things a powerful and engaging query letter should have AND I’M GOING TO DO SO USING WRASSLIN’ GIFS!
*snaps into Slim Jim*
The first thing you should lay out in your query is The Hook or logline. This is the so called ‘Elevator Pitch’. Basically what you want to do is show what this story about and what sets it apart from all the other hopeful manuscripts floating around in the literary purgatory that is The Slush. You want something catchy here, something that pops from the page. Something enticing that will make your would-be agent read onward. A story they NEED to know more about. I’ve read numerous articles about how some agents will just read logline and if it doesn’t hook them, that’s it. One. Two. Three. You’re out. But if it does hook, they read on. Your query lives to see another paragraph. I think The Hook is the make or break part of the query. The rest of it might be awesome, but if you don’t set the tone with something exciting, then you might find yourself already fighting a losing battle.
Your Main Character, who carries the weight of your story on his of her shoulders, whose journey the reader will follow throughout the course your manuscript. You basically have to boil down the very essence of his or her personality – their hopes, their dreams, their foibles, their quirks all into a single paragraph. This had always been incredibly difficult for me. I like to think I write some pretty nuanced and layered characters, so describing everything about them in like three sentences just kills me. But I’ve done it. The most important thing to emphasize here is what drives The Hero and why they’re driven. That’s seems like a lot to convey in such a small space, but you can distill his or her persona into the simplest, yet compelling terms. You can. ITS JUST THAT EASY!
Once we’ve established who The Hero is and what their motivations are, we must next delve into what goals drives those motivations. These are The Stakes! Whether it be personal redemption for transgressions of the past, revenge for some crime committed against them, some legendary item The Hero must procure to save the world or reconciliation with a lost love. Whatever it is, big or small, there must be some goal presented The Hero is working towards. Why should the reader care about The Hero if we don’t give them a reason to? There must be some gravity here. Even if The Stakes are not something as grandiose as TOTAL GLOBAL ANNIHILATION, you need to express why they’re important to The Hero. It’s another difficult thing to do in only a sentence or two, but it can be done. You need to focus The Hero’s journey on one particular point, one singular goal that he or she must achieve or else everything they are, everything their life has led to up until That One Point has been all for naught.
So now we have The Hero and when know what he or she must achieve in the Stakes. but we need to know what stands in the way of The Hero meeting their goals. This is, of course, my favorite part of the manuscript. The Villain. I think it’s debatable whether or not The Villain needs to be explicitly named, or if just mentioning their existence and the threat they pose to The Hero is enough. For THE RADIANCE OF BLACK, I named my Big Bad (The Ghastsire) in the query. One, because I think the name is wicked cool and Two, because it felt a little vague just mention him as some nebulous evil force lurking in the darkness. Either way, you need to make The Villain a legitimate threat, a true menace to The Hero and his or her goals. There really isn’t enough room to go into The Villain’s motivations like The Hero, but you don’t really need to. You just have to give a quick reason why they stand in opposition to The Hero and how they plan on doing it.
THE EVEN MORE STAKES
With all these pieces in place, there’s only one thing left to add – MORE STAKES. In the last paragraph you really want to drive those stakes home. What will happen if The Hero doesn’t accomplish the goals you’ve set for them? If The Villain prevails, what ruin will be wrought upon the world? This is the final sell. This is the climax of the query letter. Tie everything that came before into one perfect little plot knot. Once an agent is finished reading these last few sentences, the should want to NAY, MUST NEED TO read this book to know the outcome of these stakes. Again, it’s just that easy, right?
Maybe it is. I think if you’ve built your letter right, building each one of these blocks on top of the last, you can condense an entire book in to a few compelling paragraphs that will entice the reader and have them wanting more!
So what does everyone think? Is this a good summation of what makes stong query letter? Am I completely off base and should just tear up my own letter so that it never sees the light of day (uh oh it already has!)? Do you love these Wrasslin’ gifs as much as I do?
Let’s hear it!