I realize why that may sound strange. It's the query! It's your one shot to tell an agent about your book, to convince him or her to read this major accomplishment of yours, and to sell yourself as client material. Shouldn't you tell an agent everything?
Ever since I first heard the words "query letters," I have had a fascination with them. I've read many articles and many blog posts from many different agents and editors concerning the Perfect Query Letter. And one very good piece of advice I've found in just about everything I've read is to "tell the agent what your story is about."
But I think that phrase has the ability to be misinterpreted.
It does not mean, "Give me a bullet point-like paragraph of traits about the main character plus a lot of backstory and then a set up for a plot, but no actual plot." Nor does it mean, "Tell me everything about the plot, including the names of every character in the book, and then tell me who dies in the end." There is a balance in the middle that will do exactly what you want it to: make agents want to read your story.
Ha. Easier said than done. Queries are hard. So hard that what writers are sometimes left with is the very vague advice to "give an agent the plot of the story and the characters, but without giving them the plot of the story or the characters."
But what I've been noticing is that writers want to say everything in their query letter--from the inspiration for the story, to the themes in the story, to a play-by-play of the story, to a detailed author bio that takes up a quarter of the page.
I've been thinking a lot lately about how to turn the advice "less can be more," something that definitely applies to queries, into something more concrete and helpful. The best way I can think to approach that is as a reader.
A few weeks ago, during the middle of the worst heat wave I have ever been in, I was trying, and failing, to sleep. My roommate, a fellow literary assistant, suddenly pushed my door open. "Are you sleeping?" she asked. "No," I said. "What's up?"
She had just finished reading Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher. And she needed to talk about it. Right away. Here's what she told me before leaving the book on my bedside table:
"It's about this kid named Clay. He comes home from school, and finds a package of thirteen tapes on his doorstep. He pops one in, and the voice that comes through the speakers of his stereo belongs to Hannah. A girl he loved. A girl who just killed herself. Apparently, there are thirteen people who made Hannah want to give up on herself. And Clay is one of them. Before she died, she recorded these tapes, one for each person, explaining how each of them made her life feel unsaveable. Now Clay has to find out what he unknowingly did to make the one girl he wanted feel so unloved."
So what about that made me decide to give up on sleep and read the book cover to cover instead?
1. The premise. Very interesting; very chill-inducing. I'd always wondered what the title of this book meant when I saw it on the shelf, and I loved the way it tied into the plot.
2. I already cared about the characters, Clay and Hannah. What happened? How did those wires get so crossed?
3. I had to find out what Clay did.
The set-up, the characters, and the hook were succinctly conveyed, and gave me a good amount of information without drowning me in details.
So it's not perfect as a written query, but you can see why I had to read that book.
I would love to be able to translate what worked here in all three areas into something more adaptable and usable for all the brave query-writers out there. So I need some help from you guys, if you're willing.
Tell me what makes YOU want to read a book. When a friend says, "You have to read this book," what do they say about it that convinces you? For writers who have already completed the query process, what worked for you when you wrote your query? What do you wish you'd done differently?
If it's an interesting topic for you guys, let's spend the week discussing :) I'm so curious to see both what hooks you, and what you've used as hooks.
And in the meantime, enjoy some more vague advice: