I am throwing my hat into the ring of “how to write a great query” advice. After a lot of research, working on my own query and helping others edit theirs, the below is the way to the most concise, smart way to market your book. Because that’s what a query is: you are marketing your book to an agent, selling it to them. Let’s start topline, with the best bit of advice I’ve seen, which is “the hook, the book & the cook.”
Paragraph one–the hook–is crucial, IMO. Because, contrary to our fuzzy-warm hopes and dreams… many agents do not read past the first paragraph of a query. Seriously. They’re smart, and they know within one or two lines whether your book is for them. So don’t be sloppy, vague or boring in your first paragraph.
In addition to this, there are several key things that you need to convey in your query.
Your query should introduce who your main character is (and possibly 1-2 ancillary characters, including love interest), what makes them interesting/different, and most importantly *why the reader/agent should care*
I believe in details in a query. Carefully chosen, well-crafted details can make your book stand out, and push an agent over the edge of requesting. It could be a quirky hobby, a cool event, even just a well-chosen adjective that tells the agent something about your MC. With details, you have to walk the line of info dump/kitchen sink query and cleverly adding color.
If your query doesn’t say what the conflict in your book is (or, God forbid, your book has no conflict), you have a problem. Conflict is the thing that gets in your MC’s way, the problem they have to solve. You shouldn’t have to spend three or four sentences explaining it–one, two sentences max (or, heck, a well-crafted phrase!) should sum it up, and pique the agent’s interests.
And then your stakes should hit the agent in the gut. Stakes are the consequence your character faces should they fail. Note: saving the world/the world ending/the character dying aren’t the best stakes. Many agents are tired of them. Focus on highly personal, character specific stakes.
I don’t know if it has an official term, but I call it the final thought, or the leave behind: the last line of the book part of your query, that leaves the agent wanting more. A thought or statement that follows on your stakes. Often the most frustratingly difficult line to come up with.
Comps are so, so important. They show an agent that you are well-read in your genre and that you understand where your book would fit in to the current market. Said everywhere, but worth repeating: do not use lofty/popular comps–no Harry Potter, Twilight, Hunger Games, etc. They make you look ridiculous and a bit delusional. Comps should be recent–published in the last three to four years*–and reflect where your book would be shelved, or at least the tone. Your comps don’t have to be perfect… but do your best to make them relevant and not too showy. *older book comps are OK, ie: classics, but make sure to pair an older comp, such as The Giver or Ender’s Game or A Wrinkle in Time, with one or two recent titles
Now, as for media comps. I am pro media comps–as long as they are used in conjunction with actual book comps. Don’t use a media comp unless it is really relevant–a movie or TV show with a concept that relates to your book, and could pique an agent’s interest. Be smart and selective with media comps–if it’s so obscure an agent w0uldn’t have heard of it, that’s wasted space. But avoid the same pitfall of the popular book comp–don’t comp a TV show or movie that everyone and their mother is comping.
Like comps, word count tells an agent whether you’ve done your research and know the industry. If you’ve written a YA contemporary, your word count should be in the ballpark of 50-70K. YA sci-fi and fantasy can be anywhere from 70-110K (but watch it on the upper range there–over 100K could be pushing it). If your YA contemporary is 120K… most agents are going to pass because it’s a red flag. Ditto your YA sci-fi is 45K.
WHO YOU ARE
Your bio paragraph should be short and to the point. Ideally, you are sharing your professional qualifications as they relate to writing and/or your book. I work in marketing and got a magna cum laude distinction in a writing-related field from a major university–so that went into my bio. If you’ve written for any professional publication, put it here. If you blog regularly, it is worth throwing in there. Do not put any self-publishing credits in your bio, unless you’ve sold tens of thousands of copies and have a significant platform. Any other unique platform or book specific things can go here (you’ve done X, Y, Z as is relevant to your book).
FORMATTING YOUR QUERY
I’ll expand on Pam’s formula, which I think is the key to getting the nuts and bolts of your query down, with two alternatives to query format.
QUERY FORMAT ONE: PERSONALIZED
Paragraph one: a brief explanation of why you are querying the agent, ending with a variation on: I hope you will consider NAME OF BOOK, a [possible supporting adjective, such as multicultural] YA GENRE complete at WORD COUNT.
Paragraph two: your book hook, which usually includes the protags name, age and unique situation/your hook.
Paragraph three: the nuts and bolts of your book, including introducing the PRIMARY CONFLICT. This is also the place to drop in a few colorful details that will make your work standout. Maybe your MC’s hobby (crocheting! hockey! whatever!) or a Thing That Happens in your book that is Really Cool. Also the place to tease the romantic lead/conflict, if it is secondary to your primary conflict (because if it’s YA, even if romance is not primary, it’s assumed there IS a love interest).
Paragraph four: short, hook-y, lines up your STAKES and FINAL THOUGHT (the thing that will leave them wanting more)
Paragraph five: Your COMPS and a short bio, full of things relevant to your writing.
Thank you for your consideration.
TWITTER HANDLE OR BLOG LINK
QUERY FORMAT: NON-PERSONALIZED (STANDARD)*
Paragraph one: book hook.
Paragraph two: nuts & bolts of your book (see above).
Paragraph three: STAKES & FINAL THOUGHT
Paragraph four: NAME OF BOOK is a YA GENRE, complete at WORD COUNT. It will appeal to fans of BOOK COMP by AUTHOR and BOOK COMP by AUTHOR. [OR] Pitched as MEDIA COMP meets MEDIA COMP, it will appeal to fans of BOOK COMP by AUTHOR and BOOK COMP by AUTHOR. While NAME OF BOOK can stand alone, it is the first in a planned TRILOGY/DUOLOGY. [OR] NAME OF BOOK is a stand alone with series potential.
Paragraph five: I am a YOUR JOB and OTHER WRITING QUALIFICATION(S).
Thank you for your consideration.
TWITTER HANDLE OR BLOG LINK
(optional, but a nice, subtle way to give them further ways to look into you, without being OTT about it)
*This is totally my preferred query format. I always sound like a jackass when I personalize, and I prefer to introduce my book in paragraph four, instead of breaking it up between paragraph 1 and 5, as in the personalized version.