Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Constructive advice - The Query Letter

Today's post is in the category of constructive advice on writing. That's right. No book review, no author pimping and no blog hops. Today is specifically some thoughts on that elusive step in publishing called The Query Letter. (cue the BUM BUM BUM! music).

If you go to Google and type in "query letter", the results are endless. There are SO many sites out there that offer instructional advice on writing and submitting query letters. This site is the most helpful with true advice that works! Agent Query Article

What is a query letter some of you may ask? Here's what Wikipedia has to say:

"Query Letter : a formal letter sent to magazine editors, literary agents and sometimes publishing houses or companies. Writers write query letters to propose writing ideas.
For example, a standard requested format for a manuscript query letter to a literary agent could be approximately 200 - 400 words, expressing the following information:
  • The topic of the work
  • A short description of the plot
  • A short bio of the author
  • The target audience
The literary agent would then decide whether to contact the author and request to see the manuscript, based on the contents of the query letter. In this sense, the query letter is an author's first step towards getting his/her manuscript published."

So, the question remains, what is the successful way to write a query letter that will knock an agent's socks off?

Here's my advice on writing a query:

  1. Always, ALWAYS, start your query with a hook. Not your book specs (genre, word count, etc.). You want to grab the reader's attention right off. Not bore them to sleep. A hook is a concise, one-sentence tag line for your book. It’s meant to hook your reader’s interest, and wind them in.
  2. Make your second paragraph a BRIEF synopsis of the novel. Don't try to include all your subplots and support characters. Include main characters only. Here's where you get to summarize your 80,000 word novel into a tiny paragraph. Sounds fun doesn't it? Sure, it does. You started off with a simple idea right? Before you added all the details. There ya go.
  3. Your third paragraph is for your writer's bio. If you do choose to construct a writer’s bio (and you should), keep it short and related to writing. If you have no writing credits to your name, that's okay. You can simply say: "TITLE OF NOVEL, is my first completed manuscript." Agents are always on the lookout for new hits, who knows, yours might be one of them.
  4. Your fourth paragraph should be the book specs and closing comments. It should go something like this...
  •       "TITLE OF NOVEL, complete at 80,000 words is a YA fantasy that fans of  Suzanne Collin's HUNGER GAMES will enjoy. I would be happy to send you a brief synopsis and sample chapters for your review. (Or if you're sending these items in the actual query - which some agents request - you can simply offer to send the entire manuscript).

Include your title in the subject line if your query is by email: QUERY - NAME OF NOVEL BY AUTHOR'S NAME.
Always be polite and professional.
Always include your title, word count, genre in the query.
Always include your contact information.
When in doubt, try Google, you'd be amazed at the information floating around on the web.

The DO NOTS: (courtesy of Agent Query)
  • Do NOT start off your query by saying, "I am querying you because I found your name in 'such and such' writing guide or Internet agent database" (like AQ!). Not only does this take up valuable query letter space, but it's also the sign of an amateur.
  • Do NOT refer to your novel as a fictional novel. That’s redundant. Just call it a novel. 
  • Do NOT sing the praises of your book or compare it with other best selling books.
  • Do NOT send gifts or other bribes with your query. 
  • Do NOT print your query on perfumed or colored paper. Use plain business stationery. 
  • Do NOT shrink your font down to 9 point so it all fits on one page. 12 point is standard. 11 point if you’re really desperate. 
  • Do NOT FedEx or mail your query in a lavish, signature-required fashion in order to make your query stand out. It will stand out, but in a very "annoying, over-zealous, bad first impression" kind of way. Not to mention, it's a friggin' waste of money. 
  • Do NOT apologize in your query for being a newbie writer with zero publishing credits and experience. Your goal is to write a tight, alluring, eye-catching query and sound like a professional. If you're worried about your lack of writing credentials, just keep quiet and let the writing speak for itself.  
  • Do NOT include sample chapters of your novel with your query UNLESS an agent's submission guidelines specifically SAY to include sample pages with your snail mail query. If you really feel compelled to show an agent your writing style along with your query letter, include only the first 5 pages of your novel. Never send more than the first 5 pages with your query unless the guidelines say, "A-Okay!" 
  • Do NOT forget to list your email address or contact phone number on your query. 
  • Do NOT forget to enclose a self-addressed stamped envelope (SASE).

Here's the actual query letter I used when my first novel was accepted for publication:

Dear Ms. Agent,

Grace Monroe, a modern day witch, must embrace her extraordinary gifts in order to save the past from an ancient evil that is wreaking havoc by time travel. With the help of a mysterious wizard, she must go back in time to early Ireland and defeat this malevolent force.

She has the blossoming love and protection of ancient warrior Lochlyn, but will it be enough? Having encountered the beast at a young age, Lochlyn is torn between fighting the battle himself or placing his fate and that of his land in the hands of a witch whose powers are not yet fully developed.

 The survival of an ancient land hangs in the balance and Grace is their only hope. 

VISIONS AWAKE is a 61,000 word Fantasy that fans of Neil Gaiman’s Stardust will enjoy. As well as having worked as an editor with Strong Truths, a YA publisher still in its infancy, I’ve also worked as a copy editor for Fictionista Workshops. VISIONS AWAKE is my first completed manuscript.

 Would you like to read some sample chapters of VISIONS AWAKE?

 Thank you for your time and consideration. 


Leslie Nash

Hope this helps!


Denise Covey said...

This is awesome advice. May put it to good use in the New Year.

Maalaimalar said...

Thanks for the information... I really love your blog posts... specially those on Local Tamil News

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