Query letters are our first opportunity to tell the agent about ourselves and our writing, but that doesn’t mean we should literally tell them. The tone of the manuscript, the voice and the writing quality should all come across on this short little letter. Agents are looking for traces off all these things, plus a show of professionalism. Literary agents want to go into business with writers who know and understand the business, and those they can work with. Even the best story will be passed on if the writer comes off as a braggart, a diva, or otherwise impossible to manage.
As writers, we can use this simple letter as a means to introduce ourselves and our writing to the agents we hope to work with one day. Again, I assure you that queries are not my strong suit, but I have taken my share of classes on the topic and logged hundreds of hours reading agent and writer blogs. I’m passing along the most repeated information, and I hope it helps.
- Research your agent – every agent has different wants, not only genres but submissions, details, etc. Find out what they represent that is similar to your work. Invest in knowing who you are hoping to get into a legal contract with. The Internet is a great resource for any research, and stalking is encouraged. Promise.
- Address each letter personally. Do not address one query to a list of agents, add a bunch of people in the cc: line, or open the letter with Dear Agent. Make it personal. Spell their name right and know if they are Ms., Mr., or Mrs. Imagine sending Mela a letter to Mr. Sayer.
- Know your genre, and be specific. Fiction is not a genre. If it’s a mystery, is it a thriller? a suspense? a cozy? Be specific. Take the time to know what you write. Seriously.
- Know your word count and be sure it is appropriate for your genre. Don’t bother querying an agent with humorous womens fiction that’s 50,000 words, or a middle grade book that’s 130,000. That won’t do. Know the parameters and get inside them.
- Be professional. It can be tough in an email world to let your guard down and be too friendly. Unless you’ve established a friendly relationship with the agent already, don’t treat them like your buddy. In fact, even if they are your best pal, this is still a business proposal and should be treated like one. Start with Dear and end with a proper closing. Always thank them for their time.
- Don’t call it a fiction novel. That’s redundant and shows you don’t know the business. Agents HATE that and I see it on every blog I read. It’s not a fiction novel. Call it a fiction manuscript. It is only a manuscript until it’s published.
- Write your query in the present tense. Novels are often written in past tense, but the query shouldn’t be.
- Compare your work to something the agent already represents. It shows you did your homework, know what they represent, and have something to show them they are going to like.
- Create a solid “hook.” That first line is a cincher. Start off with a line that raises their eyebrows and keeps them wanting more.
- Be succinct. This isn’t a manuscript summary, just a teaser, like the jacketflap.
- Add your contact information at the end so they can reach you to request more.
- Know what they want with the query. Every agent’s preference is different. Some only want a query. Some want the first 5 pages. Be sure to send them what they want, so they can see you did your homework and can follow directions.
Best of luck in your queries. I hope they all lead to requests!