On to the next part! Are you having fun yet? For part 1 of the series: Writing the salutation, go here.
I’m not 100% certain where the catchy phrase “the Hook, the Book and the Cook” came from, but it’s a familiar one to people writing query letters. One of the earliest articles I found with this phrase was written by Michael Larson (find it here), so I’ll give tentative credit to him. If you know the origins of this querying advice, please do let me know!
There are different ways to write a query letter, and I’m sure more will be added as Hook, Book, Cook becomes old-school. For now this seems to be the way to go, so it’s the way this series will tell you how to write a query letter.
All queries contain the hook into the story, the basics of the book, and the cook who made it (that’s you.)
Let’s dive into The Hook
Some advice you’ll find online says to start out your query letters with personalized stuff about the agent. “According to your profile/ms wishlist/twitter you’re looking for [books] in [genre]” or “After seeing that you love [this thing] on twitter, I have a story I think you will really enjoy” are two examples of this, although the ways to do it are endless.
After much stalking on Queryshark, plenty of reading on Agent Query Connect.com, trawls through many agent/editor blogs and being rejected 100% of the time when I started my own query letters that way, I am confident when I tell you: DON’T START WITH PERSONALIZATION. Start with the hook.
(The only exceptions: When you have been referred to the agent by a colleague, you met the agent or heard them speak at a conference, or they requested your material in some way, then you can lead off with that. Otherwise; NO.)
Janet Reid, the Query Shark, is explicit about this. Your query is a sales pitch. Vamp that story up with all kinds of fancy glitter, hooker red lipstick, and mile high shoes. Go all Broadway on it. It should make the person reading your query think that they would really, really like to know what happens next. So dive right in and invite them to want to know more. How do you do that? You put a big hook on the sucker.
The ways to do this vary.
- Start with an enticing sentence hook (a tagline). Basically, boil your entire book into one emotion evoking sentence. If you have the knack and it works for your book, go for it. Then flesh that out a little with another 100-200 word paragraph about your plot.
Examples of a tagline: Don’t go into the water (from Jaws). In space, no one can hear you scream (Alien). An adventure 65 million years in the making (Jurassic Park).
- Start with a slightly longer hook (a logline). Two or three sentences that introduce the main character, the conflict, and why the reader should care about the conflict. Then flesh that out a little with 100-200 words on your super cool plot.
Example: The Lord of The Rings A Young hobbit named Frodo must destroy an ancient ring before the evil Lord Sauron who created the ring uses it to conquer and rule the world.
(Here’s a helpful post for you on the difference between taglines and loglines from Writers Helping Writers.)
- Dive right into your Hook with the first paragraph. Even if you start with a sentence long tagline, you still need to sell your book and that means getting into the plot. You want the reader to keep reading, so you need to include the main characters and the stakes for them. How you do this will depend entirely on your book. Just like you did in your novel, lead off with the action. Do not summarize your entire plot, if they want a summary they will ask for it. And, on the other end of the spectrum, don’t be so vague about everything that they’re left with no idea of what your book is about. Remember; Main Characters and Problem. Leave them wanting to know how you’re going to solve that problem.
Example: for Jurassic Park-A team of scientists lead by Dr. Alan Grant visit the island owned by secretive billionaire John Hammond and his genetic engineering company. When they arrive they discover that Hammond and his team of unscrupulous scientists have managed to do the impossible. They have brought dinosaurs back to life. Now Dr. Grant and his team have to survive the island known as Jurassic Park while they discover how terribly science can go wrong.
Read lots and lots of examples of successful queries to get the flow of this. You’ll have to do it for your own plot, of course, but having an idea of where to start is helpful.
Some extra resources for you:
Developing the Hook from Writer’s Digest.com
What Makes a Good Book Tagline from ThoughtsonFantasy.com