Okay everybody, without further ado I am excited to announce the guest post of Elana Johnson, the Queen of the Query and the Darling of the Blogoshpere. If you don't already know how awesome she is you are about to be smacked in the face ... with sauce.
Please be sure to visit Elana's blog, the QueryTracker blog, and Elana's website. If you're not already following her then what the hell are you doing here? If you think she's brilliant (I do) and you need help with your query she sells an awesome e-book, called From the Query to the Call. And guess what? It's only $9.99 and comes with a free critique of your query so it pretty much pays for itself right then and there.
She is so smart and so skilled at crafting a query that I don't want to muck her post up with much of my own commentary but just in case her thoughts are in red, purple for emphasis, and my own will be in blue. I know that's a bit different than usual, but she's the teacher here, let's all just sit back and learn.
Her thoughts and query:
I break the query down into four parts and work on them separately: Hook, Setup, Conflict, Consequence. Then there’s Everything Else your query needs. So I’ve identified the parts, and given some commentary as to why I’m including what I include. You’ve only got a few words, so you want to use them all to propel the agent through your letter and get them to request your novel. I mean, that’s the goal of a query letter: to generate requests. Not to tell every thread of the novel. To generate a request.
Truer words have never been spoken, well maybe they have, but not by me. It's like a mantra: the point of the query = to get the agent to read (more) pages.
Dear Ms. Andelman, (Agent Name Spelled Right in Personalization)
I read on your AgentQuery profile that you’re “drawn to fiction with a unique voice.” Because of this, I believe you would be interested in my young adult novel, POSSESSION. (Introduction – I did this if I could. Interestingly enough, I didn’t have anything for my agent. So I simply said, “I believe you would be interested…” and went from there. Basically, I want to do two things up front. 1. Let the agent know that I KNOW what they want. And 2. Tell them I’ve got what they want.)
That is interesting. Personalization is always important, when possible, and proves you have the work ethic to do the proper research. After all what is writing but hard work, right? That being said it is fun to see that Elana proved that as usual, rules can be broken.
In a world where Thinkers brainwash the population and Rules are not meant to be broken, fifteen-year-old Violet Schoenfeld does a hell of a job shattering them to pieces. (Hook)
After committing her eighth lame crime (walking in the park after dark with a boy, gasp!), ((details = Vi dislikes Rules and breaks them, world building = the Rules are lame)) Vi is taken to the Green, a group of Thinkers who control the Goodgrounds. ((world-building)) She’s found unrehabilitatable (yeah, she doesn’t think it’s a word either) ((details = Vi is snarky)) and exiled to the Badlands. ((world-building = exiled to another land))
This is so concise and such great advice/analysis that I'm not sure I can add anything. I will say that Violet Schoenfeld is a damn cool name, but Jag Barque is even cooler (sounding).
The voice also shines like a spotlight on amphetamines right here; so I'm sure that helped.
Yeah, right. Like that’s gonna happen. She busts out of prison with sexy Bad boy Jag Barque, who also has no intention of fulfilling his lame sentence. ((catalyst to the conflict = exiled to the Badlands with a (hawt) Bad boy))
(Okay, right here I wanna say this: So far this is all Setup. But I think I’ve hooked you with the first sentence. And I’ve given you the details of my character and world – oh and I’ve used the same voice as the novel. You’ve got to infuse your query with voice. My tip: Write it in the viewpoint of your novel. I wrote my query in first person and switched it back later.)
Man that's a great idea! *Runs off to change his query letter* Can't believe I never thought of that!
Dodging Greenies and hovercopters, dealing with absent-father issues, and coming to terms with feelings for an ex-boyfriend—and Jag as a possible new one—leave Vi little time for much else. (she’s got problems. Lots of them.) Which is too damn bad, because she’s more important than she realizes. (Whoa. She’s important? How so?)
This is great hinting, just enough to entice without giving anything away or going on too long.
When secrets about her “dead” sister and not-so-missing father hit the fan, Vi must make a choice: control or be controlled. (Ooh, what will it be? You’ll have to read to find out…)
And we will, boy will we.
A dystopian novel for young adults, (genre) POSSESSION (title) is complete at 75,000 words. (word count) Fans of Lois Lowry’s THE GIVER and Suzanne Collins’ THE HUNGER GAMES will enjoy similar dystopian elements, and a strong teen voice. (Market Comparison)
This is just housekeeping, of course, but Elana does it quite well.
I am an elementary school teacher by day and a contributing author of the QueryTracker blog by night. (Author Bio: BRIEF) If you would like to consider POSSESSION, I’d be happy to forward the complete manuscript to you. (Invitation – not a question, not a gushing-fest) I have included the first ten pages of the manuscript in the body of this email. (Conclusion)
You guys wanna guess how many requests Elana got when she couldn't include pages? Based on this query I'd wager the numbers are pretty high. Yes it only takes one, but even more is more fun!
I always included the first ten pages (my first chapter) in the body of the email – unless agents specifically said “Query Only.” I wanted them to read my writing, even though I thought my letter was 100%. It’s all about the writing, you know?
Thank you for your time and consideration,
http://elanajohnson.com (Contact Info)
Wow. Have you caught your breath yet? Does it seem possible that one person can have so much knowledge and insight and still not have any books published yet? [POSSESSION is set to be published by Simon Pulse (Simon & Schuster) in Summer 2011] Do you wonder whether Elana is blessed with some kind of Alien Intelligence? Does she scare you?
I'll admit I was a little intimated by Elana's fame and experience at first. It took a nudge from our mutual friend Michelle McLean to get me to even email her to ask if she was interested in doing this post. But you know what?
Elana is just about the nicest person you could ever meet (online or otherwise). Not only is she always willing to help out just about anyone but she is friendly, upbeat and incredibly funny. Go read her blog. Follow her. Love her (giving nature) and for god's sake don't be afraid to email her. Not only will she make you laugh but you'll probably learn something.
NOTE: Candace from The Misadventures in Candyland is holding a contest. Guess what some of the prizes are? That's right, query critiques by THE Elana Johnson!