A few weeks ago in a mad rush to get to a meeting, I side-swiped a concrete column in the parking deck. And by ‘side-swiped’ I mean put a massive dent in the passenger door of my car and scraped off a bunch of paint. Woe was me. Having grown up with four gear-head brothers, though, I knew exactly what to do. I got out my toilet plunger and went to work on the dent.
Later that evening, the dent still firmly embedded in my door, I was lamenting to Sarah about the accident, the failure of my plungering, the far-awayness of my Monkey Troop…everything.
“If I were there,” she said, “I’d give you hugs and IPA.” (If you don't know, IPA stands for India Pale Ale, and it's the hoppiest, happiest beer on the planet.)
“If you were here,” I said, “you’d get your plunger and I’d get my plunger and we’d pop that dent out. I’m sure it’s just a two-plunger dent.”
Sarah agreed. “Tempt some of your girlfriends over!” she said. “But lead with the IPA and not the plunger.”
She’s brilliant, that Sarah. Because, seriously…which sounds more enticing? “Come over for a beer?” Or “Go get your icky toilet plunger, drag it across town to my house and mash it onto my car?”
No contest, right?
Then I started thinking…that’s good advice for queries. In both cases, we’re trying to tempt someone to invest in us – time, effort, representation, plungering. And in both cases, we need to make the temptation as irresistible as possible.
The key, then, is this: identifying the IPA of your book.
What’s the most unique, marketable aspect of the story? Yes, you’ve written about vampires, and yes, millions of vampire books have sold so clearly they’re popular. But what’s special about YOUR vampires? Are they cross-dressing vampires? Have they infiltrated the CIA? Do they run the International Union of Circus Clowns? THAT’s the IPA. (Some people might call this the ‘hook’ but I like to say IPA because, well, I like IPA.)
The IPA should be the first thing an agent or editor sees when they read your query. Leading with vampires who sparkle or “Jeffrey doesn’t know it, but he’s the fulfillment of a legend…” will end your slush-escape in the blink of an agent's eye. Because they've seen those concepts...ad nauseum.
Instead, you have to hook them with something fresh. “After his first night performing under the big tent, Jeffrey discovers why clowns wear rubber noses when his real one is sliced off by the Varken, the International Cult that rules the Clown Union, to ensure his loyalty."
A missing nose = total IPA. A clown union = more IPA.
Vampires and legends? They’re Bud Light.
So find the most unique, most exciting, most ‘hooky’ aspect of your story and get it into your query first. Because once the toilet plunger comes out, things don’t smell so sweet. And nobody likes a stinky query.