How I Wrote my Successful Query Letter

How I Wrote My Successful Query Letter

Querying is hard! And us writers need to not only write a novel but also learn how to write a query. Here, I want to share some tips on how I wrote my successful query letter (I have an agent!).

I started working on my query letter right after I finished the first draft for THE SINGULARITY OF COOKIES in 2019. As I revised and rewrote, I revised my query and got feedback. Below, you will see what the first and final versions of my query looked like. That way you can see how it evolved, and what it took to get there.

Some authors recommend starting this process before you start the first draft. That way you can use the query to define your story and keep it in mind as you write. I will try that in the future, but for this book I started after I wrote it.

1. Write the synopsis

I know most writers hate writing the synopsis, but I find it a good starting point for the query. You can condense a 300-page novel into a more manageable 2-3 pages.

I recommend this method by author Susan Dennard. Since I use the Three Act Structure method, I find it easy to fill in the blanks.

2. Use the first part of the synopsis for your query

I start my query by taking the first part of the synopsis up to the first plot point. The query is meant to hook the reader, not reveal the whole story.

synopsis outline – after first draft – 2019:

Opening Image

Karina walking into the production area of Singular Cookies, Inc.

Protagonist Intro

Karina is Puerto Rican and the line supervisor at the cookie manufacturing plant. Having dropped out of high school at seventeen, she never thought she’d amount to anything, so having a steady job in a growing business is a huge accomplishment for her. She also considers her company like her home and the people who work there as her family, having been there for the beginning, making cookies with Lacey in her kitchen.

Karina is also happily single and doesn’t want a serious relationship. She saw her mother lose herself and her goals in a marriage and sees how her friends prioritize men to other parts of their lives.

Inciting Incident

An oven malfunction puts her in closer contact to a new mechanic, Ian, who’s just her type. But dating him would mean extra complications when she gets tired of him, as she will eventually do. She’s used to avoiding men but she wouldn’t be able to avoid Ian.

Her adherence to procedure catches the attention of the QA Manager, who asks her to be part of the plant’s food safety team.

Plot Point 1

Karina goes out with Ian and realizes he’s Relationship Guy not Hookup Guy. She plans to let it be just a one-night-stand but sex with Ian is more than she bargained for, making her spend the night and almost ruining her plans. She thinks it’s too dangerous to see him again, but then Ian is also part of the HACCP Team. When he invites her to his place, she says yes, thinking that she’d be able to control any feelings that arise and will be able to end the relationship whenever she wants.

3. Structure into a query hook

The query hook is the section of a query letter which describes the story, similar to the back cover of a book. This section is the most important part of a query and should fall between 150-300 words.

Use the first section of the synopsis to structure your hook.

I like to write the query in three paragraphs. The first details the character’s status quo (her normal world) and what she wants (her story goal). It should also cover what is keeping her from achieving her goal. This can be external (antagonistic forces) or internal (her wound or misbelief).

The second paragraph covers the inciting incident (the event that starts the story). And the third includes the first plot point (the point of no return where the character is thrust into the story). This paragraph should end with the stakes (what choices will the character make and what does she stand to lose).

You can play around with this order and mix and match, depending on what works better for your story. But make sure you include all the elements.

You should also aim to give the query hook some personality, something to make it stand out. I added the first line of the book and a cute aspect of my story.

query hook (total word count: 270):

Cookies are like people, each with their own personality. At least, that’s the concept behind Singular Cookies, Inc.

Puerto Rican Karina Cortés (Flirty Cookie) is grateful for her job as a line supervisor at the cookie manufacturing plant located in Fort Pierce, Florida. Having dropped out of high school at seventeen, she’s lucky to be part of a growing business, to have been there since the beginning. She’s also happy with her single life: doing what she wants, not answering to anyone else, being her own person. Unlike her friends, whose lives revolve around men, or her mother, who lives only for her husband, a ghost of her old self.

Work and play collide when she meets new mechanic, Ian Feliciano (Mellow Cookie). A one-night-stand with him is tempting, but he’s Relationship Guy, the serious type, the type she avoids. Plus, they work together; she wouldn’t be able to disappear like she’s used to. Karina takes the risk and ends up sleeping over, eating breakfast in bed, and, worst of all, with feelings for him.

At first, Karina decides to pretend nothing happened, but she can’t escape the teasing from her friends, the company gossip, or her intense attraction. Her new motto becomes, “don’t think about it.” She can control her feelings, she’s not weak like her friends or her mother. And with a looming plant inspection and two managers butting heads over how to prepare, Karina has enough to distract herself. But when she inevitably falls in love, she’ll have to decide whether her independence is worth more than the cost of hurting Ian and breaking her own heart.

I was really happy with this query, but sadly this isn’t the final version, only the starting point.

4. Get feedback

As I mentioned in my post on how I wrote TSOC, I connected with a mentor through the Women’s Fiction Writers Association. After reading my query, she advised me to add more details about the inspection. Trying to do this led to figuring out that my structure was off. I rewrote the novel and revised my synopsis and query accordingly.

With a new version of the query, I submitted to #RevPit in April 2020. Though I didn’t get any requests, the editors I submitted to offered me feedback. One editor thought using the cookie names for the characters was too gimmicky. The other mentioned I had too many names (Karina, Lacey, and Ian) and that I should focus on the protagonist.

5. Revise and Repeat

Once I finished that major rewrite, I used the Inside Outline to streamline the plot and the character arc. I re-wrote the synopsis, focusing on the character journey, which is what Women’s Fiction is all about. With this new synopsis (and tips I learned from this article by Kathryn Craft), I rewrote my query hook, incorporating the feedback from #RevPit. I signed up for a Query Quorum offered by MM Fink and polished the query (see below).

final synopsis:

KARINA CORTÉS is a 27-year-old Puerto Rican living in Fort Pierce, Florida. She was raised by a single mother and taught not to depend on others, that love is a weakness. But when her mom renounced those ideals to become a housewife, neglecting Karina to live for her husband, Karina dropped out of high school and left home at seventeen.

Her work as a maid brought her in close contact with LACEY ADAMS, CEO of Singular Cookies, Inc., a small cookie manufacturing plant where Karina works as a floor supervisor. Having been there since its inception, Karina is loyal to Lacey and admires her for forgoing men to follow her dreams of creating a growing business. Karina herself has no dreams of her own and is content with a job that gives her a decent living and allows her to hang out with her friends. She also loves her single, independent life and disapproves of her friends’ obsession with relationships.

Karina meets new mechanic, IAN FELICIANO, and is immediately drawn to him. One night of sex leaves her wanting more, and she starts dating him, believing she’s strong enough to control her feelings.

6. Add in the last elements

My final query was version thirteen, revised over a period of two years as I polished my novel.

Once you have your “Hook,” you can add in the other elements of the query: the “Book” and the “Cook.”

In the “Book” section you mention the basic details of the book – title, genre, word count. Include the comps here and any personalization of why you’re querying the agent. In my experience, this is not a must, and you can do without it if it doesn’t come naturally.

The “Cook” section is your bio. Only add the most relevant details here.

To organize it follow the “Book”- “Hook” – “Cook” method.

Final Query – total word count: 349 words (Hook: 220 words):

Dear Agent, (use their name, don’t leave like this!!)

THE SINGULARITY OF COOKIES is contemporary women’s fiction with romantic elements, complete at 89,000 words. Following in the tradition of foodie fiction like The Coincidence of Coconut Cake by Amy E. Reichert, it features a Latina Fleabag written in a similar style and tone to Things You Save in a Fire by Katherine Center.

At Singular Cookies, Inc., cookies are like people, each with their own personality.

Twenty-seven-year-old Karina Cortés works as a production floor supervisor at the small cookie manufacturing plant in Fort Pierce, Florida. It’s a well-paying job for a high-school dropout whose only achievement is passing a GED.

Leaving school was an easy choice—like eating when hungry—but she didn’t plan on leaving home. That was her mom’s doing. Choosing a man over a daughter was the ultimate betrayal, especially after teaching Karina not to depend on others, that love is a weakness. But her life was better for it. Her brief stint as a maid brought her in contact with Singular’s founders, and they treat her like family, even though Karina has no need for one.

And she couldn’t be happier with her single life. Casual sex is her specialty, but the company’s hot new mechanic stirs up feelings she’d rather avoid. Karina knows she shouldn’t date him, but she’s strong; she won’t become pathetic like her friends or her mom. As Karina battles her heart, she’ll have to decide whether to continue holding on to deeply ingrained beliefs that keep everyone at bay, or learn that love is not as dangerous as she fears. It is our history—our singular recipe—that shapes how we want to live.

I’m Puerto Rican, like Karina, and have a PhD in Food Science, with previous experience as a quality assurance manager in the food industry. I’m also an active member of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association, volunteering as their Pinterest Page Manager.

Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,

My name (Writing as Pen Name)

Adress

Phone number

Website or social media link

My advice:

  1. Don’t wait until the end of the process to write your query. The query helps you define the story and identify any problems you may have in the novel itself.
  2. Get lots of feedback on it. Seek help from other writers. Don’t start querying in order to test the query. Make sure it’s as perfect as you can make it before you start.

I hope this was helpful. Let me know if you have any questions below.

How I Wrote My Successful Query Letter
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Author: Delise Torres

Daydreamer of Messy Love Stories and Women's Fiction Author. A Puerto Rican surviving in Germany, she's working furiously to become traditionally published.

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