Thursday, August 12, 2010

How to Write a Query Letter

Joann's guest post got me thinking: I've written a number of query letters in my small stint as a writer.  I actually think I'm pretty decent at it considering many publishers and writers have asked to see my work.  It's the whole getting them to publish me that's quite a head scratcher.

But I believe a cleanly written, professional sounding query letter is one of the most important tools in a writer's arsenal.  An agent wants to represent someone who is not only talented but has a good sense for business and is willing to put forth the effort needed to sell a story.  So here are the components I find helpful when composing this type of letter:

  1. Address your query letter to a particular agent.  Know this agent's background and be sure your work fits the particular genre or genres he or she represents.  You should be able to find this information on the agency's website.
  2. Your opening line, also known as the "hook", summarizes the crux of your story and does exactly what it sounds like: hooks your reader (in this case your potential agent) right off the bat.  At the end of this line, include your novel's word count and its literary genre.
  3. Next, you want to feature a mini-synopsis of your work in a single paragraph.  Think about the back flap of one of your favorite books and see if you can translate your work to this type of format.
  4. Add your writer's bio.  It's easy to get carried away at this point because a lot of us think more is better but its crucial to include aspects of your career that pertain solely to writing.  Educational references, previously published works and literary contests you've entered and/or won are worth mentioning.
  5. Finish with your closing paragraph.  I like to keep this part short and sweet but do make sure to include the following: mention if you're sending out multiple submissions (and, of course, check beforehand to make sure the agency you're querying allows this), thank your agent for taking the time to read your work and lastly, mention if you've included any sample chapters, and if not, make sure the agent knows your manuscript is available upon request.  
 I can't guarantee your work will be published but I do know you'll be respected as a courteous and mindful writer if you're willing to write a a courteous and mindful query letter.   Good luck!


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