Eye-Popping Query Letters—in the figurative sense

Inferno causes thousands to flee in panic!

Interesting news headline? Intriguing? Do you feel compelled to find out more?

Compare it to this headline:

Bonfire on the beach scares seagulls.


Not so interesting? Must be a slow news day, or is that snoozeday?

Both are describing the same event. Both are true.

Aha  –lightbulb! Or at least that’s what happened to me after a recent meeting with our local query letter teacher and pitch guru, Brett Peterson.

Granted, if you’re Jonathan Livingston Seagull, the second example could be attention getting. But barring the seagull-centric factor, you have every right to ask, who cares?

Now think like an editor who gets thousands of queries every year. Even stretched out over 365 days, 261 official working days if you don’t take a vacation, that’s seven to twenty queries daily, if you stay under the 5,000 mark. And it’s not like they read the query and toss it aside, as much as you might think they do. No. This in addition to the mass of edits and revisions and inter-office pitch meetings that take up the bulk of their day.

So ask yourself, what makes your story different? What phrases can you use that truly resonate? What can you do to enchant that weary editor, to make their eyes pop open in wide-eyed delight? Hold up there people, don’t get ahead of me. I meant only in a good way, no literal eyeball popping sock’m, rock’m, shock’m action here.

Avoid a sideshow venture into Carny territory, “Step up folks, see “El Hoppo the Living Frog Boy!” Watch in amazement as “Atasha the Gorilla Girl” transforms from beauty to beast before your very eyes. A penny a peek folks!”

No. Not going there.

But also don’t let your manuscript languish unseen, unread, and underappreciated for lack of an attention grabbing query letter. Step it up a notch or ten. What use are the countless hours you’ve slaved over your manuscript, if you dash off a wimpy and thoughtless query. Get out the thesaurus and wield those descriptors with all the finesse your manuscript deserves. Your query deserves some quality time.

A few additional rules of thumb:

1- Keep it short.

2- Introduce your protagonist and your antagonist.

3- Do reveal the main conflict or major dramatic question.

4- Keep it short.

Oh, and a little bonus take-away from my sojourn into the Newsies and the newsboy strike of 1899: Check out this YouTube, wherein you too might find yourself humming, and following the advice, “Open the gates and seize the day, don’t be afraid, don’t delay.”

Seize the Day / Newsies

Thank you again, Brett, for directing me to the movie, Newsies, and for taking time out of your schedule to talk to me about making an attention getting query letter.  One for all and all for one, you rock!