Confession: I'm about to give advice that is much easier to say than to do.

Here it is:
Your query has to grab an agent. Which means you have to show them how your book will stand out in a tough marketplace and sometimes an overcrowded genre.

This is the number one reason I passed on queries. I didn't count how many times I said this, but it was a lot. And I mean ALOT!

I understand that's tough to take. It would be a lot easier if my comments were "hey, I was turned off by this inaccuracy in paragraph 2" or even "you didn't tell me anything about our book" or something else.

Saying, "Eh, I'm just not grabbed" is similar to that terrible, "I liked it but I didn't love it" response. There's not much that's constructive. If I were a writer, I would read that and think Great, what do I DO with that response.

So here's what you do.

Start your query over. As a draft it's obviously not terrible, but it's not working. And I'm recommending starting over rather than revising because it's only a page and it's hard to revise a spark into something.

Once you've committed to starting over, think about your main character. What are the things that you love about your character? What aspects of your character are unique and special? What makes your character stand out in a sea of main characters from a similar genre?

Now, maybe your character is unique and awesome because she's a strong kickass female protagonist who's dealing with complex moral and philosophical issues and she's going to stand out in the sea of Bella Swan's because she's different. She's not going to rely on a guy to solve her problems! That's awesome. But you can't tell us that in your query. You have to show it.

So think about some books you like that have characters like this and how you knew right from the beginning that you were willing to follow this character. In this case you'd think of Katniss Everdeen from Hunger Games or Beatrice Prior from Divergent.

Let me give you an example. In honor of its sequel Wild Thing which comes out 2/8/2011, let me bring up Beat the Reaper. This is a dark and gritty crime novel. It's actually not my typical read. I'd heard a lot about it--all good things!--so I was excited to read, but also a little skeptical. But right away, I was hooked by Dr. Peter Brown!

And by right away, I mean by the first line:
"So I'm on my way to work and I stop to watch a pigeon fight a right in the snow, and some fuckhead tries to mug me!"

This is not your typical doctor, and he's got personality. There's more and it's awesome, of course, but right with that line, I found him interesting. Which is what you want--someone to be interested in your character.

So how does this translate to a query? It's hard. It's really hard. My best advice is to look at good examples.
I was grabbed by Emilia Plater's main character Riley because when she was faced with getting texts from her dead boyfriend's phone number, she wanted to find out who was doing it so she could "punch that creep in the face."

I was super intrigued by PREMEDITATED's main character Dinah when I saw the query on Queryshark--not because of anything explicitly stated, but because what kind of girl drastically changes her appearance and changes schools and sets out to ruin a boy? One I want to know more about.

Then think about your plot. You already have that old query you wrote, so you know how to explain your plot concisely. Now think of your hook. What is it that's going to make this plot seem new and different.

This summer I told myself I needed a break from paranormal YA. I wasn't going to request anymore paranormal. And then I got a query for an awesome paranormal with a mystery and I had to find out more. And the key here was that it was a mystery, complete with a murder and clues to catch the killer, which was different for YA paranormal.

Once you've thought about it and looked at examples, open up a new document and rewrite your query. Try to make your character come off the page. Try to make your plot cause your read to slide to the edge of their seat and wail for more. It's possible, I promise.

After you've drafted it, revise. Have some writer friends look at it. Make tweaks. Perfect it.

And then query again.
Last week I finished the query contest. *phew* Thanks to everyone for the wonderful praise and all that patience while I worked through technology issues and responded.

I requested 37 manuscripts!

I also gave out a lot of individualized advice in my replies. Some of my responses were as basic as "this just isn't for me" or "I don't represent this genre." There were times when I was confused by worldbuilding or when I didn't know what the book was about, but there were also instances where I saw some very easily fixable problems affecting a lot of people.

Here's a big one that surprised me.


Answering this many queries in a row really emphasized this for me.

I read queries, where I saw a title and thought "That sounds so exciting!" which is the response you want. Obviously an exciting title and a not great query won't equal a request, but there were also queries I got, and the title was either a word I didn't understand, couldn't pronounce, or worse! sounded QUIET.

Your title should reflect the tone of your book. If you're writing a thriller, you don't want something long and poetic. And if you're writing something quiet and literary, you want a title that emphasizes your literary prowess.

While it's true that titles can change at a later stage in the publication process (and often do), it's really important for you to use what you have. And you have essentially a page to convince someone who doesn't know your story it's worth taking a look. So the title matters.

Even more so, when I send a requested manuscript to my kindle, the document and the title is how it's listed. So on the train, when I open up the kindle and try to decide what to read, all I've got to go on is titles. While I do really try to go in order there have been times when a title sticks out in my mind and draws my eye constantly. You want your manuscript to be the one calling to me, not something that looks confusing or even just bland.

The good news is that I've been working on some queries this weekend--among other things. I've requested a few manuscripts, and hopefully my feedback has been helpful.

The bad news is we're still having server problems. I've been sending emails from my personal address, which has been working, but it a little more time consuming.

I'd originally planned to try to get all these queries done by end of day tomorrow. I'm going to devote most of my day to queries tonight, but I might have to push back the deadline.

Also, and this is the real reason for the post, I've had a few emails bounce back. The error claims the email addresses have been "discontinued"--whatever that means--or are unavailable.

So and, if you don't get a response it's because I can't reach you. Let me know if there's a better email to reach you via the comments and I'll send you my thoughts.

Last night I checked, and I have 671 contest entries!

Unfortunately the auto responder is still broken, and if I’m going to respond individually to all of them, I might as well read them first!

So I’m starting in on them. I've even responded to a few already--I've even already requested one. I’ll keep posting updates as I read, and when I finish, I’ll let everyone know so that if somehow your query got missed, we’ll find it.

And for everyone who missed the contest, I’m sure I can be persuaded to do it again!