Posted by: Kathy Temean | March 25, 2014

How to Write A Query Letter

eviLittleRedRidinghood.1

You can see from the above illustration by Evi Gstottner that she loves fairytales and folktales. She graduated in 1992 from Byam Shaw School of Art in London and in 2009 she completed her MA in Children’s Book Illustration at the Anglia Ruskin University (Cambridge School of Art). Evi was featured on Illustrator Saturday. Here is the link: http://www.kathytemean.wordpress.com/2013/03/23/illustrator-saturday-evi-gstottner/

The goal of query letter is to elicit an invitation from an agent (or editor) to send in sample chapters or the whole manuscript.

A query letter is a ONE PAGE letter with three concise paragraphs: the hook, the mini-synopsis, and your writer’s biography.

Don’t stray, if you want to be taken seriously as a professional writer. Keep it simple. Stick to three paragraphs.

Paragraph One is called The Hook: A hook is a concise, one-sentence tagline for your book. It’s meant to hook your reader’s interest, and reel them in.

The first paragraph is your chance (perhaps your only chance) to grab the agent, since many agents will be immediately biased—for good or for bad—within a sentence or two.

If a writer queries via a referral, he will always begin with, “I am writing to you because your client, John Smith, recommended that I do so.” Thus an agent, whether he likes it or not, must take the first sentence seriously, if for no other reason than he risks offending an existing client check or editor. Please do not say this unless it is true. Agents will check and you don’t want to be embarrassed or have someone think you are not trustworthy.

If you haven’t been referred, you could still grab the agents attention with something personal., such as: “I am writing to you because you represented TITLE by AUTHOR, and I feel my book is similar.”

What will this show?

1. That this is not a random query letter.

2. That you’re approaching him/her for a specific reason

3. That you’ve put a great deal of time and energy into researching the market

4. That you know who the agent represents, and the types of books they have sold.

5.  It will put a positive association into the agents mind, as it will make him or her think of a book they sold.

6. It offers a comparison, allowing the agent to immediately grasp the type of book you’re writing and thus help they agent decide if they want to represent another like it.

7. It shows that you know the market, that you have an objective grasp of what your own book is about and where it fits within that market.

8. It indicates that you’ve put care into your writing.

Referencing one of his/her titles will help accomplish this. But don’t bluff. Noah says, “If you don’t truly do the research, it will show. I’ve received many letters which referenced a book I sold, but when I read the rest of the query, I realized that their book was not at all similar; it was just a gimmick to get me to pay attention. When an agent realizes this, he will just be annoyed. So when referencing a book, make sure it is truly appropriate. But if you’ve done the research and query a truly appropriate agent and reference a truly appropriate title, then you are already off to a shining head start.”

Agent Query suggests using the when formula: “When such and such event happens, your main character—a descriptive adjective, age, professional occupation—must confront further conflict and triumph in his or her own special way. Sure, it’s a formula, but it’s a formula that works.”

Example:  Bridges of Madison County

When Robert Kincaid drives through the heat and dust of an Iowa summer and turns into Francesca Johnson’s farm lane looking for directions, the world-class photographer and the Iowa farm wife are joined in an experience that will haunt them forever.

Note: Many writers use the “when” formula, so use it as a starting point. Write your basic hook and then spice it up with the “When. Noah says to keep your opening paragraph to one sentence, so if you add a when to the personal approach, make sure it is short.

Example: Non-”formulatic” fiction hook:

The Da Vinci Code A murder in the silent after-hour halls of the Louvre museum reveals a sinister plot to uncover a secret that has been protected by a clandestine society since the days of Christ.

Paragraph Two—Mini-synopsis: This is where boil down your entire novel into one paragraph and expand your hook. Put in the hard work of practicing and revising, until you get that paragraph to sing the same tune as your whole book. Read the back flap of books you like to get a feel for how to create a juicy paragraph.

Paragraph Three—Writer’s bio: Keep it short and related to writing. If your book revolves around a hospital and you are a nurse, then say that. If you have a published book, been published in some magazines, etc,, or won a writing contest or award, then let the agent know. if you’ve never been published, never won any awards, hold no writing degrees, and have no credentials to write your book, then don’t say it. This just gives you more space for Paragraph Two.

The Closing: Thank the agent for their time and consideration. Let the agent know you have the full manuscript available upon request. Note: Never query an agent unless you have written, revised, and finished your full manuscript.

Tomorrow: Query Tips – Examples and Links.

Talk tomorrow,

Kathy


Responses

  1. Interesting and informative post. Each point you mentioned is noteworthy. thanks for sharing, I enjoyed reading your post.

    • Sridhar,

      Thanks for leaving a comment. I hope you are able to use it to write a query letter that gets many responses.

      Kathy

  2. Thank you, Kathy for the posts this week. I am sure many writers are finding it very useful. We’re linking to them via the South Jersey Writers’ Group twitter, FB and G+. Thanks for the great information.

    • Mieke,

      Great! I love to hear that the information is useful. And thanks for sharing it.

      Kathy

  3. I’ve bookmarked this article. Thanks for the great help!

    • Debi,

      My pleasure! Hope you stop back.

      Kathy

  4. Great blog. Off to my class wiki it goes!

  5. Love how specific and useful this is, Kathy! Thanks so much.

  6. Thanks for the tips Kathy. I wasn’t sure what exactly needed to be written in a query letter and now I do!


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