Let me be perfectly clear: in a query, you have ONE PAGE to hook my attention. One page to tell me enough about your book that I want to scan down to the end of your letter to read the three pages from your novel that I’ve requested you attach. Three pages that I will never even look at it if your query doesn’t intrigue me. And if I don’t love those three pages, I’ll never ask for the first five chapters, let alone the whole manuscript.
But it all comes down to one page.
I’m reminding you all of this (though my readers are the least likely folks to actually need this reminder) because of a trend I came across in some recent queries: letters with a very rough, almost generic description of the book being queried, possibly a paragraph on the theme, and a couple more sentence or paragraphs on the writer, and why they had to tell this story, or why their experience makes them the “best possible” author for this book. You know what’s missing? Anything that would intrigue me about the story.
In all seriousness, I read a query for a novel with an intriguing premise, but the letter itself told me absolutely nothing about the characters — no names, no descriptions, nothing. Manuscripts that sell aren’t just about settings — The Hunger Games isn’t an international bestseller and soon-to-be-bluckbuster movie because people are intrigued by Panem. No, they love Katniss, and have divided themselves up into Team Peeta or Team Gale. Without them, it’s just a country. It’s just an arena — empty and void of any reason to tune in, to turn the page.
You may introduce the next Jay Gatsby on page one of your manuscript, but if you don’t give me a reason to scan down, I’ll never meet him. And while that may be my loss, it’s also yours, because I know I’m not the only agent who feels like this.
Hook ’em (us) with a filler one-page query, and we’ll beg to read more.