June 22, 2009

The query letter

Filed under: Backstory — jenny @ 8:02 am

If you’re looking for an agent, or even just planning to look for one, you’ll need to master the art of the query letter.

Firebrand Literary Agency once held a query holiday: a brief period where you could basically just send in manuscript (ms) pages with your name and address. The reasoning behind this was that some people can write great fiction, but a query is a whole other can of worms.

It is. A query is like nothing else you will write. It must be short but provide a good look at your project–and yourself. It should fairly burst with vivid, illustrative details. Most of all, it must stand out from the slew of other queries the same agent is getting that same day.

Some literary agents get 1000 queries a month. Can you imagine reading that much on top of all the other work the agent has to do? What will make her look at yours long enough to decide, Hey, this is a book I really want to see?

There’s a literary agent named Noah Lukeman who’s written extensively on the topic.

For my own queries, I followed something of a formula. I had a two line opening that provided a hook. For example, What if an 800 pound, man-eating shark swam into the seas by a beachside resort?

I then wrote a very brief, 100 or so word synopsis, almost like flap copy. I put it in bold and inset it from the rest of the letter.

Then a little about me (bio), then why I was interested in that agent in particular, and boom, I was done.

Sound easy? It took me months to get right.

How did I know it was right, or at least good enough? I didn’t, but I was somewhat encouraged to get a few nibbles.

When 1000 queries are pitched like fastballs every month, getting a request means you made it to first base.

I’ll show you what mine looked like tomorrow, but for now here are some great links. Once I started sending queries, I really wanted to know how it went for others, and also how the agents might view us writers!

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