…don’t you wish there was one?
Here’s what you need to know: there’s no such thing as a perfect anything, especially when it comes to art and writing. The beauty of art is that it’s personal expression, and the downfall of art is that it’s personal expression. As much as you like it, there will always be people who think it can be improved. You put your love, sweat, tears, midnight-coffee-runs, tendonitis-flare-ups, and more into your books to make them as “perfect” as they can be.
Once your books has gone through proper revisions, drafts, and critique groups, you are ready to start the publishing process. This is much harder than it seems. Your lovely, full-length novel must now be compressed into 300 words or less! It sucks, it’s hard, and it’s doable. Remember: as great as your book is, the next task is to get someone to buy it. If you decide to go the agent route, that means a query letter.
A perfect query is the writer’s dream, but what you really need is a query that does its job well. You need an agent to: get hooked into your idea, understand the story, knows the important characters, and know a little about you, the author. Now, while there may not be a “perfect” query, there is a formula YOU MUST FOLLOW. I don’t care how awesome and creative you are, an agent’s job is to sell your book, not be entertained with a new version of a query. Make an agent’s life easier and get the attention your book deserves!
Basic query structure (Whole query is 300 words or less):
- Dear (AGENT): Personalized reason why this person will love your book. Keep it brief, always use the agent’s name unless querying an entire agency (which does happen) 1-2 sentences will show them you did your research about the agent/agency and also gets to the good stuff faster!
- Paragraphs 1-2: Hook the agent and give a brief summary of the events in your book. Don’t give away major plot points, but don’t be so vague no one knows what your story is about. Think of the back of a book cover you read at the library to figure out if the book interests you or not. Keep this under 200 words.
- The genre and word count of your book. Round the word count. Don’t be “that person.” If your book is 58, 432 words, you can say 58,500.
- Your Bio: Only put down things RELEVANT TO WRITING. Put down: other publications (magazines, short story contests, book talks, and other novel publications all count.) If you haven’t published, it’s okay to say that versus using unnecessary filler information. If you are write paranormal romance but you’re also an aspiring gardener who loves cross-breeding tomato plants, guess which factoid is worth mentioning? Unless your profession/serious hobby is relevant to your book do not fill space. If you haven’t published, that means your writing bio is: “This is my first novel.” Boom. Done.
(The examples and resources at the end of this blog do a much more in depth version of this)
I have been through countless drafts of my query for a couple years and it’s always changing. I’m lucky to be part of several groups that help with queries and other aspects of writing and critiquing. If you write anything from PB-YA, join the Society for Childrens Book Writers and Illustrators (www.scbwi.org) It’s an invaluable resource.
Seeking help, reading examples, and being open to throwing out what you have and starting over is crazy-making, but all part of the process. Writing a query is one of the hardest things you will have to write, but a good letter with the right balance of hook, summary, intrigue, and characters can get you on the path to publication.
Great sources for guidelines and examples:
Writer’s Market Books
Agencies: Many literary agencies have examples and guidelines on their websites. Great resource, especially if you want that agency to represent you.
Have you used other resources for writing query letters? Please comment and share!