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.
Aside from his blue hair and an affinity for collecting bugs, sixteen-year-old Leif Trick isn't too different from the other teenagers in the suburban neighborhood of Moonlight Falls. [SB1] That is until his way-too-pretty neighbor Cadence Good convinces him to try his first sip of alcohol. If Leif had known Cadence was a fledgling witch, he might have thought twice. Instead of getting a hangover, he wakes up the next morning with two giant fairy wings.[SB2]
Cadence confesses that she spiked his drink with Essence of the Fae, but did not know the effects would be permanent. Not interested in finding out what the bullies at school would do to an actual fairy, Leif agrees to run away from home with Cadence to visit a secret scientific facility testing a supernatural cure. [SB3] On their way to the facility, they learn that the residents of Moonlight Falls are being turned into zombies and Leif's fairy dust may be the only thing that can reverse the zombie curse. [SB4] Now he must decide whether or not to accept a life with wings and return home or seek out the spell that will turn him human again.[SB5]
ESSENCE OF THE FAE is a 90,000 word YA paranormal based on a game of Sims 3 Supernatural that I’m playing. I am a member of the Fairy Tale Writers League and YALitChat. My short story “Reticulating Splines” appeared in the May 2012 issue of the Sim City Review.[SB6]
And now with my real successful query for The Charge...
Dear Curiosity Quills Editor,
Eighteen-year-old Warren King has been protecting his brother, Isaac, from bullies ever since Isaac decided to wear a top hat to the third grade. [SB1] So when Isaac is kidnapped, Warren heads out to bust some faces. But Warren didn’t expect the bully to be the King of the Texas Empire. Warren’s mother confesses that Warren and his brother are some of the last members of the Texas royal family. [SB2] The new King is hunting down his relatives before the true heir decides to say, “Hey man, you’re in my seat.”[SB3]
Warren must save his brother and avoid capture himself armed with nothing more than a fifteen year old Camry and MapQuest directions to Texas. [SB4] He gets help from a spirited Texan named Lena who is first girl that ever made him want to do things like iron creases in his pants. She’s ready to help him take on the King, but since she’s an anti-monarchy activist dating the son of the President of the United States, he’s not sure if she’s going to kiss him or shoot him. [SB5] Gone are the days when choosing a major was a big deal. Now he must embark into a West that stayed wild and choose to be King, follow a King, or die before he can retire his fake ID.[SB6]
THE CHARGE is an 80,000 word New Adult science fiction adventure set on an alternate timeline where a dictator took over the Republic of Texas in 1836 and built his own empire in the West. It can stand alone, but I have outlined it to be the first book in a five part series.[SB7]
[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.