Thursday, March 31, 2011

Writing Tip Thursday #10 - How to Write a Query Letter

Made you look. I don't actually know how to write a successful query letter. If I did, I'd have an agent and be one rung up from where I am. BUT I do need to figure out how to write a query letter - I have 10 days to write a good one -  I figured we could learn together.

As to why I have 10 days to write one, that's because I'm a coward. Last year when I went to the Pennwriter's conference, I didn't do any agent pitches or anything where I was compelled to speak to humans. This year, I'm trying to do a little better. I signed up for networking lunches, cocktails, crits etc. But as for pitching to a flesh and blood agent, I quailed, dear reader. I chose the one agent who was doing a crit of a query letter and the first 10 pages of ms. instead of a pitch. I'm a slowly recovering coward.

At the bottom of this post are a bunch of links to resources for query letters. There's a ton out there, which is the good news. The bad news is that each query letter is so individual, so much a mix of a business letter and a personal plea that there's no formulaic way to write one* You have to craft the bugger.

First you have to figure out what the thing wot you wrote is about. Good luck with that. It's not always as easy as you think it is, and it's not always what you thought you were writing. To get myself to the nugget of what BookEnd is about, I snowflaked it. This is a method that you can use to outline your story before you write, or to get to the essentials of what your story is afterwards. I found it really useful after the fact, but not that useful before writing. Your results will vary, obviously.

Secondly, I've decided to leave the 'personalizing' part of the query letter last. Not that this isn't important. I understand that you need to have done research on the agent you are sending the query to, that you have to know why you are querying them and not every other agent on Robo-querying is not the way to go. But I want to concentrate on the message of my query, since a query is essentially a pitch written down.

So, here's my first go - please please please throw me some suggestions, I need all the help I can get. I know that the letter should probably be longer. What more should I tell about the story?

The bold type is what I've changed, the rest is TK.

Dear [Agent name],
I chose to submit to you because of your wonderful taste in [genre], and because you [personalized tidbit about agent].

Finial Smith is a teenager living in world where book characters, called QRs (Quasi-Reals), come to die or be recycled. But then Fin meets Anne, a QR who is more alive and real than anyone he's ever met. Now Fin has to decide to stand with his family and let Anne be destroyed, or to endanger everyone he loves to save her.  Knowing Anne will forever change how Fin sees his world and teach him what it means to be Real. 

BookEnd is a 70,000 word Young Adult novel. This is my first novel. 
Thank you for your time, and I look forward to hearing from you soon.
Best wishes,

*Well, of course there is a formula. You can find one from Nathan Bransford here. But when you're done with it, it shouldn't feel formulaic.

Query Letter Writing Resources
Agent Query
Nathan Bransford
Query Shark - sometimes brutal but always effective advice by example - what works and what doesn't. check out her 'wins'
Writer's Digest
Pub Rants - Agent Kristin has a list of her client's queries that have (obviously) worked for her - and more importantly, how they worked.
Pimp My Novel also has an interesting (non agent) take on queries


  1. Ok, here is my two cents worth. My knowledge on queries stems from all the research online and writing magazines I read.

    1. Don't include the tidbit about it being your first novel. Be confident. Just give 'em the facts of the piece.

    2. You can always give the synopsis of the novel from Fin's POV. Really catch their attention. On the other hand, I"m not sure if it's ok to change POV in the query.

    3. Remember a synopsis includes the conclusion of the story (i.e., a mystery novelist would need to include the culprit).

    I have lots more, but I'm out of town and away from all my information. I'll put it all together and bring it to our next meeting, which might be too late.

  2. I have a blog recommendation. The Quintessentially Questionable Query Experiment. I think it's a great blog for people looking to get a query in shape. You can see other query's he's critiqued.
    Good luck with your query process.

  3. Hey Carrie, thanks for the tip. Will definitely give it a try - and post my (hopefully improved) revisions here!

  4. Hi there. I came over from the A-Z link. I think your query is nice and to the point. I may try and get a little more voice in there. Cool you wrote from a guy's POV. I'd include WHY Fin has to decide to stay or go back to his family. We know what's at stake, but why is it so important. THat should be your real clencher.

    Good luck!! And nice to meet you. :)

  5. Hi Pk, thanks for coming over. And thanks for the input, I really appreciate it. It's funny that you mention it's from a guy's POV. I was nervous about that and asked my writing group - should I change Fin into a girl (drastic, I know!) Their response was a resounding NOOOOOO!

    Nice to meet you too!


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