In the process of getting Deception ready for agents, I’ve done quite a bit of research on query letters. As there’s no sense in keeping all this information floating around my head to myself, here are some tips I’ve learned along the way. (I’m leaving out some of the standard ones like include word count and genre because I’ve mentioned them in my annotated query example below):
- DO customize your query for each agent. Put their name at the top (make sure it’s spelled correctly), and always include something that indicates you at least read their website (maybe a recent book they’ve represented, another author, etc.).
- DO read their website for submission guidelines. Every agent has different guidelines. While this may seem like a hassle, they’re looking to see who is professional enough to research. They’re looking for business partners (as writing is a business). And they get an average of 100 query letters A DAY, so they need something to thin the pile.
- DON’T expect feedback from them. Their job is not to provide you feedback. It’s to tell you if they are able to sell the book or not.
- (This is my own personal advice) DON’T include words like “and then this happens” or “and another character enters” while telling your story. You want to engross your agent in your query letter. Make them feel like they’re reading a book and want to read more after they’ve finished your letter. Don’t remind them they’re at work, sifting through email. We all know how lame that feeling can be. 🙂
- DON’T use a query blaster or CC/BCC a bunch of agents on the same email. This tacks onto my first “do.” You must customize for each agent. Also, several of them have said that nothing gets a query deleted unread faster than that (because they can tell).
- DON’T try to be fancy or gimmicky. Like I said before, they’re looking for professionals, and your query letter is a business letter. This is not the time for pink or scented paper or gifts that represent the book. Send them what they want and nothing more.
Here are some of my research links:
- Good examples here: http://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/guide-to-literary-agents/successful-queries
- Very helpful (written by a former literary agent): http://blog.nathanbransford.com/2010/08/how-to-write-query-letter.html
- She (a literary agent) breaks down queries and what is right and wrong with each: http://queryshark.blogspot.com/
- Research the agents you’re sending to. Not only so you can get their guidelines and relevant info, but also so you don’t send to scammers.
- NEVER pay to have your query read. That’s unethical in the agenting community. Check aaronline.org for agents registered in the AAR guild/org for ethical standards.
- Browse through http://pred-ed.com/pubagent.ht (Preditors & Editors) for potential scammers. Please do your own research as well as several similar site all work closely – though I’ve found P&E to be helpful.
- If you are able to, subscribe to Publisher’s Marketplace. This site has a lot of the latest information about agents and recent book deals. This could help you with your agent connection in the query letter.
- Don’t get discouraged if you get rejected. Agenting your MS is a numbers game. There are a bunch of reasons why your manuscript wasn’t right for that agent. Maybe they don’t represent that kind of book; they just bought a book similar to yours; they feel they can’t sell it; they’re having a bad day; whatever. The best advice I’ve received came from author Joseph Finder, who told me that the writers who make it big aren’t always the best writers, they’re the most stubborn.
Pieces of a query letter:
**The entire page should be single spaced with block paragraphs, Times New Roman, 12 pt font (just like a formal business letter) unless the agent’s website dictates differently. The double asterisks are my notes to you.**
Dear **agent full name**
**You have a choice: open with the hook of your book or with what is my bottom paragraph introducing the metadata of your book.**
**Introduce story and conflict.**
**You have limited space (only ONE PAGE) so introduce characters that are worth mentioning – not one of my villains is named, but they’re referenced.**
**Make your agent care about the characters.**
**Do NOT give away the ending in the query letter – that’s for the synopsis. Here, you want to leave them wanting more.**
**Include any RELEVANT writing credentials. If you have none, that’s cool. Skip this section and move to the metadata paragraph or close if you included the metadata paragraph earlier. Don’t include irrelevant information.**
**Metadata paragraph: MUST include genre, title (in all caps; never use formatting in your query. Most of the time, agents will ask for this letter to be pasted in the body of an email, and each email provider handles text differently. All caps will come across on all emails.), word count, is it a series or have series potential?, give a book or author that’s similar to yours to show you know your market and to help them see where your book fits on the shelf.** **Include a sentence or two that shows you’ve researched this agent.** **I mention that I’ve included whatever else they’ve asked for. Not required, but tends to be standard in a professional email. If they don’t ask for anything more than a query, just delete this line.**
**Closing paragraph**Thank you so much for your consideration, and I look forward to hearing from you.
**Always include contact information – preferably all of the examples below as it gives them more options to contact you (and you don’t want to miss an opportunity because you didn’t offer your phone number).**
**email (even though you’re sending it via email most likely, include it anyway. It’s professional.)**
**website, if you have one**
Do you have any tips to share? Leave a comment below!