How to Write a Query for a Literary Agent: Specific vs. Vague Conflict | iWriterly

Tired of getting form rejections from literary agents? Or, perhaps you haven’t started querying
yet and you’re looking to stand out in the query box. Learn how to write specific vs. vague conflict
in a query in this iWriterly video. Heya, book nerds! I’m Meg LaTorre, and on this episode of
iWriterly, I’ll be answering one of your most popular questions on Twitter: how to
write specific vs. vague conflict in a query. Before we get into today’s content, make
sure you hit the subscribe button if you haven’t already. Here on iWriterly, we create videos about
how to be a successful modern-day author: the ins and outs of writing, being an entrepreneur,
author platform, and publishing. If that sounds like something you’re interested
in, be sure to ring that bell so you’re notified every time we upload a new video. The purpose of a query is to entice a literary
agent or editor to read (more of) your manuscript. Some literary agents will only read the manuscript
pages if the query entices them enough, other agents will read both the query and pages
for each submission they receive, and yet others will read the pages before they query. But in order to receive a partial or full
request, it’s essential for agents to finish reading your submission thinking, “I need
more.” And there’s an easy way you can do that
within your query: specific conflict. When I worked as a literary agent and read
through the query box or perused the feed of Twitter pitch contests, writers would often
over-simplify their stories or plot. This over-simplifying not only doesn’t provide
an overview of the story in the plot summary (also called the story blurb), but it doesn’t
leave a reader eager for more. Here are a few examples: 1.) Michael is faced with a dark secret that turns
his world upside down. If he doesn’t learn how to control his new
powers so he can fight off the impending evil, the darkness will devour the world and everything
he loves. 2.) Mia has always wanted a normal life. When she finds herself on a mission to learn
about her family’s history, she learns of their dark secrets, which, if revealed, could
change the course of history. 3.) Trae’s father committed a crime that tore
an empire apart. Or that’s what everyone has been told. He must befriend murderers and thieves and
outsmart politicians to prove his family’s innocence and prevent civil war. In these examples: We don’t know who the protagonist is (vocation,
motivation, etc.) or what s/he wants. The plot appears to be moving the protagonist
(rather than his/her desires or actions impacting the plot). We know nothing of the individual circumstances
leading up to the inciting incident, who the antagonist is, or what the force is the protagonist
is facing. Without any specific examples of what the
protagonist is facing, the stakes’ impact is lessened. For example, in #2, what are the family’s
dark secrets, specifically? Why would those secrets change the course
of history? What would happen if those secrets were revealed? Why weren’t they revealed already? In general, the following phrases are all
vague conflicts (and should be swapped out for specific conflicts): “dark secret,”
“turning her world upside down,” “dark past,” “darkness will devour the world,”
etc. If an event happened that has sparked the
inciting incident, such a father’s crime in example #3, the reader needs to have a
general idea of what that event was. Let’s rewrite these three examples to include
specific conflict: 1.) In Short Hills, most sixteen-year-old boys
get cars for their birthday. Michael received the unfortunate news: he
was from a long line of witches. The best part? As a male descendant, he didn’t get powers,
not cool ones anyway. But he did inherit the family’s enemies—including,
but not limited to, the town mayor, chief of police, and wealthiest families in the
community, all of whom were set on exacting revenge on his family. And for crimes his ancestors supposedly committed. Michael must learn how to control and interpret
the strange visions he’s been getting since his sixteenth birthday before the town can
awaken a sleeping demon that
is said to steal witches’ powers—by stealing their memories. 2.) While unearthing what some historians theorize
to be the ancient city of Atlantis, Mia discovers strange artifacts with her family’s crest. Upon touching the artifacts, she begins blacking
out and waking up days later without memory of what happened. Desperate for answers, she travels to libraries
in Southern Europe and North Africa, where she learns the true location of Atlantis—and
how her family was the reason it was sunk beneath the sea. 3.) Ten years ago, Trae’s father stole the king’s
scepter. In most kingdoms, you’d think the king would
waggle his jeweled finger at his smiths and demand they make a new one. Not in Galoecia, where people are sentenced
to death for stepping on a royal’s shadow. When Trae discovers his father’s secret
journal, it seems he never stole the scepter after all. If his deceased father’s writing can be
believed, he was framed for stealing the scepter and executed as a disrupter of the peace. To get to the bottom of the mystery, Trae
must befriend murderers and thieves—the last people to see his father alive. But if he doesn’t find the evidence he needs
and soon, civil war will break out on the streets, with Trae right in the middle of
it. Granted, all of these
examples are too long for Twitter pitch contests (and probably too short for plot summaries,
which are often three paragraphs long), but hopefully you get the idea. Pitches and plot summaries both need to have
story-specific conflict and stakes. If the conflict is vague enough that it can
be applied to stories other than yours, take a look at the writing and see how you can
tweak it to convey the uniqueness of your story. By conveying the uniqueness of your story
in a query (as well as having a polished manuscript), you may just land yourself a few partial and
full requests from industry professionals. If you’re interested in learning more about
how to write a strong query or pitch, join me on September 24 for my Query-Writing Boot
Camp with Savvy Authors. There will be two lessons on querying, two
live Q&As with yours truly, as well as live query critiques during the class. To learn more about the class, check out the
link in the description. Thanks for tuning into this episode on iWriterly
on how to write specific vs. vague conflict in a query. If you liked what you saw, give the video
a thumbs up. It lets me know you like this type of content
and want more. If you’re new here, welcome! Consider subscribing. I post writing- and bookish-related videos
every Wednesday. If you have questions about anything we covered
today, leave those in the comments below. Be sure to connect with me on my other social
media platforms, including Twitter and Instagram. I also have a monthly newsletter, Book Nerd
Buzz, which includes exclusive insiders and giveaways for subscribers. When you subscribe to the newsletter, you’ll
receive a free copy of How to Format Your Manuscript for Submission, a template for
writers looking to query or share their manuscript with freelance editors. All of the links are listed below. That’s it for today. As always, keep writing!

7 Replies to “How to Write a Query for a Literary Agent: Specific vs. Vague Conflict | iWriterly

  1. Have questions about how to write specific conflict in a query? Leave them in the comments below!

    For more information about querying, check out our YouTube playlist, Query Tips: Finding a Literary Agent.

    If you'd like to learn more about my Query-Writing Boot Camp this September (2018) with Savvy Authors, click the link below.

  2. Great tips and examples! I'm a professional editor who works with queries, and vague statements are the number one issue I see in queries.

  3. I just want to get general opinions of this one:

    Apricot, the princess of Bayhenondra, is framed for the murder of her mother, causing her to flee and opening her eyes to the oppressive way her family has always ruled. In her journey to discover why her mother was killed, she unveils the secrets surrounding her kingdom, such as magic, an underground society, and a witch's plan that has spiraled out of control. Apricot finds herself caught in the struggle to contain the ancient imbalance of darkness that is creeping through the land and turning the minds of people to do horrible things. With the help of new friends she must not only contain this darkness, but also choose between becoming the queen, or having love in her life.

  4. What I learned:
    Introduce protagonist, motivation! Make sure to show that your protagonist is proactive.
    Inciting incident
    Antagonist, mention the stakes!

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