What is it about query letters that causes heart rates to soar, pupils to widen, and usually articulate people to stutter? It isn’t as though a query letter is very long, certainly nothing like a synopsis, so it shouldn’t take much time to create. It isn’t as though the information requested is difficult to find; it’s all about your work and your life. In fact, query letters from authors are actively sought by agents and editors. What’s the big deal about writing query letters?
The big deal is that a query letter is like a casting call for your book. It’s the only interaction your book will get with your chosen agent or editor. It has to be good.
What constitutes a good query letter? Let’s start with the length. A good query letter, one that will hopefully be read by an agent or editor, should be no longer than one page. Most experts also agree that the letter should have three main paragraphs.
When I heard that, I began devising how to break down my book into three paragraphs. Nope. That’s not how it goes. Unfortunately, only one paragraph plugs your book. I found out that each paragraph has a specific goal:
- The first paragraph should include pertinent details about your book. Here you give the title, the word count and the genre. After that, you give your one-sentence elevator pitch. In the final few lines of the paragraph you get creative with what your back-cover blurb, the text you see on the back cover of every book that hooks the reader into your story. Try to incorporate a few words telling the reader what makes your story unique.
- In the second paragraph, you introduce yourself to the agent/editor. You want to give the them information about any awards or publishinghistory. Tell them what qualifies you to write this book i.e., work history similar to the protagonist, life events, specific research, or anything else that ties you into the information in your book. You might also mention why you are querying the particular person or agency i.e., an agent’s authors’ works, books published by the company, etc.
- The third paragraph gives you the opportunity to thank the agent/editor/publisher for taking the time to read your query. Be sure to add that you have included a self-addressed, stamped envelope (and make sure you include it with the query letter.)
Because of the minimal amount of time an agent or editor has to read a query letter, you have to ensure that yours is done in the accepted mode. You want to be creative within the confines of the paragraphs. At the same time, however, be efficient. Make sure the necessary information is included, no fluff. Make sure your back-cover blurb gives the important points of your story written in your voice. This is your chance to hook the reader.
Once you have everything done perfectly, give it to your critique partners or someone you trust for an unbiased critique. Double and triple check spelling, punctuation and grammar. You can’t afford to make any mistakes. The minute it takes for someone to scan your letter is your only chance to attract an agent, editor or publisher to your work. Make it short, exciting, and correct.
Here is what one agency had to say about query letters: http://knightagency.net/manuscript_submissions/writing-a-solid-query-letter/