Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Query Tips With Editor Megan Easley-Walsh Plus Giveaway

Today I’m interviewing Megan Easley-Walsh, owner of Extra Ink Edits. Megan’s specialty is content editing, and I can tell you from personal experience, she is fabulous, but today we’re talking about queries.

Thanks for joining me on the blog today, Megan!

Many of my blog readers are aspiring authors. For the writers at the very beginning stages of their publishing journey, please explain what a query letter is.
Thanks so much for having me, Keely! A query letter is really important to writers, as it’s the first impression that an agent or editor gets of both the book and also the writer. It’s a short one-page introduction with the aim of piquing the agent’s or editor’s attention.

What are the key elements in a good query?
A good query consists of a hook, a short paragraph or two about the plot and a short paragraph about the writer. It’s also important to list
the genre and word count of the book that you’re pitching (introducing). Here’s an important tip too: YA and MG aren’t genres. They are age groups and so you need to put a descriptor with them. For example, a YA mystery or MG adventure.

What are some common errors writers make in queries?
I’ve been helping others with their writing for over seven years and there are certainly some trends that I notice in querying errors. One of the main things I see is queries being too long. You want to leave questions. You want to have the agent or editor wondering what happens next and give them incentive to request more. Many people try to squeeze in as much information as possible, but summaries of stories are not going to be as strong as stories. This means that if you try to include all of your brilliant story in a query, it’s likely to shortchange the story and end up presenting a weaker query. It’s better to have the agent wanting more. Many queries end up sounding more like synopses.

That being said, you definitely need to include a hook, a short plot summary and information about you as the writer. You also need to be polite and professional. This is a business letter, so it’s better to use formal salutations. It’s also really important to follow the specific directions and guidelines for each agent or editor. They are all different and it’s important that you show that you can follow instructions. Some request a query letter only. Some ask for the inclusion of pages, chapters or a synopsis.

One other thing that I notice is that people tend to write the genre at the end of the query. In some cases, this can be all right. Other genres are quite similar, though, and so it’s better to state upfront what the genre of the story is. A great place to do this is in the first paragraph, right after the hook.

Is the hook the same thing as the novel description?
The hook and the novel description are actually different. Think of a hook as a short teaser. One to two sentences is ideal, although someone I helped recently had a series of three short sentences that really worked for her particular book. This is then followed by something like, “TITLE OF BOOK is my completed WORD COUNT, GENRE novel.”

As for the longer novel description, a plot summary, this follows after the hook. Make sure that it sounds exciting. It needs to be more like a back cover blurb than a synopsis. One major difference between queries and synopses are that synopses give away the secrets and endings. Queries set them up and pique the reader’s interest. In many ways, the agent or editor is your first customer and so you have to make a great pitch to sell them your book.

What should an unpublished writer put in their bio?
Before there was ever a book, there was you the writer and the person. In terms of pitching your book and in later marketing as well, what sets your stories most apart is that you wrote them. I’ve seen a few queries recently where writers have completely skipped their bios. Don’t do this. Even if you include a sentence or two, it’s great. Things not to say are that you’re a new writer, that this is your first book, that your family and friends loved it or that you're the next bestseller. Things to include are any relevant jobs or hobbies that you may share with the characters. This shows your expertise on the area, even if you feel you don’t have expertise as a writer. For example, one query I worked with recently was about a pilot and was written by a pilot. She hadn’t included that she was a pilot in the bio. I showed her how she could say that she had something in common with her character because she’s a pilot also.

Or, for example, if your book is set in France and you’ve been there, you could say something like, “This book was in part inspired by my trip to Paris, where I was immersed in the world of Medieval churches and Renaissance art.” This example would of course work for a book about French art or a historical set in that area. If you’ve been somewhere that is in your book, this shows firsthand knowledge and research experience. It’s not enough to say that it’s well-researched. That sounds like the codeword for “I read a lot”. That’s expected of writers. If, however, you have ancestral knowledge about a particular time period, you could include that. Keep it short, something along the lines of, “This story was in part inspired by my ancestors who fought with General Patton.” It’s interesting and sets you apart. Anything that shows you have writing credentials (classes, writing groups, contests, etc.) or anything related to the books is great to include.

Some genres naturally lend themselves to bio information as well. For example, most novels are contemporary. If you write historical, that comes from somewhere. Think about why you write what you do and if there’s anything that you can draw from that to include in your bio.

It’s also good to include your email address, website and, in some cases, telephone number after your signature.

Thanks for the great query tips today, Megan!

You’re welcome Keely! Thanks for having me. 

For all of your readers, they can avail of a 10% discount off of any Extra Ink Edits service (query, synopsis, full manuscript critique, title help, back cover blurb, submission package, etc.) if they book by June 4, 2015 by quoting the promotion code EIE2015IE. Also, I offer 10% off of any service if it’s paid upfront and these discounts can be combined for a full 20% off. Happy querying to everyone and best of luck!
Be sure to visit Extra Ink Edits website for service pricing and turn-around time.

Megan is giving away a query critique to one lucky writer! Enter to win on the Raffelcopter below.

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  1. Thank you or your post. I think may think YA and MG are genres. I like ready about query letters so I can continue to revise my own. After reading the above, I think mine is too long.

  2. You're welcome! Yes, this is a case where less is more is better, so long as you include a hook, a short bit about the book, and a short bit about you as the author. If you'd like me to review your query when it's finished, you can contact me at

  3. I think writing a query is far harder than writing the actual novel. For me, one problem is that, while I can see my mistakes in the novel and the way to fix them, I don't see the same in a query :-(

    1. Think about a query as what you'd tell someone your book was about. You'd say something to pique their interest, without giving away too much. Queries can be fun and if you're still unsure, we professionals are happy to help ��

  4. This article finally gave me clarity on the difference between the query and synopsis. I agree with Sarah Zama and feel that writing the query is harder than writing the book! Thanks for your article.

  5. You're welcome! I'm glad you found it helpful.