1-What is a query letter? A query letter is how you pitch your book to an agent (see post on self-publishing vs traditional to find out why you might want to). An ideal query letter is only 200 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.
2-What elements should be in a query letter? A query should answer the following questions:
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 self 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…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.
Avoid any adjectives (for example “this is a great story”…let them see that for themselves, it’s their job!) 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 (see post on voice).
Why are you qualified to tell this story?
Are you writing a book on the Vietnam war and you’re a fifteen-year-old Italian? Well, good luck pitching that.
3-You only have 200 words, choose them well. Avoid cliches like the plague (pun intended) but don’t overdo it. Verbose queries are not good. Use your style.
4-No typos, you hear me? None.
5-Be professional. It’s really difficult to get the tone of an e-mail or letter sometimes. Avoid jokes and confusing double meanings.
6-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.
7-Don’t beg. If you don’t think your book is awesome, nobody will.
9-Don’t state the obvious. “I would be glad to provide a full manuscript upon request.” Really? Finish with “Thank you for your time” or similar.
10-Include: the title of your manuscript ALL CAPITALS, the word count, the genre, your signature with your full real name, address and phone number.
11-Check for specific guidelines on each agent’s webpage! Some will go as far as to tell you what type to use. All will specify if they want a partial with the query (typically the first three chapters pasted in the body of the e-mail).
12-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).
13-Separate your paragraphs, so that your e-mail is not a scary block of text.
Here is an EXAMPLE of a query letter I wrote for my first book. I decided to go indie, but since someone asked me to submit to them, hey, I did! ^_^
“Dear Mr. xxx,
As per your request, please find below the query and the first three chapters of AN ITALIAN ADVENTURE, (YA, 75,500 words) a humorous coming-of-age tale taking place in the 80s against the gorgeous backdrop of Northern Italy.
Think The Little Prince meets the Absolutely true diary of a part time Indian with a touch of I’ll give you the sun.
Leda Balni is a nerdy ten-year-old tomboy. How is she going to confess to a Catholic priest that she has a pornographic magazine weighing on her conscience? The incident will spark an unlikely friendship with shady Nico, eventually transforming both kids.
Leda leads the reader through a whirlwind of adventures punctuated by the exotic customs of a country most people think they know. Through family drama, friendship and a conflicted relationship with her older sister, Leda’s naïve, insightful lens questions the adults’ world as she finally understands and accepts who she really is.
AN ITALIAN ADVENTURE is the first in a series of seven books. While this is not a memoir, I grew up in Italy. As a Professor of Biology at xxxx College in xxxx, I have published several non-fiction articles in internationally recognized journals, including Nature.
Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing back from you.
Gaia B. Amman
That is 234 words.
Go on and query away! ^_^