If you’re like me, you’d rather write a 90,000-word manuscript than to write a 300-word query letter or a five-page synopsis. Trying to condense your incredibly detailed story into a handful of words is difficult and can be stressful. In my critique services, I offer a query letter critique in which I focus on the following things to help your letter be as effective as possible.
A query is a one-page letter introducing yourself to an agent/editor with the sole intent of getting them excited about what you’ve written. A query letter is your sales pitch. It includes 3-5 paragraphs. Brief and exciting! Those two things go together, right? Not usually, but it’s our job to make it happen. So here we go.
Begin by greeting the agent/editor by name. If you have done your homework, which is a must, you know what agents are currently seeking your genre. Each agent wants to feel like you are seeking them personally. Do not make the mistake of saying, “Dear Agent,” or “To whom it may concern.” Even if you are doing a mass query of many agents, you’d better make sure each and every email states the individual’s name.
What comes next is up to you and your style. Some queries jump right into the story’s pitch, while some begin with the author’s bio, or a polite hello to the addressee. No matter which order you choose, it should flow together and contain all of the following: your brief bio (1-3 sentences), your story’s pitch/blurb to hook them (2-3 paragraphs), and your story’s genre and wordcount (1-2 sentences).
By far, the most important element of a query letter is your pitch. It all boils down to this: what is the heart of your story? Your pitch must capture what makes your manuscript unique. Maybe your hook is an intriguing question. Or perhaps a shocking statement. And then you go on to introduce your character, his/her dilemma, and what gets stirred up within the plot. Personally, I choose to focus on the main character in a query letter and not introduce side characters, unless there is one in particular who plays a large part in the journey, like a romantic love interest or a best friend/sibling. It’s important to be succinct and concise in a query.
Generally, a query letter does not give away the story’s conclusion. It’s like a blurb on the back of a book, meant to grab interest without spoilers. It’s fine to leave the story’s pitch on a cliff-hanger, making the agent/editor want more.
So, how do you know if your query letter is good? It’s so hard to discern your own work. The best thing you can do is to have another writer/author read it for you. I offer this service for $25.
I do not have a query letter to share, but Google has thousands of amazing examples. I urge you to do your homework and take your time on this one. A query letter is your first impression. You want to get it right. It’s also important to make sure the person you’re querying will be a good fit for you.
Spend a little time at the site/page of the agent(s) to whom you’re seeking representation. Often they have different requirements for querying, and if you do not meet those requirements your query will be deleted without consideration. You need to know if an agent is open to queries. If so, what types of genres are they seeking? What do they require you to include? Some agents simply want the query letter. Some ask for you to copy/paste a certain number of pages into the query email, so they can read a sample. Follow every direction exactly.
Respect the no. If an agent rejects your manuscript and does not ask for you to resubmit with changes, that is that. You can sub to them again with a different manuscript, or possibly sub to another agent at that agency (unless the agency’s page says otherwise.) Moral of the story: don’t be the boob who doesn’t read the fine print and gets scolded. Agents and editors talk. It might seem like a huge industry, but no author can afford to burn bridges. Be professional and humble in your rejections, because you will have plenty. I lost count at sixty. It’s part of the process and not to be taken personally. Lift your chin and get to writing.