For the last few weeks we have gone over how to format your manuscript and how to write a synopsis. Every week I have pointed you towards agents and what they are looking for, but really the first thing you need to do is hone your skills on writing a great query letter. It is wonderful that more and more agents are accepting query letters via email, but there a perils that come along with this. We are so used to quickly jotting down a few sentences to talk with friends and hitting the send button without thinking, that the same thing can happen when emailing a query letter to an agent. We all need to beware of doing this an approach the query letter with the same respect as the rest of our writing.
Agent Noah Lukeman has written a whole book on how to do this in his appropriately title book, HOW TO WRITE A GREAT QUERY LETTER.
Love the way Noah explains this: Most writers put a tremendous amount of effort into their content, spending months or years with their manuscripts, agonizing over word choice, scene order, character development. Yet when it comes time to write a query letter, they will often write something off the top of their head, sometimes with a mere hour’s effort, and let this suffice to represent their work. They rush through the letter process so that the agent can get to the book itself, which they feel will explain everything. They feel that if an agent just sees the writing, nothing else will matter, and that a poor query letter will even be forgiven. This is faulty thinking. For agents, the query letter is all. If it’s not exceptional, agents will not even request to see the writing, and writers will never even get a chance to showcase their talent. For most writers, the query letter—which they rushed through—becomes the only piece of writing they will ever be judged by, and unfortunately, the only chance they ever had. While it may seem as if a query letter is a shallow way to judge an author, I can tell you from an agent’s perspective that it is a very effective tool.
For the professional eye, a query letter is much more than just a letter:
1. It shows the agent whether you are able to exhibit word economy
2. Whether you have a grasp on the nature of your own work
3. Whether you have a realistic grasp on your own background and credentials.
4. For non-fiction: It also demonstrates whether you have a grasp on your market and your competition. A query letter can also serve to warn an agent, to act as a red flag, if for example you are too aggressive, or pitch too many projects at once. The way it physically looks speaks volumes, as does whether you’ve sent it to the right person in the right way. A layman looks at a query and sees a one page letter. An agent looks at it and scans it for 100 different criteria.
This mere page can tell an agent more about the writer and his work than you can possibly imagine.
This week we will talk about what goes into making your query letter stand out and get noticed. Remember: The query letter might be the only thing that agent ever reads of your writing. Remember: Agents have a big pile of other writer’s query letters sitting in front of them and would like to get through that pile sitting on their desk, so small things can be the difference between them saying, “Send more” and “not interested.” But also, Remember: Agents want to find the next great book or else they wouldn’t be facing that pile.
So let’s learn what to do, learn how to avoid the pitfalls that get our letter tossed and signal an amateur.
Noah Lukeman is giving away a .pdf of this book and How to Land an Agent. You can also get it for free on your Kindle at Amazon.
Here is the link for the download: http://www.landaliteraryagent.com/
Here is the layout for this week:
Tuesday: HOW TO WRITE A QUERY LETTER.
Wednesday: Query Letter Tips – Examples and Links
Thursday: Agent Wishlist
Friday: First Page Critique Results