Thursday, October 7, 2010

So, you want to know about query letters?

By Joyce Tremel

Congratulations! You finally have your manuscript polished to a shine and you're ready for the dreaded query process. Here are some tips to help make your query stand out (in a good way, of course!).

1.    The Hook—A one or two sentence pitch intended to hook the agent reading your query.
2.    Plot Summary—This is really a continuation of your hook. Your summary should be from one, to at most four, short paragraphs. (One agent suggests making it only three sentences. I think that’s too short.) Remember that this is not a synopsis. The purpose of the query letter is to get the agent to want to read more. That’s it. Somewhere in these paragraph be sure to include the title of the book (in all caps), the word count, and the genre.
3.    Bio—This is where you list your publishing credits and what qualifies you to write this book. Only include credits and experience that are pertinent to the book. For example, if you have a degree in biophysics, there’s no need to mention it if your query is for a cozy featuring a quilter. On the other hand, if your book is a thriller and your protagonist is a scientist, you might want to include it.
4.    Why you chose this particular agent—This paragraph is optional. Some agents want it, others don’t care. If you’ve met the agent at a conference, or if you have a referral to the agent from one of her clients, definitely include this information and move this to the beginning of the query BEFORE your hook/summary paragraph.
5.    Closing—State that you’ll be happy to send them the completed manuscript, or more material, etc. Don’t forget to include your contact information.

1.    Typical business letter format—single spaced, with additional space between paragraphs, no indent, 1 or 1 ¼ inch margins. If sending a paper query, use letterhead with your contact info. In an e-query, put your contact info at the bottom.
2.    For a paper query, use Times New Roman, 12 point font. For e-queries use either Times New Roman or Arial. NEVER use colored ink or a colored font. Anything other than black is unprofessional.
3.    Use white paper only. Don’t use colored paper, fancy stationery, or scented anything. Don’t use e-mail stationery—keep the background plain white.
4.    Include a self-addressed stamped envelope (SASE) for snail mail queries.

1.    In the words of Miss Snark, “Query widely.” Never send one query at time. Send in groups of at least ten, but if sending e-queries, be sure to address each agent individually. NEVER cc an e-query.
2.    Research agents. Only query agents who not only represent your genre, but the type of book you’ve written in that particular genre. For instance, an agent may state she represents mysteries, but if you look at her clients’ books, they may all be cozies. If you’ve written a police procedural, your book won’t fit her list. 
3.    Follow the agent’s instructions to the letter. Don’t include any material the agent doesn’t want with your query. If she wants the query formatted a certain way, do it.
4.    Never query until your book is finished.  This means written and revised several times, read by trusted colleagues, and revised again. A first, or even a second draft is not a completed book.
5.    If you get no requests for more material after your first batch of queries, re-evaluate your letter. Try to determine why. Revise and send another batch. Something to remember: Don’t query all your “A” list agents in the first batch. If they all reject, you can’t query them again with a revised letter.
6.    Rejection is part of the process. Don’t get upset when you get form rejections or no response at all. Many agents now go by the mantra “no response means no,” but don’t hesitate to send a second e-query in case your first one was lost. Don’t, however, send a third. And NEVER, EVER respond to a query rejection.
7.    Read agent blogs regularly. You will get all kinds of inside information on not only the agent’s likes and dislikes, but on the publishing industry in general.


1.    Query Shark
2.    Janet Reid
3.    Bookends Literary Agency
4.    Nathan Bransford
5.    Kristen Nelson
6.    Miss Snark  (archives only)

1.    Agent Query
2.    Publisher’s Marketplace
3.    Query Tracker
4.    Preditors and Editors
5.    Absolute Write Forum
6.    Association of Authors Representatives (AAR)
7.    List of the 20 Worst Agents (avoid at all costs!)

1 comment:

Marcia Talley said...

This is terrific stuff! I think it will end up getting cross-posted all over the place. Thanks, Joyce!