Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Query Formula

When I was writing a query, I wanted a Mad-Libs style template that would tell me exactly what to say.  Query writing may not be quite that simple, but there is a standard formula that will work for most stories. If you don't know where to begin or if you want to scrap everything and start over, try using this template to get you started. 

By the way, this isn't intended to be the world's greatest query. I wrote it tonight based on my Sims 3 Supernatural characters. :)

Template for a query:

1. Introduce your main character. (Leif Trick) Share a detail to give a taste of their character. (blue hair, collects bugs) If the setting is important, share a detail about that too. (Moonlight Falls)

2. Describe the inciting incident that changes the MC's life forever and sends them on their journey. (drinks potion and sprouts fairy wings)
3. Outline the MC's primary goal. (Find cure to reverse fairy transformation)
4. Describe the obstacle getting in the way of the goal (zombie invasion makes being a fairy useful)
5. Summarize stakes or conflict (Being fairy and saving town vs. meeting goal of being normal again)
6. Title, word count, genre, comps, & bio.

 [SB1]Introduce your MC. Include an interesting detail.

 [SB2]The inciting incident that changes the MC’s life forever and starts them on their journey.

 [SB3]Describe the MC’s primary goal.

 [SB4]Describe the obstacle that keeps the MC from their goal.

 [SB5]Summarize the conflict or stakes.

 [SB6]Title, word count, genre, comps, bio

And now with my real successful query for The Charge...

Dear Curiosity Quills Editor,


Sharon Bayliss

 [SB1]Introduce MC (Warren King) with interesting detail (protects brother from bullies)

 [SB2]Inciting incident. (Warren’s brother is kidnapped and he finds out that they’re Texas royalty.

 [SB3]Describe the obstacle keeping him from meeting his goal. (The King is hunting him down)

 [SB4]Describe the goal of the MC. (Save his brother)

 [SB5]Romantic complication – if applicable.

 [SB6]Summarize conflict/ stakes.

 [SB7]Title, word count, genre. I couldn’t think of any good comps. J CQ does not request a bio in the query.

You can see with the two examples that there is naturally going to be some variation in ordering and the details needed, but the same basic concepts are the focus of the queries. 

Super simple blank template:

(Age*)_____ year old (Name)_______ is (interesting detail)_________ in (place) ________. Then one day (inciting incident)___________.

Now (name)_______ must (goal)___________. But (obstacle)_________ is stopping him/her. (Name)_______ must decide whether to (choice #1)_______ or (choice #2)________ or (stakes)_______ will happen.

*Age is only needed in MG, YA, and NA

Obviously, if you just filled this out, it would be a pretty lame query, but it could give you the basic framework. It can help to quiet the noise of all those details in the book that seem critical to you, but probably should be left out of the query. After you have the basic format down, then infuse it with voice (which I'll talk about later).

Try this out and let me know how it works for you!

Here are some of my past blog entries on queries:

I'd also like to share my favorite query link, "The Parts of a Good Query Letter" by Susan Dennard.


  1. Such a simple formula and you make is look so easy. if only it were so...

    Thanks for sharing. I can't wait to try it out and come back and show you what I did with it. But first, I'm going to check out the links you posted!!

  2. hi Sharon,
    I went to leave a comment on Thea's Blog, but I do not have wordpress, twitter or facebook and therefore could not login on her blog. I'm leaving a message here for her and hopefully she will stop by here and see it:(

    My culinary skills are begging for help and I'm always on the lookout for a new award to add to my stash! Yay! I'm looking forward to this month with more excitement than a five year old on Christmas Eve!
    Thanks for your help I'm going to be cooking up with you this month:)

  3. After about a berjillion versions of my query, I finally went about it almost exactly as you laid it out here. I wish I'd had this template BEFORE all that drama! It's so hard to pick what information should be in a query when the whole MS is swirling around in your head. Using a formula like this to get started helps nail down the important points. :D

  4. Hi Laura, I'm so glad it was helpful!

  5. love it! i finally wrote a good query too!

  6. Sharon,

    Thanks for stopping by. I followed your advice but especially your formula. I've re-posted a new version and hope I've gotten rid off all the passive phrases. Thanks for that, but especially for this formula, you make it seem so easy.
    Without sounding to 'suck uppy' This has been a great experience, frustrating at times, but that's what writing is, you get stuck, you get mad, you walk away, you come back and suddenly things begin to make sense. And none of it would have happened without the support and help of all the super villain and minions. I've learned a lot and all the posts about successful queries have really helped. I put links to them on my blog page today. So thank you!

  7. Hi Yolanda,

    I'm so glad to hear it's been helpful! It makes me feel great to know that you're getting a lot out of this experience. Writing a query really is a painful process, but if you keep doing those re-writes you'll get there. I'll check out your new version.



  8. Oh Sharon, your Sim-themed references make me chuckle. I really like this template, though, and I think it would help a lot of people, especially those who really have no idea where to begin when writing a query (read: me a few years ago). You put the ideas in easy to understand terms and used clear examples. Well done!