Query Tips from an Agent

 

Very few, if any, authors look forward to writing the dreaded query letter. And honestly, who can blame them? After spending countless hours alone and staring at a computer screen crafting what will eventually become your novel, your baby, you have to condense all of that hard work into just 3-5 paragraphs. You have just ONE PAGE to get an editor interested enough in your novel to want to read it.  Just thinking about it is enough to give any author a headache. However, if you are reading this you can thank Agile Writers and David H. Morgan for making a tough task just a little bit easier.  David was graciousness enough to spend some time with members of Agile Writers, critiquing letters and giving some very informative advice on the ins and outs of writing a successful query.

 

FOCUS ON THE DRAMA

drama-clipart

When an agent is reading a query letter the worst thing that can happen is that they get bored and toss it to the side. You only have a limited amount of time to gain the editor’s interest and in order to gain that interest you must do two things: focus on the drama and establish an emotional connection.

First, what is drama? Many are under the misconception that drama comes from the situation. Wrong. Drama comes from the character. Take two people being stuck an elevator for example. Not very dramatic right? Now let’s say this elevator is at a court house and the two people stuck in it is a father whose daughter has been murdered and the defendant accused of the crime. This situation is highly unlikely to come about, but the point is, the situation is made more dramatic because of the characters that are placed in it.

Alongside drama there must also be an emotional connection to the character. The editor must care about the character or else why would they want to read past the query letter? If there is no emotional involvement there is no character. The above situation for example, most people would feel sympathy for a father whose daughter had been murdered. And they would care enough to want to know how the story ends. Does the father find peace after confronting the defendant? Does he attack the defendant in the elevator? Or does he find out that the man accused is innocent? The editor would want to read more because they are emotionally invested into the situation.

Remember, without emotional involvement there is no drama and without drama there is no keeping the editor’s attention.

 

DO YOUR RESEARCH        research-clip-art

Before you can begin writing a query letter you need to research the agency and agent that you are going to send your query to. During your research you need to find out the following information:

  • Who are you sending the letter to? Always address the agent or editor you are writing to. Take the time to find out the name of the person who will be reading your query letter. A query addressed to the agency tells the editor that you were either too lazy or just didn’t care enough to find out their name.
  • What does the editor require you send along with the query? Do they want the first chapter, first three chapters, or just a synopsis?
  • Double check that the particular editor you are writing still works at that company.
  • Call and see how the agent prefers to be address. Do they prefer to be called Mr., Mrs., Dear, or do they prefer to just be address by their full name?
  • Make sure you are pitching your work to the right agent or editor. You don’t want to send your query to an editor that only publishes mysteries and your novel is a historical romance.

DON’T TELL THE EDITOR WHAT HE OR SHE ALREADY KNOWS

  • “I am pitching my 60,000 word YA-“The editor has stopped reading because you are telling them something they already know. The fact that you sent them a query letter has already told them that you are pitching a novel so just leave out the word pitch altogether.
  • “I am hoping to pique your interest-“of course you are hoping to pique their interest or else you wouldn’t be writing a query.
  • When describing your novel do not say that you have written a murder mystery fiction novel. The word fiction is redundant, it is already known that your novel is a work of fiction.

SELL THE BOOK, NOT YOURSELF

One thing David Morgan said that really stood out was, “The editor do not have to like you but they do have to like your book.” The main purpose of a query letter is to SELL YOUR BOOK. You may want to point out every writing accomplishment you have to your name, but don’t. Include your writing career at the end of the letter. Remember we want to focus on the drama, your writing career is not drama.

You should avoid:sell-clip-art

  • Biographies. The editor does not need to know about your childhood.
  • “I recently read…” They do not care what you have read or are reading.
  • Comparisons. Yes you need to sell your book but do so by avoiding comparing your novel to already successful novels. An editor does not like being told what to think. If your novel is the next Lord of the Rings Trilogy, then let the editor come to that conclusion themselves.
  • Pitching trilogies. Pitching a trilogy may make the editor feel as if he or she must take a package deal. And they may not want to take that chance, especially if you are an unknown author

Stay Focused

When writing a query letter remember to stay on topic. Do not begin writing about the novel and then jump to what your inspiration was or when you and that particular editor met. Start with introducing your novel and then continue to write about your novel. Anything else will give the editor the impression that you jump around and cannot stay on subject. They will assume that your novel will be like your query letter.

Don’t spend too much time on other characters. The main character should be the focus of the letter at all times. The editor or agent that reads your query needs to get to know the main character and come to care about what happens to the main character. If not, they have no reason to read past the query. Your main character needs to remain in the spotlight at all times.

A FEW MORE TIPS FROM DAVID

  • Get the word count, genre, and title of your novel out ASAP. Don’t make the editor read an entire paragraph before getting this information.
  • “I sincerely hope that this is the beginning of a long relationship….” WRONG. Do not write this. Try: “I look forward to your response” and even more desirable would be, “I hope you will find (title of your novel) to be an appropriate book for your list.”
  • If you have previously met the editor or agent whether or not to mention it depends on the context of the meeting. If you met him or her at a writer’s conference they will most likely not remember you. They meet a lot of people at numerous conferences every year and they are required to be nice at these events. But, if you have met in a more private setting then you may include it. Do Not take up an entire paragraph on how you met. Just a sentence or two will do.
  • MAKE SURE YOU HAVE FINISHED YOUR NOVEL BEFORE QUERYING!!!!

When writing a query letter don’t be nervous, take a deep breath and remember that in the end agents need authors. You just have to get them interested.

 

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FIRST DRAFT FINISHERS!!!

Agile Writers has become the go-to place for writers in the Richmond area. Offering seminars in screenwriting, publishing, marketing, rewriting and much more. Nevertheless, majority of writers still join with one main goal in mind: to complete their first drafts. With that being said, Agile Writers would like to congratulate three of its own for crossing that first draft finish line.  A big round of applause to Cat Brennan, Jim Bono, and Christine Gauthier. They have spent countless hours immersed in their own heads trying to get the right words onto a blank page, chose to spend time with their fictional characters instead of with family and friends, and have outlined, plotted, and critiqued their way to the end.

These three are great examples of how the Agile Writers Critique Groups have transformed the usually solitary process of crafting a novel into a process that includes support from peers and brings the motivation, encouragement, and discipline that is needed to complete the first draft. All three give credit to Agile Writers and each other for their success.

cat                                                    CAT BRENNAN, Chaos in Old Town

Writer, Seamstress, and Recipient of the Grace of God.

Cat Brennan is one of those people that you cannot help but to like. With her bright and contagious personality it is no surprise that she once had her very own radio show entitled “Cathy D & Love Songs in the Night.” Currently Cat is working in Horticulture, described by her as getting to work with one of her favorite colors-green. Even better to Cat than working with a favorite color is being a Grammie and a GG. That for her, is the good life.

Chaos in Old Town tells the tale of lonely widow Abigail Jackson who decides to take a chance and open a fabric shop in Albuquerque, New Mexico. However, this decision comes with more than just the new life Abigail was hoping to find after the death of her cop husband. The opening of her shop brings about threats from the evil Vincente Quintana causing Abigail constant fear and wavering in her faith. But on the other hand, FBI agent, John Garrison also finds his way into her life. Although she has sworn to never be involved with an officer of the law again Abigail cannot help but be attracted to his blue eyed charm. Chaos in Old Town is a Christian Fiction Romance, with a heroine that is strong and full and faith. Which is why Abigail is Cat’s favorite character in the novel.

Cat joined Agile Writer’s a year and half ago so that she could gain discipline in her writing and in the end gained much more. She doesn’t hesitate to credit Agile Writer’s and her critique partners with having a huge part to do with her completion of her goal. Yes, she put in the work but without the inspiration and support from her “cheering section” as she calls her critique partners, or the coaching from Agile Writer leader Greg Smith she may not have finished.

 

jim

“Villans make fabulous subjects, since they have fewer and wider boundaries than heroes.”

Jim Bono, Guilt Trip

Guilt Trip, is Jim Bono’s second novel with Agile Writers. The 238 page science fiction follows protagonist Kristen Butler, whose life is changed when the high school senior finds an amulet with the power to inflict overwhelming feelings of guilt on whomever she chooses.  The concept for the story came from Jim asking himself the question, “how would an ordinary person deal with acquiring a super power?” Our heroine, Kristen, finds out the hard way that sometimes power comes with an awful price. For most writers, their protagonist is the favorite character. Jim is not most writers. Jim’s favorite character in his story is the parents of the main villain. It really is no surprise that these malignant pair of scoundrels are Jim’s favorite characters since he enjoys the unpredictability that are villains.

Like many a writer, the hardest part for Jim while writing his novel was putting the words on the first page each week. A blank screen can sometimes be a scary thing, but with a little motivation and a deadline to meet every week, Jim pushed through until he had finally reached The End. Jim credits Agile Writers with guiding him through his story with help developing his characters, building a plot structure, and ensuring critical points were positioned properly throughout the story.

The next step for Jim is to begin working on his second draft for Guilt Trip, with the help of his critique partners, Cat and Christine, whom he describes as indispensable. According to Jim, his partners provide him with motivation, creativity, logic, and the reassurance needed to complete what he started.

christine

 

“I ultimately finished, ten pages at a time, to stand in the light at the end of the First Draft Tunnel…”

Christine Gauthier, Hair Story

Hair Story chronicles a young woman, Christine, who at the prime of her life is diagnosed with Alopecia, a rare autoimmune disease. The tale follows Christine on a journey that would eventually lead her to India where she finds self-acceptance and learns that she is more than her disease. What is interesting about Christine’s novel is that it is based on true events from her own life. Christine not only has the courage to face alopecia but also has the courage to tell her story to the world.

Christine admits that the hardest parts of the novel to write came when writing about the bad that actually occurred in her life. Nevertheless, with the support and motivation from her critique partners she kept going and refused to give up because she knew that she had a story worth telling.

 

Three writers. Three great stories. Three more reasons why the Agile Writers Method works.