A query letter is your resume, it’s also your sales pitch, but above all, it’s your one shot to lure an agent or a publisher into asking to read more of your work. A query consists of the following parts:
This is 1-3 sentences, and it’s meant to grab the readers attention. Agents read hundreds of queries every month, if not thousands. Make them want to keep reading yours.
‘When Nix’s father locates a good map of Honolulu in 1868, she knows she’s in trouble.’ This is from Heidi Heilig’s query for The Girl From Everywhere.
‘Seventeen-year-old Joanna Claymore is the only orphan who’s figured it out. All it took her was some digging, and the guilty conscience of Ethan, a New Terra Alliance soldier, to learn the truth.’ This is from my own query, which has garnered me 5 full requests, and 2 Partial requests so far.
This is the ‘meat’ of the query letter. The pitch is where you boil your 60k-100k novel down to 8-10 sentences. Your pitch does not have to give away everything! Think of a good movie trailer, it gives you an idea of the plot, a sense of the characters, but doesn’t give away the ending. The movie trailer’s main goal is the same as your queries, it makes you want to watch the movie. My best advice for writing your pitch would be to focus on what makes your book unique. Avoid cliches at all costs. Your pitch should also reflect the ‘voice’ or ‘tone’ of your novel. If your novel is a comedy, your query should probably make me laugh.
The Tag & Bio
This is where you put the title of your book, the word count, and the genre of your book. This is also where you add a bit of personalization to each individual agent you send your query letter to. If you have any publishing credentials you can add them here as well. Here is an example:
After devoting my career to maintaining and promoting the YA sections of three bookstores worldwide, I am happily submitting my own contribution to the genre. I am submitting to you because of your enthusiasm in discovering, and working with first-time authors. THIS BODY WON’T BREAK is a fast-paced 72,000 word YA sci-fi which may appeal to fans of Rick Yancy’s The 5th Wave, and Alexandra Bracken’s The Darkest Minds.
In closing be sure to add your thanks for the agent’s time and consideration. Beneath your name is a great spot to add links to your social media accounts along with your contact information.
Now that you know what a query is, and more importantly, a query letter’s purpose, I have compiled a list of 10 Tips to make your query the best it can be
REFRAIN FROM BOASTING
Don’t say your book is the next best-seller. Do not, under any circumstances, boast about your own writing when querying agents. Let them decide for themselves.
ALWAYS FOLLOW SUBMISSION GUIDELINES
Read each individual agent’s (or publisher’s) submission guidelines before sending your query letter. Some will ask for you to enclose sample pages with your query letter. Others will ask for a synopsis along with your query. Some want the query to be formatted a certain way.
TELLING AGENTS YOU’VE SELF-PUBLISHED
Telling an agent you’ve self-published accomplishes nothing. But, if you’ve self-published and done VERY well with the work you’ve self-published, that’s a different story.
DON’T MAKE SHIT UP
It’s ok to be a debut author. It’s ok to not have a history in publishing. It’s ok if you’ve never met the agent at a conference before. Don’t make shit up, and don’t sugar-coat the truth either. If you are uncomfortable calling attention to the fact that you are a debut author in your query, then just don’t say anything at all.
ADDRESSING YOUR QUERY PROPERLY
Check, and then double-check the spelling of the agent’s name before you hit send. And under no circumstances do you address your query letter ‘Dear Agent’ or ‘Dear Editor’. This implies you haven’t taken the time to do your research, and if you don’t have the time to do your homework, why should they invest their time in you?
PERSONALIZE, PERSONALIZE, PERSONALIZE!
Check the agent’s profile on the agency’s website. Check their ‘Manuscript Wishlist’ if they have one. Check their profile on Publisher’s Marketplace. Check their Twitter. Maybe they like to read books with strong female protagonists, maybe they specialize in working with debut authors. Use it. Put it as the reason you’ve queried them within your query letter. It shows you’ve done your homework.
VAGUENESS AND THE CLICHE
Avoid being vague in your query. Avoid using cliches. Just don’t do it.
THE ESSENTIAL INFO
Don’t leave out any essential information! The query MUST contain your novel’s word count. It must also identify the genre of your novel (your target market). If the tag doesn’t include this information, the agent will likely pass because it means you don’t know how to identify where your novel fits in the market. Or maybe it means you have a huge word count and are afraid they’ll be put off by it. They won’t know why you didn’t include it, but they won’t stick around to find out.
CHECK, AND THEN DOUBLE CHECK FOR SPELLING AND GRAMMATICAL ERRORS
If you can’t perfect a half page of writing in the areas of spelling and grammar, what does this say about your ability to write a novel? Critique groups are great for this, among other problems. I have included some links at the bottom of this page to some websites and groups I’ve found useful.
SOCIAL MEDIA LINKS
We live in a digital age. A big part of the publishing industry is moving towards digital. You have likely read a lot of about ‘Building an Author Platform,’ which I will cover in my next post. Regardless of what you may think, it IS important. It shows the agent you are serious about your writing, and about yourself in the industry. It shows you have taken the first steps in getting your name out there, and that you know a thing or two about self-promotion. Even if you only have a small following on Twitter or Instagram, or a simple author website, just showing you have made an effort makes all the difference.
DON’T GIVE UP
Send your queries out in small batches of 5-10. If you don’t get any bites, it means you need to rework your query. But don’t get discouraged.
The Twilight Series was rejected 14 times
The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks was rejected 24 times
A Wrinkle in Time was rejected 26 times
Gone with The Wind was rejected 38 times
And now there are more agents, more publishers, more people to reject you. Jack London had a stack of rejections that was over 4 feet tall.
Don’t give up. The ones who persevere are the ones who publish.
Some websites I’ve found helpful during the querying process:
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