QUERY LETTERSA Lesson by Domenic Luciani
when it comes to that point.
There are many ways in which you may write a query letter, and the majority of them are correct. Really, the format of the query depends on what type of book you are writing. Think of it like your literary representative, who will work the agents and get them to take a look at your work. However, your creative flair asside, there are a few things a query must be.
0) Make sure it's finished: Before you even think about writing your query letter, your book better be 100% finished - editing and all. agents and publishers absolutely hate the prospect of an unfinished book, making an already high chance of rejection that much higher.
1) Guidlines: Depending on who you're submitting to (agent or publisher-wise) the company will most likely have guidlines. Before you even think of sending a query to your agency (which, to save time, will encompass whatever is the object of your goals), you need to log onto their website and read EVERYTHING. It will tell you if their agency is looking for the material or genre that your book is about. It will also tell you if they take email queries or if they only accept hardcopies. NOTE: my personal preference are agencies that take email queries because they will ultimately recieve and respond faster, and also it is a cheaper and simpler transaction.
2) Check: always, ALWAYS make sure that the agency you're sending to accepts your genre. If not, don't bother sending it, it probably won't get a second glance.
3) Be formal: What that means is, everything you say needs to make you sound . . . I want a better word than humble, but none comes up at the moment. DO NOT beg, brag, or belie. The three Bs.
Your query can begin any number of ways, but the best is "Dear (enter agency name here)," As if your sending a postcard to a pen-pal. Also, there should be NO grammar mistakes. It only takes one to ruin the tone of your query. It's a short piece of writing; do yourself a favor and thoroughly check over it for grammar and puntuation.
4) Begin: Your greeting should be followed by the title of your work, word count, and basic genre. This order can vary, as everything else I will tell you, but this is the most basic and concise: a very good thing to be.
5) Order: Every query is made up of a few key components: the intro, the synosis, the credentials, and the formal ending.
6) Keep it short: Agencies recieve hundreds of queries a day. What they want is something that gets right to the point, holds interest, and immediately makes your work sound professional and worth a longer look. Try 150 words for the synopsis and no more than 300 words total. 500 is the absolute maximum. If you breech 500 words, you need to do some fat trimming.
7) Opening line: This is a line that comes just before the synopsis (an addition). It can be a paragraph or a sentence, but should never be longer than the primary synopsis. This has to be your best line - it will make the difference between catching an agent, and letting him slip through your fingers.
8) Synopsis: writers often find this the hardest part of the letter. One of the worst things that new writers do is add the book title at the end of the synopsis like it's some big reveal. DON'T DO THIS. Your synopsis is NOT a summary. Summaries are for editors and few others. A synopsis tells the agency what your book is about; setting, main characters etc . . . WITHOUT giving away too much of the plot or getting overly detailed. SHORT AND CONCISE is the name of the game. Establish what you need to, raise a FEW questions (I say few because too many questions will overcomplicate things in such a short space), finish strong, and get outta there alive.
9) NOTE: it is occasionally alright to add in a small note after the synopsis regarding a possible sequel to the book. Do this with caution, because if agencies are initially on edge about your book, a possible sequel will scare them away.
10) Credentials: it should be obvious that agencies want writers with something to back up there stories. If you have won writing awards in offically recognized competitions, list them here. If you have previously published books (with the exception of self published) list them here. Writing education (for college major's primarily) list them here. If you are part of any large and recognized book clubs (no, the cafe does not count), list them here. IF YOU ARE A NEW WRITER, do NOT stretch on some details about a creative course you took in highschool: agencies do not care. The best thing to do, is ignore this section, or note that you are a new writer with realistic goals. UNDER AGE WRITERS: DO NOT SAY THAT YOU ARE UNDERAGE. No, it's not going behind the agency's back with an alias or something. If you do in fact get signed an agent, tell that agent after they have signed you. Usually, the only thing that changes for young writers is that they have to get their parent or guardian to sign the paperwork. It's not a big issue for agencies, but they feel like your trying to get sympathy points or something if you introduce it in your query. SO DON'T.
11) End: Once again, formality takes priority. Give a quick thank you for the agency's time. BE OPEN TO EDITING. Agencies will quickly turn down a great writer who is hesitant about letting their story be changed, and it makes a good first impression to be open to these things. There was a family guy episode that could relate to this (believe it or not) just can't remember which. Anyways, AGENTS KNOW WHAT THEY'RE DOING. If you get signed an agent, you need to listen to them whole-heartedly. A good relationship with an agent or editor gives life to a prosperous writing career.
12) provide contact information: even if you are only sending an email query, have your home address and phone number included. Agents like to know that their clients can be reached.
Now the other stuff you SHOULD know.
0) Agents are looking for three things in a query: A) Is the subject matter interesting B) Is the writing well done/is the writer professional, and most importantly C) Will the subject matter sell. If your query fails to accomplish these tasks, it will get you NOWHERE.
1) Rejection: with the amount of queries that agencies get in one day, there is a painfully high chance that your query will fall through the cracks. Agents will usually email you a rejection notice, saying they are sorry, but your work just isn't for them at the moment. NOTE: if they do actually say 'at the moment' it does NOT mean 'try again later', it means 'I'm being nice about it, but I'm wholly uninterested in your novel'.
2) Taking the heat: When (and most likely, you will) get a rejection notice, DO NOT email a sorrow-full thank you. MOVE ON AND FORGET ABOUT IT. Agencies don't care if you appreciate their rejection notice. It just takes up extra time.
3) Sending multiple queries: This is something you need to be careful with. YOU CAN NOT simply list a bunch of emails and send the all the same query. THEY WILL NOTICE. I don't mean that they have some secret line to each other, but agents have developed the uncanny ability to know exactly when they're recieving a generic, mass-emailed query. AND IT LOOKS BAD. Make sure you follow each individual agency's guidlines to the period. On the flip side, if two agencies wish to sign you, you must tell one of them you are going with the other, meaning don't simply ignore them. Also, if you have two books you want to query with, its best to only go with one, then try the other if the first one fails. Agencies don't like being overwhelmed, especially if queries are coming from the same person.
4) Partials: Most new writers get ecstatic when an agency requests a partial. THIS IS NOTHING TO GET OVERLY EXCITED ABOUT. It simply means that the agency found your query interesting and want to take a peak at what you have to offer. IT DOES NOT mean they are making any sort of commitment to your novel, whatsovever. At best it means your book has an interesting story. If your writing is not up to par, it will NOT make it past this stage.
4) Moving on: There comes a point, after twenty-or-so rejection letters are sitting in your inbox, when you have to move on. Your book most likely will not sell. At this point, it isn't time to sit around crying like a wimp and tell everybody you're giving up on writing. If every author did that when their first book failed, Your libraries would be empty. What you NEED to be doing, is getting your a*s out of that puddle of tears and get cracking on another novel. Figure out what went wrong the first time: was it a problem with the plot? was the writing not good enough? Stuff like that, and fix it. Your second attempt may also yield meager results, but keep going an learning until you have a novel that agencies will be scrambling to represent.
5) Agency shows: Some agencies or publishers hold shows where representatives and agents come down to whip out there latest stuff. YOU WILL GET an enormous boost for your novel if you meet with a representative or agent who you are interested in. If you have met them in person, ADD THAT IN YOUR QUERY. chances are, the agent will remember you and give your novel priority: a huge bonus, completely worth any trip.
6) Scams: This should be obvious. Don't fall into a scam because you're overly eager to get representation. I know for a fact that the Writers Literary Agency is a huge, ongoing scam. If an agency asks for money at any stage of the game, they need to be closely inspected before you even consider giving them anything, if even at all. It's usually best if you turn them down anyways, just to be safe. In the words of Holly Lisle, YOU DO NOT PAY TO WRITE!!
Many of you have read my book: The River Styx and the Lord of the Dreary Coast, my only completed novel. I knocked up a quick example of how I would write the query. NOTE: THIS IS AN EXAMPLE ONLY, AND SHOULD NOT BE TAKEN AS THE ABSOLUTE GUIDLINES FOR A QUERY. Besides, this was just a quick thing and probably wouldn't be very effective anyway.
Dear (insert agency here),
I am seeking representation for my completed 65,000-word young adult fantasy, The River Styx and the Lord of the Dreary Coast.
Death isn’t what it used to be. . . .
As he is being wheeled through a crowded hospital, sixteen year-old Nicolas Rider is rudely awakened to the fact that not only has he no recollection of the incident that put him there, but his entire life has been wiped from his memory. After he passes on, Nicolas finds himself submerged in a series of horrible and brutal games played by the dead and run by the wicked former ferryman of the mythological River Styx: Charon. Together with the other challengers, Avra, a strong-willed girl with a head for fighting, and her brother Grayson, an overly ambitious boy with a knack for getting into trouble, Nicolas must escape the games, rediscover his past, and put an end to Charon’s growing hold over the Underworld — or be sent to Tartarus for an eternity of punishment trying. However, as Nicolas embarks on his perilous journey to the darkest corners of the Underworld, he realizes he is able to do things that most other dead can’t, and his extraordinary power leads him to question the mysteries surrounding his death and those of the other challengers.
This novel is intended to be the first of a series, but also works as a standalone.
I am a new writer, but I have done my research. I know that being a writer is a full time job, and I am prepared for that commitment. I have read the submission guidelines as well as the other pages on the agency website and hope that my novel will make a nice addition to your list.
Thank you for your time and patience. I realize that you and your agency must be remarkably busy and I thank you in advance for your consideration. I would be more than happy to send you the completed manuscript at your request.
Domenic J. Luciani
(personal information here)
Not the greatest query, but it should help you get a feel for things. You can find more example letters online, but most are withheld for copyright reasons.
NOTE: a starting writer should not have a novel above 100,000 words. Most likely,Agencies will reject a book by a new writer that's extremely long, on the grounds that it becomes too expensive to print, and there's not much chance of success. AGENTS ARE NOT RISK TAKERS. a shorter book will mean less fallback if things go sour, which is good for agents and publishers.
NOTE: the best way to go is through an agent. They will get you more money for your book and a good agent will know exactly who to go to, to ensure that your novel sells and sells well. It also limits the tedious paperwork on your part.
NOTE: A professional query letter also warrants a professional email name, so drop the soccerhotty account and get one with your real name.
If you need further assisstance with query letters, please don't hesitate to message me.
NOTE: My lessons are typed directly in the cafe box, they're not professionally spellchecked, so excuse the occasional typo.
Added on September 2, 2010
Last Updated on September 2, 2010
AboutThat is my real name, and that is really me in the picture. Like Patrick says, I'm not in the witness protection program. I mostly write books and stories. I like fantasy, or fiction, but if..