Query Letters and Literary Agents 101This is a quick course describing the query process for beginning authors and a nice refresher for you old pros. This is not a complete list, just a quick reference.
Why write a query letter?
Unless you already know a literary agent, book publisher, famous author, or are extremely lucky, a query letter is your best chance to get your foot into the publishing business.
My Comment: even if you know someone, you have to write them a letter or an e-mail about your book, (yes, even if you call them first) so you write a query letter because you have to describe in writing what you have created, or what you want, or to thank them for something--such as arranging a pitch meeting.
What is a query letter?
A query letter is a ONE PAGE professional letter describing your book and yourself to a literary agent.
My Comment: A query letter is ideally shorter than a page, and is a formal business letter describing the basic facts of your book and asking for a result (representation or publication) and NOTHING ELSE--it is NOT a sales letter or pitch or plea or a chatty "tell-all" about your creative process or your goals or aspirations or personal life.
If the literary agent is interested in your book he/she will typically write back and request that you send a portion or completed manuscript which he/she will then read and review. If he/she likes the manuscript and thinks it has potential to sell, the literary agent may offer to represent your book, which means they will then attempt to sell the book to a publisher.
Some literary agents may request that you include the first few pages of your manuscript or a separate synopsis with your query, but that is strictly up to the individual literary agent.
What goes into a query letter?
- Your manuscript's title.
- Word count.
- A short synopsis.
- Any writing related credits you may have such as previous publications or contest awards.
- The reason why you have chosen to query this particular literary agent.
What does NOT go into a query letter?
- How much your mother, brother, uncle, neighbor liked the book.
- How often you have queried.
- Never mention you have never been published (they probably know that already.)
- Never mention this is your first book (they know that, too.)
- Don't tell them how great the book is, let your writing speak for itself.
- Don't tell them how much money your book is sure to make, it's their job to determine that.
What is the perfect query letter?
No one knows. Every literary agent seems to have their own idea of what makes a perfect query letter. Some like quirky and clever, some like professional and reserved (most lean towards professional and reserved, so use quirky sparingly.) But even the literary agents who have very specific ideas of what they do or do not like will often highlight and praise a query that breaks the rules they themselves set down. So, what does this mean for you? It means there is no easy answer. Your best bet is to read as many sample query letters as you can find, pick the style you like best and give it a try.
My Comment: True that if you do anything well, the rules sort of fly out the window. But there is a perfect query letter RESULT. The perfect query letter gives the agent or publisher ZERO excuses to say "NO" to reading your work.
If you don't get a response, do not resend the same query. Follow up with a short polite "just checking in" letter after allowing a reasonable amount of time (I recommend one month) to elapse since your query arrived.
Here's a sample an "afterquery:"
On October 25, 2007, I sent you a query via e-mail on my Thriller (89,473 words) entitled: THE BIG FAT MONEYMACHINE. I am just following up to make sure my query was received and is in your queue.
See: querytracker.net for more information on the business of communicating with agents and publishers.