Crafting a Good Query Letter

 

You’ve finished your first novel. Like every author, you’d love to see it published. But how do you go about getting an agent?

I wish I had all the answers!  I’ve been writing query letters for almost two years now. I’ve sent out over one hundred. So far I’ve managed to attract the interest of three agents, all of whom asked to read my manuscript. All have turned me down.

I also worked with an Author Coach and a published author to refine my query.

I’m offering what advice I have garnered.

Go to an agency’s website and browse through the list of agents. Read the bios and see what types of books each agent represents. Choose only those that are in your genre. Write down the name, carefully checking spelling, and follow all submission guidelines.

Address your query to the agent that best fits what you write. Begin your letter with a connection to that agent. For example: I was happy to see that you represent sci-fi work.

If your work is similar to something that has been published, reference that work, but make sure to emphasize what makes your piece different. For example: The Lost Martian is similar to Weir’s The Martian, in terms of location, but my protagonist is the last of her people.

This is your hook. You only get about three sentences to entice the agent with your opening, so be sparse with your words.

Your second paragraph is your opportunity to introduce your book. Make it as interesting as possible, but stay away from openings like “What if…” “Imagine…” and “Waking from a dream…” Think about what makes your story interesting and unique. Tell us something about the main character that makes us care about that individual and that would inspire us to read on. Give the agent enough details about key events that the agent begins to see the story arc, but don’t give away the ending. Save that for the synopsis.

Once you’ve got a solid paragraph, read what it out loud. Make sure all verbs are active, past tense. Even if your book is written in present tense, pitch it in past. If you belong to a writing group, share it and ask for ideas to make it better.

Your last paragraph is a short opportunity to explain why you are the most qualified to write your book. If you’ve had pieces published in something other than a local newsletter in which all submissions are included, then mention that. If this is a fiction piece and the only things you’ve had published were nonfiction, mention that.

Don’t say that you have no publishing credits. Don’t mention that you’ve entered contests unless you’ve won and don’t say that you’ve sent in pieces but haven’t had a thing accepted.

If you have a MFA or are working on one, mention that. If you have a degree in English or Creative Writing or Journalism, well, some sources say to mention it while others say not to.

Throughout, keep the tone professional. No joking around or trying to be silly.

Don’t say how long it took you to write it or that it’s your first book. Don’t mention that it’s been edited by your writing group or even by a paid professional. Don’t bring up screen rights of that you’ve received rejections. Don’t mention how much your family and friends loved it.

Don’t follow up with a phone call, but if you do get a nice rejection letter, be sure to respond with a polite thank you.

I hope this is somewhat helpful! I’ve rewritten my query letter many times. Whenever a professional offers suggestions, I consider them, and then find a way to incorporate them while keeping my tone intact.

Your task is to take a piece you’ve written, even if it is unfinished or a short story. Write a query letter that could be sent to an agent.

Have fun with this one.

 

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