As the great beast that is Pitch Wars stirs to life and prepares to storm the gates of publishing once again, hey, it’s time to write a query. No, you can’t skip this part. Yes, it’s important. No, I won’t do it for you. What I will do is provide you with a few helpful guideposts that your query should hit (courtesy of the always insightful Michelle Hauck, Queen of Queries and all-around awesome person).
#1: Establish who your character is and what they want when the story begins. What is the obstacle (ie. inciting incident) that appears and prevents them from obtaining their heart’s desire, saving the prince, or pulling off that sweet guitar riff?
#2: Detail the obstacle. How does the character react? How does the appearance of the obstacle escalate things and generally ruin their day?
#3: What can the character do about the obstacle? This is most often represented by a choice and its outcomes. What bad thing happens if they fail? What do they stand to lose? This, as they say in The Biz, is the stakes.
#4: Unique elements of your story/character/world. While #1-3 naturally lend themselves to a paragraph each, this bit is something best woven into the query throughout. Basically, you want to highlight the most compelling aspects of your story that will help it stand out in the slush from Generic Game of Thrones meets Alf knockoff #3141.
To help illustrate this point, here’s a copy of the query for my Pitch Wars 2017 book that landed me my agent:
Forty years ago, Kastien slew a god. He lashed out in rage and grief with a sharpened hunk of fulgurite, piercing Divine flesh and proving humanity’s bastard overlords could die. Together with his wife, Val, he freed half the continent using the fulgurite’s power to walk through walls and defy gravity. The new Commonwealth hailed Kastien as Godbreaker, but now the only title he gives a damn about is Husband. His knees ache every Void-damned time it rains, and he longs to retire with Val. But when a plague sweeps the nation, boiling blood and burning eyes to ash, protecting the home they forged means embracing the violent legacy he’s tried to bury.
As traditional cures fail, the Commonwealth’s leaders suspect this disease isn’t a pathogen but a weapon—one unleashed by the Divines. Now, husband and wife must return to the birthplace they did their best to burn to the ground, risking a second war to attempt the impossible: abduct a god and force them to produce a cure. The catch: Kastien and Val will need all their powers, but overusing the fulgurite’s unstable magic will turn them to stone.
Their plan goes to the Void when they discover plague ravaging the gods’ cities, weaponizing the infected against their Divine masters. Worse, the gods combating the sickness are being hunted and murdered in manners reminiscent of Kastien’s kills during the war. To stop this mysterious new godbreaker and obtain a cure, Kastien must set hatred aside and protect the last Divine healer. If he can’t quiet the old rage and find space for trust, Val and everything they’ve spent their lives building will fall to dust and shadow.
And that it’s. Setup > Obstacle > Stakes. Straightforward, if not simple. Don’t get me wrong, my query’s utter nonsense, but hopefully of the helpful variety for anyone diving into the nightmare hellscape of despair and OH-GODS-WHY-HAST-THOU-FORSAKEN-ME-CAN-I-PUT-LAVA-BEES-IN-MY-EYES-INSTEAD-OF-THIS that is query writing. And, if all else fails, there’s always demons.