Today I asked literary agent Rachelle Gardner whether or not she’d mind if I posted an article that has already been published on her own blog. I’m pleased to have been given the go ahead, with the proper link attribution!
As you may have already learned–or are in the process of learning currently–writing a query letter can be closer to that of a work of art than it is to science. As you’ll see below, a query letter is not meant to be a condensed version of the actual manuscript itself but, when given a dash of the proper literary jazz, it just might attract a bit of publishing interest.
In fact, an agent could reject a particularly worded query altogether yet a mere month or two later show a fair amount of interest in the same author, peddling the same manuscript, with nothing else changed other than a refined query.
Think that’s impossible?
I’ve written several times about query letters, and no doubt it’ll be a recurring theme here, since I receive queries everyday and a surprising percentage of them fail to give me any sense of the book being pitched, or fail to tell me anything about the author’s qualifications to write and sell that particular book. I feel the need for a simple, straightforward set of instructions for queries, so here goes:
Queries should include the following three elements:
- something about the book
- something about you
- the first 3 to 5 (or so) pages of the manuscript pasted into the email
1) A great query starts with a few sentences designed to make me want to read your book. To figure out how to do this, read the back-cover-copy or flap copy of your favorite books. The goal is not to give a detailed synopsis, but instead to write something interesting and informative enough that I want to read more.
2) Non-fiction: Include some information about yourself, specifically why YOU are the correct person to write this book. What are your qualifications? Are you a published author? What’s the most important thing I need to know about your platform? Fiction: Don’t worry about platform. If you have commercially published fiction before, tell a bit about your publishing history. If not, don’t worry about this part of the letter, just say you’re a first-time novelist.
3) The letter should be no longer than the equivalent of one typewritten page, about 3 to 6 paragraphs (not including the sample pages).
4) This is a LETTER, not a book synopsis dropping into my inbox as if out of the sky. You are writing to an actual person. Therefore the query should be addressed to the recipient by name, and it should not only give your pitch and your personal information, it should ask for what you want (e.g. “I am seeking agency representation and would appreciate your consideration”).
5) Include the genre. Make sure you’re clear on whether it’s fiction or non-fiction to start with. Then within either of those two categories, list your genre. If you don’t know about genres, please do some research and learn prior to querying.
6) Check the submission guidelines of each agent and/or publisher you’re querying. Note that I require the first 3 to 5 pages of the manuscript pasted into the email.
7) Let me know what’s available if I should request more. A full book proposal? A completed manuscript?
Hey, what happened?
I know, the title of this post says there are nine things (not seven) that should be included in every query letter. Well, to find out what the other two essential components are you’ll just have to click here and read the remainder of Rachelle’s article for yourself.
ACTION TO TAKE: Have you written a query letter already? What was your experience when you submitted it to literary agents? Did you ever go back to re-edit the query? Did the results change?