Learning how to write a query letter can make you give up, if you don’t resort to pulling out all your hair and screaming profanities at innocent bystanders. Most helpful pages are way too long and complicated, and all of them are contradictory. Reading all of them over and over will help, but takes a long time to truly process it all. Reading samples will help. Lots and lots of samples. Following agents’ blogs will help even more. Here’s what I have learned so far:
1-A query is a letter asking a literary agent to read your manuscript and represent you to publishers. You can research what literary agents do quickly and easily.
2-Although agents are not absolutely required for publishing, get one.
3-This letter is a business proposal/letter; treat it like one.
4-Work on your query letter like it was your manuscript. I just finished my query for my second agent. It took me four hours to edit the first query, making it better and personalized. It’s 291 words, and that includes my contact information.
5-Personalize each and every letter. You will spend a great deal of time on each draft of your letter. Each draft for each agent will defer from each other significantly enough to be able to tell them apart. Go to the agent’s website. View their client list. Look at the books they represent and see if yours is comparable. Do NOT say in the letter, “My book is like XXX.” What if it’s not in their eyes? What if it’s worse? What if they have a romanticized version of a book that you could never live up to? Nope. Don’t do it. After you see that your work in comparable to what they are looking for and/or represent, go to their fb or twitter page. See what they’re saying. Follow them, etc. The query I just sent out, I wouldn’t have, until I followed on twitter and found a site stating exactly what they’re looking for…and there you go. Will I get it right this time? Only time will tell. When you do personalize the letter, tell why you chose them. Don’t say “I saw on your website.” An excellent example of things not to say can be found in this poem by a frustrated agent. Mention where you got the information. For example, I put “XXX agency tweeted that you want XXX.” I also looked up their wishlist and found my genre at the top. I perused their fav books and decided mine would fit in. I CONCISELY told the agent that.
6-Every genre is different, and every page will tell you to format your query differently. Good luck finding the right mix of matching your draft with the right agent. This is a game where the rules are constantly changing depending on who’s playing, and no one likes playing it.
7-Here is a popular website to learn from, Query Shark. An agent critiques query letters sent in to her and blogs the results.
8-Don’t include the end of the book. WHAT? Don’t end with “What will she do next?” either, but end with something that doesn’t give it away. For example, here’s my synopsis:
Sir Clanks-a-Lot is a gallantly clumsy knight. So it’s no surprise he forgets his pajamas while hunting with the King. Unfortunately it rains, rusting his armor and making him clank constantly. During his quest for oil, he meets a princess whose need for oil is greater than his. This hero puts her needs first, forgetting about his own.
If you’ll notice, I tell you the plot without ending it. One site said to show what drives the protagonist, not what they do. Here is one resource saying to utilize the four C’s in your pitch. Tell the beginning of the book, not the whole thing.
9-Some people say to put personal info in it (your own personal info), others don’t. Good luck with that. Wish I could help. Again, some of the agents have blogs and/or tweet what irritates them, etc. Go on NOW and start following agents in the genre of what you write or are currently working on. That way, when you’re ready to query, you won’t have to wait to learn enough, or risk sending out queries in ignorance.
10-Some of the not-so-obvious: Make sure all your tenses match (probably best to use all present, even if you’re book is past tense). Be as concise as possible. This is a one page letter.
11-Don’t quote from the book. Yeah, I know, I did in my hook in my previous post, but I shouldn’t have. My second draft doesn’t quote from my book. (I made a lot of mistakes in that draft, but it was still better than the ones before it!). Use Times New Roman 12. Skip a line between paragraphs. Do not indent paragraphs. This is because e-mail can do weird things, and indents are often lost. Single space the letter, double space the sample of the manuscript. Include ALL contact info, including social sites and webpages, in the signature. Do not use italics. ALL CAPS THE TITLE INSTEAD. This is also due to e-mail issues. NO QUERIES ARE EVER ATTACHED!!! Those are immediately deleted. (Would you open a letter with an attachment from a stranger?) Everything is just pasted right into the e-mail.
Oh, and this isn’t everything, I’m sure. But I do hope this helps. It is most unfortunate you can’t take a class in college “How to be an author”, but you can’t. You have to spend a great deal of time perfecting your writing, and also how to get paid for it. Crazy, but true. These may all seem ridiculous and petty to some of you, and that’s fine. But you wouldn’t go to an interview in jeans and a tank top. Consider this the same thing. If you’re ever going to conform, do so on this.