Ultimate Blog Series on Novel Queries (#5)

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is my definitive No Rules series on novel queries. It's meant
particularly for writers who are new to the query process. (A series on
nonfiction book queries will come later.) Go back to the beginning of the series.

There are many reasons for writers to pay to subscribe to PublishersMarketplace (the No. 1 reason is probably agent research), but subscribers also have the advantage of absorbing its excellent deal information.

Every day, PublishersMarketplace lists book deals that were recently signed at major New York houses. It identifies the title, the author, the publisher/editor who bought the project, and the agent who sold it.

Most importantly, these deals also offer a quick blurb, or hook. These hooks are inevitably well-crafted, and can help you better understand what hooks really excite agents/publishers.

Let's have a look; these are all DEBUT novel deals.

Bridget Boland's DOULA, an
emotionally controversial novel about a doula with a sixth sense [protagonist] who,
while following her calling, has to confront a dark and uncertain future
when standing trial for the death of her best friend's baby [protagonist 's problem]

[a doula with a sixth sense? cool.]

John Hornor Jacobs's SOUTHERN GODS, in which a Memphis DJ [protagonist] hires a recent
World War II veteran to find a mysterious bluesman whose music [protagonist 's problem] — broadcast at ever-shifting frequencies by a phantom radio station — is said to make living men insane and dead men rise [twist]

[wow ! what a twist!]

Dana Gynther's CROSSING ON THE PARIS, chronicling the lives of three
women of different generations and classes [protagonists] whose lives intersect on a
majestic ocean liner traveling from Paris to New York in the wake of
World War I [more premise than problem], exploring the power of chance encounters [promise of intrigue]

[this sounds lovely even though the hook breaks my rules and doesn't explicitly express a problem; but one can sense serious complications in a context/setting like this]

Vanessa Veselka's ZAZEN, in which an otherwise innocuous vegan
restaurant worker and ex-paleontologist [protagonists] starts calling in fake bomb
threats, which turn real [protagonists ' problem]

[this isn't something you read every day, right?]

Katherine Karlin's SEND ME WORK, a story collection involving women who
work at various jobs normally restricted to men [protagonists], in an oil refinery, as a
welder, on a railroad, in a shipyard and a symphony orchestra,
revealing unrecognized dimensions of American experience [more premise than problem]

[this was sold to a university press, and I see a clear fascination/twist here in the premise, but not necessarily an expectation of a commercial, page-turning thriller; but see how the hook pulls you in, seduces you, even though an explicit problem is not stated?]

Want more? Go subscribe to PublishersMarketplace ($20/month).

Next up: bios

Looking for more great query letter advice? Check out the Writer's Digest official guide to queries, which includes examples and instruction by genre.


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