Before I say anything about query letters let me disclaim that most of what I learnt comes from the infinite wisdom of Her Holiness the Query Shark.
What is a query letter? A query letter is how a short missive (typically an e-mail) that pitches your book in 200-300 words. Don’t go over 400 words, it should fit in one page. A query letter will be likely the hardest thing you will ever write.
What elements should be in a query letter? A query should answer the following questions:
1-Why did you select this agent?
Successful agents receive about 100 queries a day. Never write “Dear Agent” (guaranteed click-delete response). Agents want to know why you think they are a good fit for you. If you are thinking this is not your job but theirs, you’re better off indie publishing. Ask yourself how many agents are banging on your door right now and how many writers are banging at any one agent’s door. Got the picture? Good. Now do your research on your agent.
Good lines would be:
“you represent this other book (pertinent book similar in style or genre to yours) so I thought…” or “You are seeking books in this genre so…”
To find information about your agent of choice, start with AgentQuery, then check the specific agent’s website and any interviews online. Sometimes you might want to go as far as to check their twitter feed or search for videos. Yes, it is a lot of work and a time drain.
You are a writer. SHOW, DON’T TELL! Never say “this is a great story” or “this is the best book you will ever read”, “this is the next bestseller” etc… SHOW THEM! Start with the conflict. Don’t tell them everything, just enough for them to want to read more, possibly getting a feel for your voice.
Are you writing a book on the Vietnam war and you’re a fifteen-year-old Italian? Well, good luck pitching that. You will have to explain why you think you are qualified and why you are in a unique, privileged position to tell that story.
You only have 200-300 words, choose them well.
- Avoid clichés; you are a word crafter, but don’t overdo it! Verbose queries are not good. Use your style.
- No typos, you hear me? None.
- Be professional. It’s really difficult to get the tone of an e-mail or letter sometimes. Avoid jokes and confusing double meanings.
- Be respectful. Start with Dear Miss Amman (just an example, by golly, I’m not an agent!). Most agents don’t care if you call them by their first names, but some really hate it. They are professionals and they don’t know you.
- Don’t beg. If you don’t think your book is awesome, nobody will. (Avoid things like “I have been sick” “I have fifteen children” “I barely sleep” “Forget the typos”)
- Don’t boast. Be confident and professional
- Don’t state the obvious. “I would be glad to provide a full manuscript upon request.” Of course you would be. Finish with “Thank you for your time” or similar.
Send no attachments unless specifically asked. It’s the fastest way to the garbage bin. They fear viruses and will never open an e-mail with unsolicited attachments (signatures, files, anything).
Separate your paragraphs, so that your e-mail is not a scary block of text.