Query Letters: Format and Etiquette

October 9, 2018

 

Let’s pretend, for a moment, you’ve just received an invite to a dinner party.

It includes the most important information: date and time, place and something enticing like what’s for dessert or a special main course.

From the moment the invite is opened, you start thinking about if you’re going to attend or not.

Are they serving something you love? Does it fit into your already existing plans? Were the previous dinner parties successful?

If the information on the invite doesn’t catch your interest right away, chances are you’re marking “no” on your RSVP.

Your query letter is like the invite to a four-course meal.

The agent you send to is going to read through your query letter - your invite, so to speak - and determine:
-Is the most important information there? Word count, genre/targeted audience, unique hook, author name/contact information
-Does the author have any previously published pieces or experience?
-Does the pitch capture the attention of the agent and leave them wanting more?

Fitting all of this into the given space of one page seems like a daunting task, but it can - and will - be done.

Let’s build a query letter.

Be sure to include your name, email address and phone number at the top of your query - similar to that of a resume. Ensure you are giving your agent the name you prefer to be called by, and your pronouns if you wish.

This is a letter, meaning it should be addressed to a person.

Dear (agent name),

 

Pitch ONE agent per email. Sending a mass batch of queries is not tasteful. Address the agent by name. Avoid “dear agent”. This is the first item the agent is going to see before diving into your words - a personalized greeting goes a long way as the agent explores your pitch. You deserve an agent’s attention, but remember, they also deserve yours.

Paragraph One

If you have met this agent at a conference, love a particular book they represent, or are querying a #MSWL item or #OwnVoices, enter this information right away.

If you have any major accomplishments that stand out (previous book sales, a referral from an author the agent represents, etc.) enter this information here. Be advised: this information will be validated. Nothing will get an agent to click out of your email faster than opening with an intentionally false statement.

If neither of these situations apply, proceed to your hook - your best and strongest writing to entice the agent to continue to paragraph number two.

Be sure to include your title, word count, and genre/targeted age range where your agent can find it. This is one of the most important parts of a query. Leaving this information out is a red flag to most agents and will likely result in a rejection.

Paragraph 2

Include your crisp, short summary here. The agent wants to see fresh, never before seen, appealing words that leap off the page. Apply everything you’ve learned (smart sentences, showing vs telling, strong voice) to your query the same way you do to your manuscript.

Stick to the main points. Don’t introduce too many characters or sub plots. Introduce the main character, what their goal is, and what is preventing them from reaching it.

If you chose to use existing titles as comparison to your own, do so wisely. Choose a current title that is close in writing style and genre to your own but avoid best sellers and classics.

Paragraph 3 (optional)

Include a few closing thoughts here about yourself, conferences you’ve attended, or why you think you’re the person to write this story.
Less is more here. The important thing is to keep your agent thinking about your manuscript.

Closing

Close with an acknowledgment and your name. “Thank you for your time,” or “The completed manuscript is available at any time,” or other closings of that nature end your query in a positive, respectful fashion.


Do:

·         Have a completed, polished manuscript

·         Have a clear, concise subject line in your email
QUERY-AGENT NAME - TITLE – GENRE

·         Follow agency guidelines. Font, spacing, instructions for attaching/copying materials, page count, etc.

·         Ensure the chosen agent represents the category you are writing in

·         Inform agents who have your query if you have received offers elsewhere

·         Be cautious when “bumping” or “checking status of” your query. Many agents read with their inboxes set “from oldest to newest.” In this scenario, when you “bump” or “nudge”, you send yourself back to the beginning of the pile

·         Stay positive!

 

 

Don’t:

 

·         Don’t send mass emails

·         Don’t use a “dear agent”/ “to whom it may concern” salutation

·         Don’t mark your email query as “urgent” or “high priority”

·         Don't use generic phrases like “hilarity ensues” or “goes on a wild adventure.” Details matter!

·         Don’t make assumptions such as “even though you’ll never read this…”

·         Don’t over sell - “this is the next best seller!” “This manuscript is guaranteed to become a movie!”

 

 

 

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