Thursday, 27 June 2013

Query Letters resolved

Sorry this has been a while coming, it's been a crazy week!
Whether you are just starting to query or been doing it for a while, you've probably noticed that there is A LOT of conflicting information about the "right" way to query. Even reputable query letter blogs can conflict each other! It's just because every agent and editor has different preferences. Even so, there are basic rules that will keep you safe if you follow them.

This next bit might be hard to hear but it's important so it must be said. It's really easy to screw up your query letter enough to get excellent writing consistently rejected. That's because many agents only take query letters, and many agents and editors won't read past a bad one.
To make it easier, I'm going to break it down, and highlight some of the biggest query mistakes. You'll find some hard truths here so be ready to don that thick skin.

It can be difficult to establish exactly what needs to be included (and what shouldn't be) in your query letter. Here's a basic run down of what should make up your query letter.

No 1. Business letter format
Yep this is a business letter. So before you start writing here are some rules. FORMAT IT PROFESSIONALY!

·         Set 1inch margins.

·        Select a professional font. Some choices are Times New Roman, Arial, Courier, Verdana or Calibri. If in doubt choose Times New Roman. A "special" font won't make you stand out and look unique—it'll make you look armature.

·         Set font size to 12point.

·         Put the date in the top right hand corner

·         Under the date type the name of agency or publishing house. Under that type "Attention: and the name of the agent/editor or if specifically instructed "Query Department".

·         Under that type the address, first the street address, then on the next line the state and post code. (If emailing queries an address may not be supplied, in which case just put the date, agency, and agent name.)

But your can be creative right? The agency specifies a one page query letter so if you use 8point and set margins to narrow, you can make your two page query letter fit!
No. Just no.
Agents and editors have seen it all before. Don't bend rules, follow their guidelines. Not doing so is a good way to get your query rejected without even being read.

No 2. The introduction
·         Start by addressing the letter to the agent you are querying. The only exception is if the guidelines demand that you address it to the queries department.  There is no good enough reason to address a query with "Dear Agent". I promise you will be starting off on a very bad foot if you do.

·         Next is your line of introduction. I start with "I am seeking representation for..."

Tip: Yes less is more, and you don't need to write anything that is implied. So some people would say this opening is not necessary and to launch right into the book details. I don't know, maybe it's because I'm a girl, but I need the buffer and I think it's perfectly acceptable. But you could always launch right in.

·         The remainder of the opening paragraph should include; the title of your book, the word count, and the genre (You need to nail this down; Speculative, Urban Fantasy, Romance, with Steam Punk elements, is not going to do).

·         Tip: if your book has won an award include it with the title. Eg. "Book Title, winner of the 2013 Professional Book Society's, Awesome Book contest."

·         Nothing else. Don't clutter this section. You want to give the agent/editor the essential info then hook them in with your blurb.

No 3. The Blurb
In the end it all comes down to this! 2-3 paragraphs of awesome hook to snare the reader! I have blogged about how to do this before.

·         Here

·         And Here

No 4. Closing paragraph
Include any pertinent information.
·         Your writing credentials/awards/publishing credits.

·         The details of any standing requests by Publishing Houses.

·         Personally address the agent/editor. If you follow their blog, twitter, interviews, and something they do or have said applies to you, or makes you think you would be a fit with them, or if you are a fan of their writers and think your writing would be a compliment to their list, or have taken a workshop with them, include this here. Keep it professional and relevant.

·        Optional: You can include something like "Would appeal to readers of..." Some agents and editors want this but many don't. Also it's essential that the authors you associate your writing with are not the current bestsellers. Your comparisons will reveal either your ignorance or solid industry knowledge.  

No 5. The very tricky personal info
Now this is where people get stuck. Some agents/editors really want to have a little bit of information about you. Many though, find it very irritating to read through thousands of queries and get bogged down in unnecessary information like what you do for a living if it doesn't give you unique qualification to write your book. The best way to handle this is to read interviews, follow the blog of, or twitter account of the person you're querying and find out how much info they want here. Otherwise, assume they don't want it unless it is MUST know information. If you are going to include it keep it brief; two to three lines. This can be included in your closing paragraph.
·         Unique qualifications to write your book.

This means: You're a former detective writing crime. You're a double amputee writing amputee recovery stories. You're lawyer writing court based drama. You're a Greek history professor and writing Greek Mythos which is your area of expertise.

This does not mean: You have researched your book (you had better hope you have!). You are divorced and your character is divorced. You are a doctor and therefore you are real smarts...

·        You can include a brief line about your ambitions/writing career objectives. But keep it brief. You don't need to ramble on about "your dreams".

No 6. In closing
·         Thank them for taking the time to consider your query.

·          Sign your letter.  You must include your pseudo name (if you have one and use it in your social media) and you real name. So if you have both sign like this.

Author Fabulous

Pseudo name for Jane Johns

·      Provide all your contact details under your signature like you would in a professional business signature. Include your website and social media accounts.

Query Letter Boo Boo's
The mistakes that WILL get you rejected
·         Not following guidelines.

·         Not following guidelines.

·         Not following guidelines and then trying to justify why. "I know you said you wanted a one page query/synopsis but" = Auto-pass.

or "I know you asked for one chapter but my book doesn't get going till chapter five..." = then cut your first chapters and also they will auto-pass.

·         Addressing your query "Dear Agent/Editor."

·         Spelling the agent/editors name incorrectly.

·         Not understanding the genre of your work.

·         Presenting your query unprofessionally; colour fonts, script font, ALLCAPS, etc. 

·         Sending mass generic queries and especially when you include the email chain/forwarding history in the email.

·         Comparing your book to Twilight, Fifty Shades, Harry Potter, The Davinci Code and other Bestsellers.

·         Rambling on about yourself.

·         Rambling on in general.

·         Including too much in your blurb.

·         Failing to hook in your blurb.

·         Including things not requested. Copy of your manuscript, marketing plans, cover designs.

·       Selling yourself short. "My writing may not be the best but I'm willing to put in the work."
    Just don't put yourself down.
    It's not professional. Besides, if you tell them your work isn't that great they'll assume you're telling the truth...

·         I'm sad that this needs to be said but I keep seeing agent/editor tweets about this. Arrogance/boasting. This includes telling an agent/editor (who receive hundreds of queries each month) how privileged they are to have the chance to represent/publish you. How your book is going to be a bestseller, how much your family like it, how much someone you paid likes it, etc. Presenting a polished professional query and polished outstanding manuscript pages is the only way to impress an agent/editor.

My final tips
Improve your chances.
·         Research the people you query. Learn their preferences and personalise!

·         Query in rounds so you have a chance to improve your query/pages after feedback.

·         Take feedback graciously and apply it.

·         Get someone who knows queries to critique your query letter.

·         Never send an angry response to a rejection—no matter what.

·         Get someone to proofread your query.

·         Give your manuscript time to "breathe" before you send it out. You'll be surprised at how much you can improve it with fresh eyes.

·         If in doubt, less is more. No one ever got rejected for being too professional. Even if the agent/editor would have liked to learn more about you, they won't reject a stellar query and awesome writing because you decided not to tell them about your collection of cat figurines.

Query Letter Resources
·         Query Shark

·         Miss Snark

·         Agent Query

·         Absolute Write

Does this help? Let me know if you have any more questions!


1 comment:

  1. Thanks so much! This is really helpful. It is always reassuring to find step by step instructions among the haze of blogs instructing one to "Oh, just be awesome." ;)