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
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.
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.
- 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
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.