As a writer, you have to remember something about query letters. Editors and agents are receiving a lot of these on a daily basis, depending on the size of the agency and the number of genres they represent. That query letter needs to be explicit and to the point with absolutely no confusion for the reader. I'm not talking about the structure here or whether you have a "high concept" written with a comparison between two movies (Twilight meets Scooby Doo). I am simply focusing on the content here.
Miriam Kriss, a great colleague of mine has made a comment numerous times when I have sat on agent panels with her. "Maybe means No." In many cases, that maybe simply comes up because the author lacks serious clarity in the query letter. If the editor or agent has a ton of unanswered questions in the query letter, then it is likely the answer will be a no simply because they cannot afford the time to keep asking questions.
So what are some of those questions that need to be answered?
- Title, genre and word count
- What makes your story unique
- Who the characters are
- What is their goal, motivation and conflict
- What is the central conflict in the story
- What is the theme or "take-away" for the author
This becomes a bigger issue when the story relies heavily on world building that you would find in historicals, fantasies, sci-fi, paranormals and so forth. Now it is up to you to provide that bridge to the world that only you have really come to know and understand.
I always recommend taking the time to really read through that query a lot before sending it out. I would also encourage you to have someone who has not read your story to read the query. This outsider will be just like having the editor or agent who has never seen it either.
Here is the thing to remember. As I started out, with "Maybe = No", if you are causing a confusion for your reader in the query letter, then the odds are there is a thought that if you cannot keep your points straight and clear in the query, then what will the actual story be like? Yes, I know it may not be as confusing as the query letter, but you have planted that seed in the mind of the editor or agent.