Successful Queries – Day 8 – Marieke Nijkamp

Hello gentle reader,

Welcome to the Successful Queries Blog Series! The idea is to share with you Queries That Worked and to find out what made them stand out in the slushpile. My hope is that it’ll help you, querying writers, to write an amazing query for your own manuscript and to find Your Agent.

Today Marieke Nijkamp, aka The Queen of Queries, is sharing her advice on how to write an outstanding query. Marieke writes YA and MG fiction and she’s represented by Jennifer Udden of Donald Maass Literary Agency.

Marieke Nijkamp

GUEST POST

I’ll let you in on a secret. I’m one of Those People who loves to write queries (and occasionally, even synopses *gasp*). I love the clarity in brings when you have to sum up a story in roughly 250 words, when you have to force yourself to get to the very core of a tale. I love the structure of queries and synopses, I love writing them, and I love critiquing them. I’ve probably critiqued close to a thousand over the years.

I know. Annoying, isn’t it?

But I also love to talk about queries, so when Eve asked me to talk about advice for querying writers, I knew I couldn’t pass that opportunity up.

First of all, learn the formulas

Query formulas are amazing to understand what works, and why. Whether it’s by perusing the archives of Query Shark, subjecting yourself to AbsoluteWrite’s Query Letter Hell, or workshopping queries at a conference, you have to get an ear for queries. Know the rules, read a lot and critique more, because all those things will help you a great deal in writing your own perfect pitch.

Second, less is more

Once you’ve figured out those bare bones, the easiest step is to try to fill the out with the entire story. Far too often, I see queries that try to do and be everything. Introduce ALL the characters. Explain ALL the plot points. Mention ALL the themes. And often it’s a matter of overkill—and of the writer overthinking it.

I love specifics that make the story come to life, but if you pick up a book in the bookstore, do you want the blurb to explain everything that happens in minute detail? Stick to what entices.

Thirdly, trust your readers

The best way to know if a query still makes sense and hits the right spots? Ask a CP or beta who’s read the manuscript. The best way to know if a query entices? Ask a reader who hasn’t.

So take your time, reach out and get feedback. And revise it until it shines.

And finally, break the rules

And with that in mind… trust your own gut, too. Because formulas are amazing. But, sometimes, when we turn them into a tight set of rules, they can get very overwhelming. Use a tagline. Don’t use a tagline. Start with personalization. Don’t even bother. Use comp titles. Have a good bio. Explain the story in one paragraph, three paragraphs, two, four… When really, formulas are also just a means to an end.

In the end, your main goal is simple and very straightforward: to hook your reader. Nothing less, nothing more.

So don’t be *too* intimidated by those 250 words. It’s only one page! You’re a writer, just tell the story! After all, as a reader, I read to love a story, not to hate it. I only want to know three things:

Who is the main character?

What choice do they face?

And above all, why should I care?

GIVEAWAY (closed)

Querying Writers! Marieke is giving away a QUERY CRITIQUE to THREE lucky winners! To enter, please fill in the form below with your name and email adresss, and include the genre of your mansucript. Good luck!

The giveaway is open internationally until Sunday 16th March 2014 at 11pm BST.

Any questions? Ask below!

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