I'm in love with the Query Shark. Most of you have already heard of her, I'm sure, but for those that haven't, QS (aka Janet Reid) is awesome. Her blog is full of great information through the posting of hundreds of query letters. A few are awesome and have gotten it right from the very start; most, however, are not.
Through each letter she gives wonderful advice, telling the author how to fix what's wrong and, more importantly, why it's wrong. She isn't just being a class-A you-know-what. Her only job is to help those of us working on query letters to get stronger. Oh and she's funny while doing it.
Here's a great tip:
There's a simple way to figure out what goes in the first paragraph of a query.
1. What is your main character's name?
2. What problem/choice does the character face? (20 words or fewer)
3. Who wants to foil the main character's plan and why? (20 words or fewer)
These three questions are the blueprint of your query. You don't write the answers and send it as a query any more than a real estate agent posts blueprints instead of photographs of a house for sale.
You USE these questions to guide you on what to include (action/plot) and what not to include (description/character list)
Think of it as a writing exercise. Answer each of these questions. Use as many words as you need, then pare down to 20.
Another point Janet says: do NOT write a QL from the POV of your character. Most agents see this as a gimmick, and they aren't interested in gimmicks. They are interested in your book.
And lastly she say, "The SOLE purpose of the query is to get me to read your book." If you can write a QL that leaves 'em wanting more, you've done it! Plain and simple, right?
Yeah, not so much. :)