PubCrawl Podcast: Publishing 201 The Anatomy of a Query Letter

This week Kelly and JJ go into a little more detail about how to write a query: what works, what doesn’t work, the who, the what, the where, and the whys. Also, have a query you want to have critiqued? Email us!

Unfortunately, it appears as though our iTunes link is broken due to us moving the podcast to Soundcloud to deal with server issues. We are looking to see if we can’t maintain the feed at its current place, but we may need to delete the podcast and y’all who listen through iTunes to resubscribe. Our apologies in advance!

Show Notes

Tips for Best Query Practices

  • Emotional distance from your work is best (we know this is hard!)
  • Don’t go too broad; the more specific the better
  • You don’t need to include absolutely everything about your book in your query—just enough to entice the agent into wanting more
  • The shorter, the better: sweet spot is 250 to 400 words
  • Let your story speak for itself; don’t talk about your book (show, don’t tell!)
  • Try to limit the number of characters you’re naming in your query (they generally say no more than 3): the protagonist, the antagonist, major ancillary character
  • Also, you may write a flawless query, but the agent may still pass because it’s simply not their taste

The “Formula”

SETUP: A brief “laying of the scene”: setting, premise, etc. The “status quo”, as it were.
INCITING INCIDENT: A disruption of the status quo (e.g. a stranger comes to town)
CONSEQUENCES OF INCITING INCIDENT: How the world has changed after the Inciting Incident


All of this together gets across what the stakes are, and that’s what generates tension and interest in a story.

ALSO: If you need troubleshooting with your query, Kelly and JJ will be doing QUERY CRITIQUES in a future podcast. If you have a query you would like us to critique, email us at with the subject line PUBCRAWL PODCAST QUERY CRITIQUE. We will we critiquing 5 queries with all identifying information removed. All genres and categories welcome! We will leave the query critique submission open for 4 weeks, so polish up and send it in!

What We’re Reading/Books Discussed

Off Menu Recommendations

Lots of other podcasts this week!

Oh, and this is the DVD box set of Hart to Hart with JJ’s high school on the cover. And if you have not seen Legally Blonde, we suggest you rectify that immediately.

What We’re Working On

  • Kelly has been giving classes at The Loft about contracts, so if you’re in the Twin Cities area, you should check it out!
  • JJ is still working on mental health, but still thinking about writing

That’s all for this week! Next week, in continuation of our Publishing 201 series, we will giving an overview of SUBRIGHTS. 


9 Responses to PubCrawl Podcast: Publishing 201 The Anatomy of a Query Letter

  1. Emily Davis Feb 18 2016 at 11:20 am #

    “Got To Kick It Up” is the Disney Channel movie about Cheerleaders….just a random piece of trivia. Don’t know if that is the correct movie that was filmed at JJ’s high school, but it is something.

    • JJ Feb 18 2016 at 12:15 pm #

      YES! It is Gotta Kick It Up! They used our gym, and part of the main campus.

      I also forgot to mention that there is a scene in Jurassic Park that was filmed at my high school as well.

      • Nikhi Feb 18 2016 at 2:17 pm #

        How cool!

  2. Mona AlvaradoFrazier Feb 18 2016 at 2:17 pm #

    This is the first time I’ve heard someone likes writing queries :). After this podcast finished I re-worked my query and I still feel it reads as ‘average.’ I’m submitting my query for one of your critiques and hope you can help make it better. Thank you.

  3. Nikhi Feb 18 2016 at 2:19 pm #

    Well, I’ve got to say this podcast has helped my query. I’m submitting to you lovely ladies for a critique. Can’t wait to watch it bleed red!

  4. Gwynne Feb 18 2016 at 8:38 pm #

    I’ve read and heard lots of advice on query letters and querying, but this is my favorite so far. Thank you!

  5. Laurie Feb 23 2016 at 4:45 pm #

    Do we take an actual query letter and send it to you? The reason I ask is because some posts recommend making the first paragraph of the letter more personal (if possible), so my first paragraph would look different depending on who the recipient is. Or are you just wanting the meat of the query letter, where we give a brief blurb of our story?


    • Kelly Feb 24 2016 at 9:28 am #

      Hi Laurie!

      If you send us the whole query letter we will not read the personal, identifying sections aloud on the podcast. But we may still be able to give you feedback on those sections, either by skipping over a few details but reading the non-identifying parts, or by speaking generally about the personal section. We can work with either a complete query or just the meat, as you say.

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