(So. I’m late updating. Sorry about that. When I decided last night that I’d just write it up in the morning, it seemed to have slipped my mind that I have a job in which I get paid to do things other than writing. Weird, right? Forethought is an elusive beast.)
As many of you know, I am knee deep in the querying process. The more I get into it, the more I realize how badly I stink at querying. (It’s kind of amusing how I think I’m such a fantastic writer that I should be published, but I’m agonizing over getting an agent to read just a one page letter.) So I apologize if it feels like this is just the other side of the coin of The Devil’s Own Query Letter, but it’s on the brain and I do better when I lay things out for myself. So here are the elements I’ve heard should be in a query letter!
Salutations! You should totally personalize these things. Seriously. If you can’t figure out who at an agency is going to be reading this, or how to spell his or her name, then why in the world do you expect them to want to spend the hours and hours (not to mention weeks and months) that it’s going to take them to make your book successful? Don’t be lazy. Do your research.
Pitch Every good story needs a good pitch. If you can’t hook in readers in this paragraph to read your letter, you’re gonna be hard pressed to convince them you can hook them in for an entire book. The pitch should be something like what you would see on the back of a book- a quick glimpse of what to expect that snags a reader’s interest. Run it by a few people who have never read your book to see if they find it interesting. Try to get people who don’t have a personal interest in keeping you happy.
Stats Book name, approximate word count, comparative titles. Be aware of the industry. If I’m trying to sell a book called Twilight that is MG science fiction weighing in at 500,000 words that I compare to Fifty Shades of Grey and the Quran, there are going to be issues. Don’t use titles that are already taken and popularly known, and know what’s an appropriate length for your genre and age group. And for comp titles, it isn’t necessarily best to go with hugely popular titles. Go with the ones that fit best, even if they aren’t household names. If your agent knows her stuff, she’ll know what you’re talking about.
Author bio Along with selling your book, you’re also selling yourself. This is more important if you’re querying nonfiction, but even fiction writers can benefit from a short, applicable bio. If you’ve won any writing competitions or awards, that’s worth mentioning. If you have any skills or experiences that would make you better suited to write your book, say so. But keep it brief.
Connection I don’t know if this actually goes at the end. In fact, I’m pretty sure it doesn’t. Buuuut… I’m not sure where to put it. So here it is. If you have any connection to the agent at all, it could help to mention it. “You rep my favorite author.” “You mentioned on Twitter that you wanted this sort of book.” Things like that. Don’t bother if the best you have to say is: “I found you using the internet”. That doesn’t help much. They can probably figure that out themselves. Mentioning that you too are a devoted owner of a toy poodle…? Maybe. Or not.
And since we’re making this nice and personalized, I’m assuming you’ve done your research on the individuals you will be sending your query letters to. A lot of agents have preferences on the format of their query letters as well. It should go without saying that you follow all submission guidelines. But be aware that what some agents might find eye-catching (such as writing the query letter in the voice of your main character), others would find completely obnoxious. In your research, try to go beyond what they rep and what email address to send it to. See if you can dredge up anything else that might help your query stick out of the slush pile.
Despite all this (dubious) knowledge, I’m still struggling to put out a decent query letter. Good thing I have all my lovely beta readers on deck to edit for me! (Read all previous posts on having a strong writing community.) Poor darlings won’t know what hit ’em. 🙂
And if you have any tips, ideas, or critiques about any of the above information, pretty please put it up in the comments! We’re all navigating these waters together and the advice of the experienced helps keep the boat afloat.