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Thursday, June 23, 2011

18: Elana Johnson: Queries

I first heard about Elana Johnson last year, soon after she'd signed her book deal to publish her debut novel, POSSESSION, a fun, snarky, YA dystopian. I was at a conference with her when she was awarded the prize for "Most Query Rejections in a Calendar Year" or something like that. To win the award, she had submitted 189 queries over the course of about 8 months and was rejected 188 times (you only need one agent to say yes, obviously). Through all the querying and rejections, she learned a lot about querying. Enough to write a book, in fact. So she did! Her free ebook FROM THE QUERY TO THE CALL is a wonderful compilation of what she learned.

On this call, Elana reviewed the basic parts of a query and explained what elements should be in each one. She used examples from real-life query letter drafts submitted by callers beforehand, and described what worked and what didn't.

The basic elements are as follows:
  1. Introduction: Here, you show off your industry knowledge, and demonstrate that you know what THIS agent is looking for.
  2. Hook: Should sum up the novel in one sentence, not be a question, and propel the reader to read the rest of the query.
  3. The Set-up: As the bridge between the Hook and the Conflict, the Setup provides a few details about your world, your main character, and your setting, but is short (75-100 words). This is the catalyst that moves the main character into the conflict.
  4. The Conflict: Tell what your character wants and what is keeping him/her from getting it.
  5. The Consequence: What will happen if your main character doesn't solve the conflict? Leave the agent on a cliff-hanger, hungry to read more (in your manuscript). Try to craft this as a complement to your Hook, so your hook and your Consequence can work as a mini-query, and bring the query full-circle.
  6. Everything else: I can't possibly summarize all the great advice she gave us on Marketing, Publishing Credits, word count, etc. You'll have to listen to the call. :)
I'm including Elana's own query blurb for POSSESSION, so you can see how a master crafts a query letter:
In a world where Thinkers brainwash the population and Rules are not meant to be broken, fifteen-year-old Violet Schoenfeld does a hell of a job shattering them to pieces.
After committing her eighth lame ass crime (walking in the park after dark with a boy, gasp!), Vi is taken to the Green, a group of Thinkers who control the Goodgrounds. She’s found unrehabilitatable (yeah, she doesn’t think it’s a word either) and exiled to the Badlands. Good thing sexy Bad boy Jag Barque will be going too.
Dodging Greenies and hovercopters, dealing with absent-father issues, and coming to terms with feelings for an ex-boyfriend—and Jag as a possible new one—leave Vi little time for much else. Which is too damn bad, because she’s more important than she realizes. When secrets about her “dead” sister and not-so-missing father hit the fan, Vi must make a choice: control or be controlled.
You want to read it now, don't you? Of course you do!

Thanks go to all those brave souls who sent in their queries, and extra thanks to Elana, for critiquing each one.

As always, you can access the MP3 by clicking here, or listen to it below:


  1. It was awesome! Thanks Elana! I loved the interaction from the callers. They had some great questions and comments. Revising my query now.

  2. Wow! I missed the original call but listened to the recording. Terrific information and Ms. Johnson is a wonderful speaker. Thanks!

    I'll be passing this website address on to the members of my in-person critique group.

    Oh, and Robin did a great job, as always. :)

  3. E--we love caller questions. We had some particularly good ones on this call.

    Regina--Elana is amazing. Do, please, pass it on. :) (And thanks!)

  4. Great call. As Robin pointed out in the pre-call portion, I need to get my query letter done NOW. Thanks to Elana I have the tools to make that happen.

    And, as always, Robin did a fabulous job. Thanks for your hard effort in making these calls possible.

    -- david j.

  5. Thanks, David! Elana sure made my job easy!

  6. Just got home from vacation, and I was so anxious to listen to the call, but then I realized the sound isn't working on the computer (GRRR!). I did get your email of Elana's critique of my query, and she was spot on! I'm so happy I came across this opportunity and I'm looking forward to listening to the call--as soon as I can get my hands on a computer with sound! lol ;o)


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