Today’s post is a combination alphabet-writing post. I’m fast approaching the time when I need to start putting together query letters to send out to literary agents and publishing houses.
I’ve been searching for information on do’s and don’ts (b/c you can never start too early!) and figured I’d share some of what I’ve found so far with you.
Strike a tonal balance
You don’t want to be too stiff and business-like, but you also don’t want to be too familiar either. No “HEEEEEYYYYYY! Wassup! Thought I’d drop you a line since I wasn’t really up to much of anything.” And no “Dear Sir or Madam, It is my distinct pleasure to present to you my manuscript for the literary novel Sunsprites and Jellybeans.” Give them the information they need to know in a way that demonstrates both professionalism and your comfort and familiarity with your work.
Keep it short and sweet
According to AgentQuery.com, your letter should be no longer than three paragraphs. They recommend this formula:
Paragraph One = The Hook
Paragraph Two = Mini-synopsisParagraph Three = Writer’s bio
The “hook” is like that tagline on a movie poster — it’s supposed to entice the person reading your email into wanting to read your manuscript. Here’s one of their examples:
The Kite Runner
An epic tale of fathers and sons, of friendship and betrayal, that takes us from Afghanistan in the final days of the monarchy to the atrocities of the present.
The folks at AgentQuery.com are apparently fans of the “When” hook. As in…
House of Sand and Fog
When Massoud Amir Behrani, a former colonel in the Iranian military, sinks his remaining funds into a house he buys at auction, he unwittingly puts himself and his family on a trajectory to disaster; the house once belonged to Kathy Nicolo, a self-destructive alcoholic, who engages in legal, then personal confrontation to get it back.
When family patriarch, Alfred Lambert, enters his final decline, his wife and three adult children must face the failures, secrets, and long-buried hurts that haunt them as a family if they are to make the corrections that each desperately needs.
(FYI, they give other examples of ways to begin your hook)
The paragraph following your hook is where you build on your hook with the specifics of your story. Like I said last week, condensing an entire novel down to a paragraph or two is no cake walk. It’s a matter of choosing which details someone picking your book up from a shelf has to know to be convinced to read it. Even though it’s a headache, it’s totally doable. Just think about all the book jacket blurbs you’ve read in your life! Someone had to come up with them. Why can’t you?
The last paragraph is your bio, but should only include relevant info like your writing credits and education (if it has to do with writing). Going by the query letters I’ve read so far, this paragraph is where writers tend to include their manuscript’s title and word count.
Let them know how you know them
This is pretty much a general rule of thumb when contacting anyone you want to work with. In the case of a literary agent, mention other clients of theirs whose work is comparable to yours in some way. Even if that’s not quite applicable, the point is to let them know you’ve researched them and that based on that research, they’re the best fit for you and your writing.
Don’t query an agent until you have a finished manuscript!
Almost forgot to add this important piece of advice! You don’t want to contact an agent until you have a completed project to send them. If you query them and they’re interested, they’ll want to read the entire thing before agreeing to represent you (duh).
There’s a looooooooot more info on this subject out there, as well as examples of successful query letters you can use as templates.
Have you sent out a query letter? What tips would you give someone who hasn’t?