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Anatomy of a Query Letter by Angie Sandro

My writing life has been blessed with such excellent critique partners. You've already met my writing soulmate in Sherry. Now, I want you to meet my writing sister from another mother, Angie. It's also almost been a year since we've found each other. Where does the time go?


Anyway, before I lose myself in waxing nostalgic, Angie is actually in the query process, and I thought, what better way to share the experience than through a Guest Post? I've never seen anyone get more request for partials and fulls for one query. My dear, you're dream agent will come a Call-ing any second now.


With that said, let's get this post started... 

Anatomy of a Query Letter 
by Angie Sandro

“Oh, heck no!” Run and hide.

Yeah, I’m not proud of my first reaction to Kate’s request that I write a post about query letters. I’m not an expert, I told her. No way, can I try and teach anyone the Art of the Query. And writing query letters is an art form. Believe me. If you’ve ever struggled to write one of these slippery little suckers—well, I don’t have to explain how mind-numbing it can be to condense an 80,000 word manuscript down to 250 words. Writing the doggone book is less stressful. The only thing more excruciating is childbirth and writing the Dreaded Synopsis. Nail biting and hair pulling begins with the horror of that thought.

I’ve written three query letters and each one has been a nightmare. I’ve been lucky to have awesome critique partners to bounce ideas off of, and who slap me upside the head whenever I start spiraling in query hell. The first thing I recommend before even attempting to write a query letter is research. There are many online communities that help teach proper formatting for a query letter. The most effective tends to be the hook’em and reel’em in format, heh heh.

The hook is one sentence that is meant to capture the agents’ attention and keep them from hitting the rejection button. Next is a mini-synopsis of the book (I like to end with a conclusion hook to wrap it up with a nice red bow). And lastly, it’s all about you baby—the author’s biography. If you don’t have any writing credentials, don’t fear. Most aspiring authors don’t. Just leave that part blank. For more information on formatting you can check out Agentquery.com for examples.


The query is the first impression that you’ll make with an agent. Possibly, your only impression and it needs to be a reflection of you. The book you are trying to sell.

Yes, the query needs to be aesthetically pleasing, well written, typo free…blah, blah…duh!

Now comes the hard part. It's something that a lot of people forget to include in their query because they get caught up in formatting. Voice.

I used to scratch my head whenever anyone mentioned Voice in writing. It's a nebulous entity to the newbie writer. What is it? Do I have it? If I don’t have it, where do I find it? I've come to think of voice as the ability to convey personality and emotion in your writing. Voice is as important in a query letter as it is in writing the manuscript.

^^^Nebulous Entity^^^

The query is an introduction and needs to reflect the voice of your characters and tone of the book you’ve written. The ebb and flow of emotion shown in the query should be written in such as way as to elicit an emotional response. What emotion. Whatever emotion you want to elicit with the story you've written. It's your book; it's a reflection of your taste. Like ice cream: quirky with a snark topping, gut-wrenching with hope sprinkles, tickle my funny-bone float. Mmm, yummy.

I’ve read and edited a lot of query letters. The ones that work for me are the ones that give me a breathless tingle of excitement. They are the ones that make me think. “Oh yes, I have to read this book.” If you read your query, or have someone else read it, and they don’t get all tingly and full inside. Time to rewrite. It may take a few tries or twenty to get it right, but when you do, you’ll know it. And believe me, it’s worth it.


Kate, I didn't really follow the one sentence hook format on this query letter. Shrug. Some rules are made to be broken :) (They certainly are, sista!)


^^^The Query Letter^^^




Alright, now here's the REAL query letter for Juju's Child:

When seventeen-year-old Malaise LaCroix finds a dead girl floating in the bayou, she crosses her mama by reporting the murder to the police. She’s naive enough to think the girl’s parents will be grateful, but Mama warns her otherwise. Of course, once folk start dying, Mala wishes she’d listened and left the girl for gator–bait.

Mala’s innocence becomes overshadowed by the pesky rumors that her aunt is an infamous New Orleans Hoodoo Queen and her mama can shrivel a guy's, well, man-parts. Even the boy Mala’s in love with is afraid to stray too close. Thing is, Mala thinks believing in magic is for weak-minded fools, until the dead girl starts haunting her.

The desperate spirit crushes the minds of those she influences and needs Mala’s latent psychic gift, willing or not, to expose her murderer. And once the girl’s father, Reverend Prince learns his daughter’s body has been drained of blood in what he assumes is a magical ritual, he sets out on an old-fashioned witch-hunt.

To keep from becoming the soul’s possession, or worse, being burned at the stake, Mala turns to the two guy’s whose own agendas don’t include helping an outcast such as herself—the cop she’s pined after since ninth grade that is investigating the murder and the ghost’s grief-crazed brother who uses Mala’s attraction to him as a weapon for revenge.

In JUJU'S CHILD, a 79,000 word young adult paranormal, Mala Lacroix is a teenage, African-American Sookie Stackhouse who gets caught up with the supernatural--ghosts instead of vampires--romance and murder This manuscript was inspired by my rich, Louisiana Creole cultural heritage.

If you have any questions for Angie about queries, writing, or life in general, please don't hesitate to ask in the comment's section. She would love to interact with you. Isn't that right, Angie?


To know more about this amazing writer, you can visit her blog by clicking HERE.


And please don't forget to follow us on Twitter: @KateEvangelista and @AngieSandro

12 comments:

  1. The real query read more like a synopsis than a letter. From my experience working with agents, editors and producers, it's too long. One paragraph description is considered enough.

    The hook seems to be in the last paragraph where a comparison is made to Sookie Stackhouse. Where was any mention of writing experience? Or recommendations?

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  2. Query letters - grrr. But they are necessary. Thanks for a lovely post and your fine example. Off to write mine soon.

    Have a nice weekend, ladies.

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  3. Woohoo! Way to go Angie! Great post. I'm still reading Juju's Child and loving it. Goodluck with your subs. :)

    @Kate: are you from the Phils.?

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  4. Surprise! LOL, I almost had a panic attack when I saw your email this morning, Kate. I’m grateful every day that I found such a wonderful friend, and it’s an honor to be on your wonderful blog as a guest poster. Thank you:)

    As I stated in the post, I'm not an expert in writing a query letter. I'm still learning myself with the help of my awesome sista, Kate and the wonderful online community of writers who shared their combine wisdom with a confused newbie, and I like to pay it forward.

    If anyone has any questions, feel free to ask.

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  5. Well put, Angie. You sounded pretty knowledgeable to me. :)

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  6. Great active, compelling voice. You obviously have talent for writing the query that PULLS YOU IN. Great work!

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  7. Awesome advice! I love your take on voice, and I'm glad your willing to critique my next query... phew!

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  8. Oh! Angie you are so right. Query is a four-letter word amongst writers. You seem to have a knack for it, as I have stayed awake many nights seeking your expertise as I wrote and rewrote mine. The best advice I could add is to have a partner hack it down to the bare bones once you've tried to condense it yourself. You know the parts you want to add, but a critique partner knows what needs to be there. Thanks for being my sista!

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  9. @cherie = Yup, born and raised!

    @Everyone = Thank you so much for your awesomeness!

    @Angie = I live to give you panic attacks. :-P

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  10. Thanks everyone for being so supportive. To echo Kate, ya'll are awesome!

    Kate, thanks again for the opportunity. I appreciate it.

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  11. I Like the advice you gave about the query letter.It seem so foreign to me,but you explanation of it was helpful,and understanding.I am a newbie in the literary world feeling my way around,but your actual query letter is very intersting.

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  12. Hey all, I thought I should provide an update regarding the query letter for Juju's Child. I received 10 full request, 7 partials, lots of rejections, and an offer of representation from my dream agent.

    Kate, I just wanted to thank you again for all your support. You're the best critique partner ever. Luv ya, sis.

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