Two queries on Query Shark I recommend every querying writer to read. They are #246 and #179.
The first sentence catches my attention. The rest of the letter tells me who the main character is, what her problem is, who the antagonist is and what he wants, and what’s at stake.
If I took on YA novels, I’d ask for pages.
Yes! This is exactly how to start a query. We know what Jessica wants, and who is trying to thwart her.
At this point we know the characters, what they want, and have a sense of who they are. There’s nothing extra here, but also nothing left out.
If you take a look at all of the winning queries on Query Shark, they aren’t all the same. Because there is no formula for writing good query letters.
But there are ingredients common to successful queries: Character + Want + Change + Conflict + Stakes.
Start your query with whichever drives your novel most. (See my post on WATCh) If your character and/or world is truly exceptional, and his or her choices or that world drive the plot, start with the hook. If your plot is a chain reaction of cause and effect which started at the inciting incident, start your query there.
I’ve categorized some of the winning queries from Query Shark, so you get an idea which ones might be a better model for your own query:
Ones that begin with what the character wants: 179, 174, 261, 211 (Character stories and thematic “Answer” stories)
Ones that begin with the inciting incident: 255, 246, 236, 199, 192, 191, 175, 162, 123 (Time stories and external Answer stories)
Ones that begin with an exceptional character hook: 223, 217, 212, 172, 168, 120, 114 (World*)
*Note that even World-based queries need to start with character. A query needs someone for us to empathize with. Your first line might give us the hook, your next might give us the inciting incident or what that character wants.