One of the hardest things about writing a query is trying to infuse some voice into it. But it’s also really important to make sure your query fits the genre you’re telling me your story fit into. Consider the following (made up) query:
Ten-year-old Harry hates living with his aunt and uncle: They make him live in a closet, they’re mean, and they spend all their and money time making his jerky cousin even more horrible. When Harry gets an invitation to a private boarding school, it’s like his dreams came true.
Although his aunt and uncle initially resist letting Harry do anything he wants to do, they can’t wait to get him out of their house, so they finally agree. At school, Harry has something he never thought possible for a thing like him: friends. They explore the school, learn new things, and have adventures. But there’s a dark side to the school—one of the teachers watches Harry with an evil eye. Large dogs guard secrets. And men with dark plans threaten to take away the first home Harry has ever known. He must face his fears and confront the man who killed his parents or risk being killed himself—or worse, expelled.
HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER’S STONE is MG fantasy, complete at XX,XXX words.
When you get to that last sentence, your eyes should skid to a grinding halt. What? Sorcerers? Fantasy? Where does the query hint at any of that?
Nowhere. I left it all out. I didn’t mention magic or half-giants or three-headed dogs or Platform 9 3/4 or supposedly dead wizards returning. Which is really unfortunate, because that is what makes the story what it is. The purpose of a query letter is to entice agents to want to read your story, not someone else’s. It needs to be an accurate reflection. Queries for humorous stories should have some humor in them, queries for horror novels should be a bit spooky. Your YA query shouldn’t read like it was written by a 60-year-old. The whole thing has to fit together, and it has to relate to the manuscript. Requests mean nothing if the agent rejects because they requested one book based on the query and received something completely different.
If I’m an agent and I got the above query, I’d hit delete. Why? Because it tells me one of two things: either the author has no idea how to write a query letter or he doesn’t understand what fantasy is. And both of those things tell me the author hasn’t done research, which makes me afraid to read the book, not enticed.
Have a friend who hasn’t read your query look at it and read it. If they’re not grasping the main, most important concepts in your book, it needs more work. Start over and try again.