Everything you need to know about writing a query

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PART ONE: THE HOOK

A hook, a.k.a. elevator pitch or logline, is 2-3 sentences explaining what your book is about. It’s the heart of a query letter, the thing that gets the agent to request pages. It is also the second hardest thing you will write (next to your synopsis, which we’ll discuss later). But here are some tips that made it easier for me.

The Technical Stuff

Write in third person, present tense. Anything else will get you in trouble. Even if your book is in first person, past (“I did this, I went there”), write the hook in third, present (“He does this, he goes here”).

Keep it short. The entire letter should fit on one page in Times New Roman, 12pt. That means the hook is one or two short paragraphs.

State facts, not opinions. No fluff phrases like “thrilling page-turner,” “harrowing adventure,” “heart-wrenching tragedy” or any of the things you want reviewers to say after you’re published. That’s bragging. Don’t include your book’s theme (e.g. “about trying to find hope amidst despair,” “about love conquering against all odds”). That’s telling, not showing, remember?

 

How You’ll Really Get it Done

Start with one sentence. I took this advice from Nathan Bransford. It’s painful, but it works. Write in one sentence, as short as possible, what your book is about. Then, expand in one or two more sentences, including whatever makes your story different from everyone else’s.

Write what it seems to be about, not what it’s really about. If your story seems too complicated to narrow down to a hook, this tip is your magic key. I struggled with the same thing for years. In one book I had two storylines and at least five major characters, three of whom had back story to be explained before any of it made sense. In 2-3 sentences? Impossible. So I turned my thinking around. Yeah, when all is revealed, it’s really a complex political chess game involving secret organizations and entire worlds, but what it seems to be about, what happens in the first chapter – is a bunch of kids stranded in the wilderness. So I went with that. And it worked.

You’ll know when you’ve found The One. I read this somewhere and then experienced it myself, so I swear by it now. I sent out multiple versions of a query letter thinking each version was alright, but I never got page requests back. That was my problem; it was decent, okay. But I wasn’t in love with it. Then when I finally hit upon The One, I felt it, deep down – and I got page requests days or even hours after submitting it. So learn from my mistakes, keep rewriting your hook and don’t submit a query until you know. And none of this “I think I know.” You’ll know.

Still confused? Read some exciting hook examples!

About Stephanie Orges

Stephanie is an award-winning copywriter, aspiring novelist, and barely passable ukulele player. Here, she offers writing prompts, tips, and moderate-to-deep philosophical discussions. You can also find her on and Pinterest.
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18 Comments

  1. I’ve read somewhere (Query Shark, probably) that the query should focus on the first 50 pages of the novel. This is what helped me finish mine.

    I think this is another way of saying what you said: write what it seems to be about.

    Agents want to be drawn in. They don’t want the whole story. That’s for later.

    Can’t wait to see your hook examples.

  2. Great post. Really helped me. Thank you.

  3. haha I was in a writing class today and got told pretty much the same thing. Nice post, this part of writing a book completely terrifies me.

  4. This is brilliant – quite brilliant. Coming from a musical theatre perspective (well … that would be my end of the creative spectrum!) it’s great to read that there are key similarities between the genres. We’re both about telling a story, but in a slightly different way! Thank you!

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  13. I’m struggling with the same thing for my query right now so thanks. But after reading that part about the political chess game and secret societies I wanna know: where’s that book? Sounds like something I’d read.

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