Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Nicola Furlong: How to Write a Killer Query

The bad news is that writing a killer query is hard. The good news is that writing a killer query is both art and craft. This means there’s a technique or strategy that you can learn.

And learn you must because it doesn’t matter how beautifully written, how heart-poundingly suspenseful, how knee-buckling funny your manuscript is, no editor or agent is going to see it until they’ve been blown away by your initial query pitch.

I know, I know, you’ve spent months beavering away at your great novel and now you just want someone to read it, love it, publish it. But first, you’ve got to hook ’em with a couple of paragraphs.

It may seem crazy, but no more bizarre than trying to flog a screenplay. Those scriptwriters have to verbally pitch their written words!

So, suck it up. It can be done without too much hair pulling.

A killer query is:

• An advertisement for your book
• Brief
• Punchy
• Personalized for a specific editor or agent
• Crafted to hook the reader’s interest
• Delivered in a writing style that suits the book, and
• Designed to leave the reader wanting more.


(Note: examples below are from the pitch I used for my paranormal sci-fi novel, UnnaturalStates. The pitch triggered a number of requests for the full manuscript.)

First paragraph:
• Opening line pitch: two sentences or so that hooks reader’s interest, written in the style of the book.
Example: What astounding secret legacy, resurrected from a controversial divine relic, is being shrouded by the stigmatic, pop-evangelist John the Apostle?

Second paragraph:
• Three to five sentences providing more information about the main character and his/her character arc, the central plot and the length and style of the book.

Example: Already revered and reviled for his powers of song and healing, the charismatic superstar’s mythic life tragically unravels after three strangers infiltrate his west-coast Passion Ministry during its intensely anticipated Easter concert week. Their combined inquiries trigger revelation, ruin and murder.

Merging religious and paranormal phenomena with bio-technology and the ethics of cloning, Thy Will Be Done–a 100,000-word suspense novel–explores the devastating consequences fused from the collision between today’s spiritual emptiness and scientific abundance.

Third paragraph:
• Two to three sentences about you, such as your qualifications, the reason for writing the book, the possible audience and markets for the book, and why you are the one to write and promote it.

Example: My publishing credits include eight mysteries, an inspirational fiction series called the Sisterhood of Shepherds, two optioned screenplays, and one optioned television series. A shameless self-promoter, I attend signings and conferences and maintain a lively online presence via my web site, Facebook and Pinterest. I am also a member of the Crime Writers of Canada (Vice-President) and of Sisters in Crime.

Fourth paragraph:
• Two sentences to ask if they wish to receive sample chapters or the entire manuscript and to thank them for their kind consideration.

Now, sign it. Send it off. Go on to the next one!

About the Author

  Nicola pens mystery and inspirational novels, produces interactive books for the iPad, creates funky, high-relief paintings, podcasts about genre writing (The Novel Experience), and teaches electronic publishing, when she's not playing Old-Timer’s hockey, growing blossoms and bamboo or eating chocolate fudge. She has also written a gardening guide for the West Coast and has adapted two of her novels to screenplays; both were optioned for television.
 The co-creator of Quillr®, a multimedia storytelling platform, Nicola gardens in a small town on southern Vancouver Island, BC. For more information, please visit: http://www.nicolafurlong.com and http://www.pinterest.com/novelnicola.

Heartsong, Book 1, Sisterhood of Shepherds

 In HEARTSONG, thirty-something single parent Charly Shepherd is satisfied with her life raising two children and thousands of plants in her family-owned Sweet Shepherd Nursery. Then, tragedy strikes. As she and her siblings, Faith and Hope, struggle to keep the nursery going, Charly begins to believe her family’s destiny is greater than raising flowers. When the three sisters reluctantly delve into family secrets to help their ailing father fulfill a promise, their lives change forever as they pursue a new inspirational path of discovery, heartache, humor and redemption.


  1. Thanks, Delia. Appreciate being on your fine blog.

  2. Great post, Nicola. It's been a few years since I saw a query broken down in such a precise manner.