Book Queries: What’s Your Opening Line?

For today’s Forum Friday I want to talk about how we pitch our books, starting with our opening line in the query letter to agents. This past week I have been reading successful query letters, mostly from the Writer’s Digest Successful Queries series, and I have made several observations. I’ll talk about this more in detail in a later post, but the one I want to discuss briefly today– and get your take on– is this:

Of the two tried-and-true approaches to opening a query letter below, which do you prefer?

A) The Hook. Opens the letter with a point of intrigue or a question specific to your story. “When XYZ happens, what’s a Quirky-Details-of Main Character to do? Why, *charming/quirky/action-packed development*, of course!” There are many approaches to the hook, but what I’ve noticed is that it often reads just like a book jacket: it’s intended to pull the reader in and KEEP them reading (i.e., really sell your book).

B) The Facts. Opens with something along the lines of “Please consider representing” or “I am seeking representation for” and includes the title of your book, the genre/target audience of your book, and the novel’s finished word count. This is key information that the agent will be looking for and having it at the start can save the agent valuable time.

Alternatively– if you’ve already written your query letter– would you be so kind as to share the opening line with us? It’s educational for the writing community, and free promotion for you! ๐Ÿ™‚

At present, between the hook and the facts approach I favor the facts. Reading through actual queries, those that said “Dear Ms. Agent: When…” struck me as unnatural openings and hard sells. Granted, I understand that the purpose of a query is to get the agent to make a book deal with you. It is, in fairness, a business relationship, and when an agent opens a letter from a prospective client there’s no guesswork as to what that person is seeking.

Still, I can’t help but feel that an agent should be treated as a person first, and not as a potential buyer. That may not the best approach from a marketing standpoint, but I think that’s the main reason I favor the facts over the hook. Opening with “I am seeking representation for” or “I’m writing because” still says (and outright!) that you are looking to do business, but is more personable, and also gives the agent that crucial classification data of genre, audience, and word count.

Let us know your thoughts!


6 responses to “Book Queries: What’s Your Opening Line?”

  1. Since my own querying attempts were hilariously unsuccessful, I’m probably not the best person to ask ๐Ÿ˜€ However, it’s my opinion that a query should start off with Hi Agent, I’m so-and-so and this is what I want. If you jump straight into the plot, it’s kind of like … what, this person couldn’t bother to write me a letter, he’s just sending me a summary? Psh.

  2. A very interesting post! I haven’t written a query for my novel yet, but having thought about both options, I think I would probably choose the second approach. This might be because I like to get to the point with cover letters and other things like that… On the other hand, there is a good case for grabbing the interest of an agent right away.

    1. Yes, I feel like it would be prudent to get to the point (and that the agent would appreciate it, too)… And yet, based on the book-landing queries I’ve read so far, the hook seems to work just as effectively!

      It’s probably one of those things where there’s no right approach in the end…just good judgment (or lack thereof) ๐Ÿ˜‰

      Thanks for your response, Lauren!

  3. My first version started with the facts. The new version starts with the hook, and it’s gotten me a lot more interest.

    For example, an older version of my query (but still starting with the hook) was reviewed by an agent here:

    1. Cassandra, thank you so much for sharing this! I think this is exactly what I needed to hear and I am so glad to have an agent’s perspective on opening with the hook. Cheers!

      How are things with Isla’s, by the way?

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