“Q” is for . . . the dreaded Query Letter
Writing is hard work, but it’s also fun and rewarding. I would love the opportunity to write all day and all night for a week, sleeping and eating as necessary. Editing has its rewards too, as you tighten a plot and polish a manuscript. I love the English language and enjoy learning new words and grammar and punctuation rules. (Call me weird if you want.) But writing a synopsis and query letter has always posed a challenge for me. I don’t enjoy it at all.
By the time I’m ready to write the query letter, I should know the story inside and out and be able to convey it in two paragraphs. I should be able to explain to an agent why my story is worth checking out and worth representing. But I struggle with this. So I am writing this post for myself and for every other writer who struggles with query letters.
Writers Digest gives a list of “10 Dos and Don’ts of Writing a Query Letter.” I am summarizing their suggestions here.
- First, research agents. We want to find an agent who is interested in what we write. And we want to be able to refer to an agent by name in our query letter. (Writers Store has an online list of free resources for researching agents. You can also use Writer’s Market or Literary Marketplace, both of which can be purchased online or found at your local library.)
- Next, develop a hook that will get the agent interested in your manuscript right away. Then sell your manuscript with a summary of the story. This is similar to the back cover copy and should be no more than 100-200 words. Pour all your energy and skills into this part. (We will need to include genre, word count, title/subtitle)
- Then we want to show that we’ve done our research when selecting this specific agent. Consider mentioning one or two of the books they represent.
- In the last paragraph, let the agent know your platform. Do you speak at author events or writing conferences? Do you blog, tweet, or use Instagram, and have a ton of followers? If you don’t have a platform, don’t worry about it, but consider building one for the future. You can also include other published books or relevant awards in this paragraph. Keep it tight; don’t add too much.
- End with a short thank you and closing.
Study other successful query letter. Writers Digest has a link to query letter examples. They also include a list of what not to do, things like being arrogant or giving your age, saying how much your mom loves the book, or including irrelevant credits.
When developing the story hook in your query letter, consider:
- What does the protagonist want?
- Why does she want it?
- What keeps her from getting it?
- What is unique about this story?
- Don’t reveal the ending of the story here; save that for the synopsis.
- Don’t go longer than 200 words. The entire query letter should be no more than 400 words.
- Don’t mention more than 3 or 4 characters.
- Don’t go into minor plot points.
Make sure to show your voice and personality in the hook.
Here is another helpful website by Jane Friedman, who has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry. She has good advice for us at this stage of the game.
What resources or tips have you found most helpful in creating a query letter?