How to Write a Query Letter (with examples of real successful queries)

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hey guys it's Ellen Brock novel editor

today I'm gonna talk about query letters

I'm going to be using examples from

successful query letters to illustrate

for you guys a sort of template or a

format that you can use to create your

own successful query letter so all the

examples I'm going to be using in this

video we're successful in the sense that

they either bot the writer their agent

or the query got a higher than average

number of requests for full or partials

if you've ever queried before you know

that getting a partial or full request

is very difficult so a query that gets a

lot of these requests is very successful

so today I'm going to be going over the

plot summary element of the query on

Friday we'll be talking about all the

other elements the bio and the

comparison titles and the

personalization but today I'm just going

to be focusing on the plot summary and

to give you guys a sense of the word

count that you should be shooting for

for the plot summary these successful

queries in this video were between 99

words and 270 words for just the plot

portion of the query letter the average

number of words was about 180 so that

just gives you a rough idea of what you

should be shooting for so I find that it

is easiest to conceptualize the query

letter as having three parts these three

parts could all exist in one paragraph

they could all have their own paragraphs

there's no set amount of paragraphs or

lengths to these sections it's just I

find an easier way to conceptualize what

you need to include in the query to

think about it as having three sections

so the first part of the query has three

different components the first is the

hook or something unique or cut you

about your idea that'll really get the

agent interested and excited the second

part is the status-quo problem either

what your character once that they don't

have or what your character has that

they don't want the problem that they're

going to be facing the last part is the

disruption of the status quo or also

known as the inciting incident the thing

that really disrupts things and gets the

story set into motion so let's look at

some examples this one is from Megan

Jacobson's query for her novel yellow

which was published by penguin teen

Australia if 14 year old Kyra is having

a midlife crisis now then it doesn't

bode well for her life expect

see her so-called friends bully her

whatever semblance of a mother she had

has been drowned at the bottom of a gin

bottle ever since her dad left them for

another woman and now a teenage ghost is

speaking her through a broken phone

booth so the hook in this query is

really the voice of the character and

also the ghost which is an interesting

concept we also get a good sense of

thick protagonist status-quo her

problems in life she's being bullied her

mother is drunk she's having a midlife

crisis so we have a sense of what's

going wrong and then lastly we get the

disruption of the status quo or the

inciting incident which is this ghost in

the phone booth let's look at another

example this one is from Cameron

Eldridge's query for her why a novel

lucid which got her three offers of

representation and 11 requests for the

full manuscript her query begins with

all Marla wants is control of herself of

her environment and most importantly of

the people around her when an attempt to

prove the strength of her self control

through sleep deprivation lands Marlow

in the infirmary of the Diana Baines

Murray school for exceptional young

women she crosses paths with Gwynn

Sloane and Ellie so I think that the

hook in this query is both her desire

for control which is a really strong and

unique motivation as well as her

experiments with sleep deprivation which

isn't really something that I've seen

done before so the status quo is her

desire for control and then the

disruption of her status quo is when she

ends up in the infirmary and meets these

other girls let's look at another

example this one has a lot more setup

information to get the agent up to speed

on what the novel is about this query

was written by ka Black for her novel


and it got her six requests for foals

and one partial 20 years ago captain

Alexandria Harding nearly died and

became host to the constellation Orion

marking her as a star touched and giving

her his shield his sword and untold

power since then she has hidden the


leading her merchant crew under the gaze

of ciss the security state that rules

the solar system but when she receives a

coded email Alexandria is thrust into a

race across the solar system where

shifting alliances threaten not only her

crew but her bond to Orion so this

player II starts with a little bit of

background information that's necessary

to understand what's going on and then

we get her status quo problem which is

this secret and then we get the

disruption of the status quo or the

inciting incident which is the coded

emails that thrust her into the main


I think the hook is just the fact that

she has star touched and Orion it's a

very unique and interesting premise so

now that we've look at several examples

for the first section let's take a look

at the second section of the query in

this second section you want to give a

sense of how the character reacts what

actions they take and how they try to

move the plot forward after this

inciting incident or this disruption of

the status quo

you may also include another turning

point in the plot but that is totally

optional it will probably be dictated by

the story itself a good example of this

second section is in meghan jacobson

squarey for her novel yellow kira and

the ghost to make a pact she'll prove

who murdered him almost 20 years ago if

he does three things for her he makes

her popular he gets her parents back

together and he doesn't haunt her so we

get a sense of what this character does

she makes a pact with the ghost so this

is not a complicated or lengthy section

that you don't need to include a ton of

details but it gives us a sense of what

the character does so let's take a look

at another example this one is from essa

Hansen's query for her novel Norfolk

glass which got four requests out of

just nine queries the only survivor he

takes refuge with a compassionate crew

who teach him of freedom stars and a

bubble multiverse teeming with strange

species and Technology intent on revenge

and yearning to belong Caden accepts an

offer to accelerate his aging gaining

four years of instant growth and

knowledge in exchange he relives his

horrific memories so there recording can

bring the slavers to justice so we

learned that the actions that are taken

is that the protagonist takes refuge

with this crew and also that he

accelerates his aging let's look at

another example this one is from Ellen

Mulholland's query for her novel the

magical lemon tree recipe book which got

her her agent upon finding the companion

lemon tree recipe book magenta and her

baking assistant sister eagerly

experiment for the perfect recipe to win

the doubles academy competition but the

book doesn't make things easy after

turning a cat in

while cursing her nemesis with lemon

peel skin and levitating a newfound

friend the book is stolen threatening

magentas confidence in her own talent

and her tenuous place in the Academy so

in the second part of her query we get a

good sense of what the character does

how she reacts which is that she tries

different recipes and practices for this

competition and we also get a sense of

some fun and interesting things that

happen like the lemon peel skin and the

levitating friend so that's another use

of this section you can give a good

sense of the different kinds of things

that are going to happen and maybe some

fun and games that occur that can kind

of entice the agent to want to read

lastly she includes a turning point

which is the book being stolen which

again is an optional element of this

second section so let's take a look at

the third and final section of the plot

summary this section may or may not

include a turning point in the plot and

that's sort of going to be dependent on

what makes the most sense for your

individual story what you will almost

always see in this third section is a

statement of what is at stake or what

the character might lose and then also a

sense of how those states can be avoided

or what the character needs to do to

succeed let's look at an example of a

novel that has a turning point in this

third section of the query this query is

for JP Harris's novel saving grace which

had a high percentage of requests in

this novel Charles the protagonist has

tuberculosis and the third section of

the query is after the doctor announces

Charles may survive his fight to get

back to his family and make things right

is complicated by the consequences of

his one night of indiscretion so we know

that there is a turning point here which

is that Charles is actually going to

survive so that is another turning point

in the third section we know what's at

stake is his family and we know what he

needs to do is to fight to get back to

them let's take a look at another

example this one is from Sonny Dean's

query for her novel anger to your other

self which got her representation in

just 12 days Aquarian this novel tells

the story of Remmy and her dream self

row if row wants to live she must breach

the divide between worlds no problem to

save someone who doesn't want saving

little harder will not break in reality

in the process no promises this third

section of her query is short and sweet

it gets straight to the point we

understand what

stakes are which are her life and

possibly reality itself and we know what

she needs to do is to breach this divide

between worlds let's take a look at

another example this one is from Cameron

elders is query for her novel lucid as

when Sloane Anneli questioned their

identities realities in the lies Marlowe

has bound them with they must find a way

to wake themselves from her influence

before they reach the end of a path

leading to psychological destruction and

death so we know what that stake is

psychological destruction and death and

we know what they need to do is to sort

of break free from her influence so we

get a clear sense of the stakes and what

needs to happen to avoid them so let's

take a look at another example of a

query that has a turning point in this

third section so this is the third

section of Hannah out caps query for her

novel the weight of our skies which tie

her 21 requests in five offers of

representation but it's 1969 and on May

13th the already percolating melting pot

that is kuala lumpur boils over as the

Chinese and Malays wage war Mel and her

mother find themselves separated by city

in flames and with a 24-hour curfew in

place in all lines of communication down

it will take all of the courage grit and

beetle songs in Malati's arsenal to

overcome the violence on the streets her

own prejudices and a gin surging power

to make it back to the one person she

can't risk losing so we get a good sense

of the turning point which is the war

and we get a sense of mistakes which is

losing her mother and what she needs to

do which is to get through these streets

during this dangerous time so to do a

quick recap in the first section you

want to include a hook something that's

unique or special about your story you

want to include the status quo problem

or something that character once that

they don't have and also the disruption

of the status quo or the inciting

incident in the second section you want

to give a sense of the characters

actions what they do to advance the plot

and how they react to the inciting

incident you might also include an

optional turning point in the plot in

the third section there is another

optional turning point in the plot and

then you will want to describe the

stakes what the character has to lose

and what action the character needs to

take if they are going to succeed so I

hope this gave you some good ideas for

how you can write

query letter if you want to read these

queries in their entirety there's a link

in the description so you can read all

of them and get a better sense of how

they flow and how they work I will be

back on Friday to talk about the more

nitty-gritty elements of query writing

like the personalization your biography

and comparison titles happy writing guys