In a nutshell:
Every story boils down to character, conflict and stakes, which is precisely what you need to convey in your query. The best queries also include the inciting incident—the moment in your book where the lynchpin of the plot/conflict takes place. A combination of these elements, woven well, should answer the key question an agent will be asking: "what is your book about, and why should I care?" If they care, they'll read!
Start by introducing your main character either in your first line hook, or soon thereafter. Instead of giving an agent plot beats, center your query around the character—who are they, what do they want, and why should we care?
What is standing in the way of what your character wants? This is your essential conflict. If paragraph 1-2 contain your hook & character, the "book" paragraph is where you lay out conflict and stakes.
The stakes are what the main character has to lose, in relation to the conflict. Character + conflict + stakes should make the agent feel something, especially a punch in the gut with the stakes, or a sense of anticipation, re: how on the earth the character will overcome the conflict to avoid the stakes.
So how do you nail your query? Some of my top tips:
Think about back cover copy for some of your favorite books. Great cover copy gets across character, conflict and stakes--and gets you to open up and start reading. That is exactly what a good query does for an agent.
Focus on your main character. State their age, and give the agent a sense of who they are, what they want and what is standing in their way. Character-driven queries are winners and conflict and stakes are key.
The #1 question an agent asks themselves when reading your query: "why should I care?" You need to give them a compelling reason! Demonstrating conflict & stakes is key, as is making them care about your main character and what they face.
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#HowToAuthor: Agents & SubmissionNon-Fiction
Advice for writing book-shaped things and getting them traditionally published. This series will cover everything from querying to agent fit, to building a platform and marketing yourself.