You know those “mad lib” games you’d play as a kid, where you start off by writing down a list of verbs, places and adjectives, and inevitably the words “snot” and “farted” were involved, which made any story HILARIOUS?
Well, we’re going to play query letter mad lib today. Here’s how it works.
First I’m going to need these things:
[Agent name], [genre], [personalized tidbit about agent], [title], [word count], [protagonist name], [description of protagonist], [setting], [complicating incident], [verb], [villain], [protagonist’s quest], [protagonist’s goal], [author’s credits (optional)], [your name]
Now, look how your query turns out:
Dear [Agent name],
I chose to submit to you because of your wonderful taste in [genre], and because you [personalized tidbit about agent].
[protagonist name] is a [description of protagonist] living in [setting]. But when [complicating incident], [protagonist name] must [protagonist’s quest] and [verb] [villain] in order to [protagonist’s goal].
[title] is a [word count] work of [genre]. I am the author of [author’s credits (optional)], and this is my first novel.
Thank you for your time, and I look forward to hearing from you soon.
That’s all you need.
Now, granted, this is the most formulaic query ever written (you know… because it uses a formula). It’s just going to give you a starting place to then add personality by adding some flavor and detail. But if you can’t fill this mad lib out in two seconds and craft a pretty decent query letter, something might be wrong with your novel.
These are the ingredients that absolutely positively completely totally must be in your query — if they are not, something is wrong. By all means use your creativity, add some more description, embellish, and be an author (well, within reason).
But it really doesn’t need to be much more complicated than this.
UPDATE: I should note that “villain” does not necessarily have to mean an actual person, alien, monkey, spore, or etc. It could be a personality trait, nature, society… basically whatever is standing in between the protagonist and his/her/its goal.
UPDATE 2: If you mention a previously published book in the query letter the agent will need 1) the publisher and 2) the year. Otherwise they’ll just assume it was published by a small press sometime in the 1850s, and you don’t want them to assume that.
I’m available for manuscript edits, query critiques, and consultations! And if you like this post, check out my guide to writing a novel.
Art: Euclid, detail from The School of Athens by Raphael