One of the most helpful workshops I attended at RWA was a two-hour event called Queryfest. The premise was pretty simple. Queries were collected from the audience, then a panel of five agents listened to the queries read aloud by a moderator and gave feedback.
For the first few, they listened to the full query before commenting. Then, about halfway through the workshop, they switched to a format where each agent would say "Stop" when in normal query reading, they would stop reading and reject the person.
I know, brutal right? I have mad respect for those people who submitted their queries to the gauntlet. But the experience was rather eye-opening. Even I started to say "stop" in my head when I would hit the point that I'd lost interest or got confused.
So here's what I learned:
Do not put your title, genre, and word count at the bottom of the query.
I always did this. It was usually my last paragraph because I wanted my hook at the top. But every agent on the panel agreed it was better upfront. After hearing the queries aloud, this suddenly made total sense to me. When you don't know the genre, reading the query can be confusing because you're constantly trying to place what kind of story it is. Then sometimes you get in your head it's A and then the query drops the bomb that it's actually B or Z. (There was actually a gasp from the crowd after one query that sounded like adult urban fantasy turned out to be YA.) So first line should be something to the effect of "I am seeking representation for my 70,000 word historical romance, TITLE."
Don't bury your hook.
Okay, I know I just said you should have genre up at the top and I still mean that, but then you need to drop in your hook as soon as you start talking about your story. And let it stand out. Some people had a great hook and then they went on and on AND ON. By the time the query was done, we'd all forgotten what the story was about and that sparkly hook. So use your hook and then get to the guts of your summary, but keep it brief!
Agents like accurate comparisons.
I've heard mixed things on this topic, but all four agents on this panel liked the idea of the comparison pitch. I.e. Glee meets True Blood. Okay, so that story probably wouldn't work, but you get the idea. The one query that did this had the agents requesting they send material on the spot--FROM JUST ONE LINE. Seriously.
Know your genre.
Many of the queries seemed to be labeled with the wrong genre. There were queries for romances that didn't talk anything about the primary relationship of the book. There were also a few that tried to merge too many genres. You can't pitch an urban fantasy, historical, inspirational, middle grade, cross-over paranormal romance. The agents wants to know where you would be placed in the bookstore.
Voice is always vital.
Beyond hook, voice was what sold them on things. So make sure you inject the voice of your prose into your query.
Agents don't care about your personal information if it doesn't relate to the book.
They don't care if you've been writing all your life, wrote your first book at age five in crayons, and that you love to water ski in your free time. Writing credentials aren't necessary for fiction, so don't fluff that paragraph if you don't have any. However, if you DO have something relevant: contest wins, previous publications, write articles for a magazine, etc. then put that in there. Also, this is where you can put in that you blog.
They assume overwritten query means overwritten manuscript.
Some of the queries had adjective soup, like the person was trying to SOUND like a writer. Don't do this. Many assume the sins of the query will be the same sins in your book. (And not all of them jump to the sample pages to find out.)
They are human--everyone likes to be kissed up to a little.
Personalize those queries. Let the agent know (in a very brief way) that you have researched them and consciously selected them--not that you're just throwing spaghetti on the wall to see what sticks. Maybe you saw them speak at a conference, maybe you love their blog/twitter, maybe you admire their clients. Be genuine and tell them why you are interested in their representation.
Alright, those are the main points I gleaned from the talk. Hopefully, these tips helped. We'll see if they helped me soon since I'm now actively querying my latest novel, lol.
So did any of these tips surprise you? Have you incorporated these in your query? What other tips have you heard? And am I the only one that has a HORRIBLE time trying to come up with those comparisons?