Establishing Stakes

I like writing a draft of my query letter while I’m in the middle of writing my novel. It helps get me excited about the project when I hit those middle-of-the-draft blues. It can also help me notice some big picture problems before I get to them. As I was writing the query for my Camp NaNoWriMo project, I realized something important. I had no idea what the stakes for the book were.

I’ve also been noticing in a lot of the queries I’ve been reading that other authors are struggling with establishing stakes. A lot of these queries have great conflict throughout the letter and then the end is a little anticlimactic.

You always want to end your query letter with a big bang.You want the agent to leave the agent thinking “I need to read this right now.”

If you’re having trouble, try this formula:

Main character must do [really hard thing] or else [really bad thing] will happen.

Here’s an example from one of my query letters:

“Caught in the midst of a court as deadly as it is elegant, Livia is left with no choice but to outsmart Emery to save her new kingdom and the husband she’s only just begun to fall for.”

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2 thoughts on “Establishing Stakes

  1. This was exactly my problem with the first draft of my query for DAUGHTER OF THE PIRATE KING. I’d sent out a round of queries and didn’t get any bites. Then I took my letter to the wonderful Elana Johnson for some advice. She told me to state the stakes at the end. That’s, like, literally the only thing I changed. Then the manuscript requests came rolling in. Everyone listen to Kyra. She’s awesome and knows what she’s talking about.

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