Slaying the Query Monster

Song of the day: Outshined by Soundgarden


The beast awaits.

The bane that plagues so many writers.  The story is written, a wild sea crossed. The story is polished, a travel by foot across harsh territory. Two beasts lie in wait. The synopsis and the query. The synopsis has been conquered, perhaps. The writer pokes at it with a stick. It doesn’t move. But victory cannot be claimed. Not yet. The query still lurks. Confident, the writer enters a darkened den, poised with pen, to slay the query.

If successful in the quest, the writer may reap the rewards of agent or editor requests.

All too often, the writer limps away from the cave, bloody and beaten, defeated by the query monster.

Bow to me. Beg for my mercy.

So how do you overcome a lackluster or vague query?

I have some pointers that I picked up from a friend, who will remain nameless to protect the innocent. She is a genius, a query queen, a real know-it-all worthy of gifts and glory. Because of the not-so-subtle advice and a bop on the head, this maven has helped me not only gather requests, but win a query contest.

But enough sucking up.

I will share with you what I learned.

First, before you write that query, realize that your story is a product, one that agents and editors will have to sell to others. Your query must strike them as worth their time and energy.

Key items you should have in your query:

The agent/editor’s name SPELLED CORRECTLY. Double check this. I have made this ghastly mistake. It wasn’t that I was lazy. I honestly thought I had the name right. Imagine how mortified I was when I realized my mistake. There are no Do-Overs after you press Send. And getting stuck up to your armpit in a postal mailbox could land you in federal prison.

Star with an introduction paragraph. Why are you querying that particular agent/publisher? What genre or publisher line is the story? Include your word count. And, by gum, don’t forget the manuscript name.

Werewolf vs. vampire. Tough call.

Now for the meat to your potatoes. The agent/editor needs a clear idea of what your story is about — a short paragraph about your tale. This snippet should include, pay attention here folks, the heroine’s occupation and description (bounty hunter who needs to catch the next skip so she can pay her rent), the hero’s occupation and description (shape shifting werewolf protecting his pact), and the basic plot. The basic plot should include the conflict. What’s keeping the hero and heroine apart? What’s threatening them?  What is at stake? What is keeping the hero and heroine together?  (a mutual goal, staying alive, stuck on a submarine, etc.) Hints to their attraction or falling in love (mention a temptation, allure, earth-shattering kiss, etc.). And of course, the all-important black moment or big decision (save the world or save his heroine, a deadly explosion, a villainous deed, choose to be on Jacob’s team or Edward’s, etc.)

I feel compelled to include at least one drool-worthy hero.

In the last paragraph, tell a little about yourself. Be brief and only mention what is relevant to your story, including compelling expertise. If not, feel free to cite your writing affiliations, such as Romance Writers of America.

And don’t forget to thank them for their time, an important no-brainer.

More hints to success:

Be positive with your characters.  My heroine hovers over a dead man and rifles through his pockets in the first scene, but I don’t call her a thieving murderess. Instead I use the word desperate. Right off, I’ve said something meaningful about her that bolsters her motivation, which incidentally is to find her missing brother.

Don’t be vague. Don’t use phrases that leave the agent/editor scratching their heads. I’ve been woefully guilty of this, too. My friend accused me of being flowery and poetic with my prose. I write about pirates. They’d hang me for being too flowery.

Use active sentencing with clear descriptions and verbs that give the extra punch.

Include the GMC. Otherwise, the agent/editor will quickly become uninterested and your query will go from hand to trash can.

Infuse the tone of your story. If your tale is knee-slapping funny, add a sprinkle of that humor in your letter. Got dark? Use it. Just don’t leave a negative impression. You can be gloomy and still pique interest.

I will see your doom, beastie!

Once done, reread the query out loud. Check for excessive words and redundancy. You want the query to be concise with an easy cadence.

If you can in corporate these tips, you will have a well-written query.

Now go. Be confident. Slay the query monster.

Got a query disaster? Please share. Help the rest of us feel better about ourselves.

17 Responses to Slaying the Query Monster

  1. […] Slaying the Query Monster « MUSETRACKS […]


  2. Suzan H. says:

    RM? Innocent? BWA HA HA HA HA!

    Seriously though, the woman knows her queries. That degree in marketing helps. Thanks for posting the tips since I missed her lecture!


    • jbrayweber says:

      I giggled to my self when I wrote that, too. Innocent is to even in her vocabulary.
      But you are right. She is a real whiz at queries and I’m lucky to have her willing to put up with me.

      Thanks for stopping by, Suzan!


  3. Elisa Beatty says:

    Great advice, Jenn…and, as always, I love the pictures!


  4. Donna Goode says:

    Thanks for passing on the great advice, Suzan. It’s especially helpful since a query is lurking in my very near future!


  5. Great post, Jenn. Your timing is perfect. These tips will help.


  6. Thanks so much! My critique group is working on query letters and blurbs so I sent all a link to this page.


    • jbrayweber says:

      I hope that I can give your critique group something solid to work from. Thanks, Elaine, for popping in and sharing our link. 🙂


  7. Donna Goode says:

    Thanks! I tried to get the link to work that WordPress sent without any success at all. Sorry I didn’t get back sooner…


  8. Jen says:

    What is the GMC?


    • jbrayweber says:

      GMC is short for Goal, Motivation, & Conflict.
      Key items needed not only in the story, but the synopsis and query.
      Thanks for stopping by, Jen!


  9. I think it will, Thanks again!


  10. […] Slaying the Query Monster A nice synopsis of what goes into a good query letter. All of the usual suspects are there, of course (agent/editor’s name spelled correctly, etc.), but of particular use is the description of what to include in oyur synopsis paragraph. […]


  11. Wendy Marcus says:

    Great post! Great word usage! I loved it!
    With regard to the first paragraph of the query, at, C.J. Redwine did a post on Query 101. Here is a direct quote: “Your absolute best strategy is to dive right into the story like pubs do on the back of the book blurb. And the book title, word count, genre info goes with your last paragraph. That way you can focus on hooking the agent with your story.”

    Just another point of view to consider.


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