Thursday, March 8, 2012

How to Get Your Book Published (or at least how I did): Part Two, Query Letters

Ah, the dreaded Query. The nearly universally reviled one-page letter that must hook an agent’s attention, describe your book, and entice the agent to want to read more, all without being boring, but not unprofessional either, while sticking to a strict format and word count. This one letter will ultimately decide the fate of your ENTIRE book, which you’ve spent countless hours/months/possibly years toiling over…

Sounds dramatic, I know, but let’s get serious—if your query letter sucks, an agent likely won’t read on to the sample pages. And with maybe hundreds of emails clogging up their inboxes on a daily basis, can you really blame them? (don’t answer that)

So, yes, the query letter is very intimidating and also very important. But no worries! You wrote an entire amazing book, and you can definitely write one single amazing page. Chin up, friends!  

The basic format of the query letter is this: one page, 250 words (350 absolute max!) written in three paragraphs, and single-spaced. The three paragraphs can be broken down into the ‘hook’, the synopsis, and the biography.

The Hook- It’s just what it sounds like: a short paragraph to ‘hook’ the agent’s interest.

The Synopsis- Where you boil down your entire book into one single paragraph. Easy, right? But really, you don’t need to boil down your ENTIRE book. Just tell us about your main character, his/her main goal, what gets in the way of this goal, and what is at stake for the character if they don’t reach this goal. And try and make it exciting. No pressure!

The Bio- Anything to your credit, writing-related, goes here. Have you published any short stories? Are you a part of any writing groups? Have you taken any notable writing courses? Okay, so maybe you have none of these things. That’s okay. I used ‘Michelle Krys is a freelance writer based in Northwestern Ontario’ until I got a few short stories published. That worked too.

**Important note** The query is an introduction of you, yes, but more importantly, your book. Therefore you needn’t mention the last ten jobs you’ve held (unless maybe you worked as a vet and your book is a non-fiction about farm animals, or maybe you worked as a personal assistant to a rock star and your book is about a rock star—you get the point).  While this information might be interesting, it’s just not what the agent needs to know when deciding whether or not to read your book. Focus on your writing.

Other random tips for the Query Letter, which I can’t source so y’all will just have to trust me:

-Give your query ‘voice’. This is REALLY important. While you want your query to be professional, you definitely don’t want it to be bland or boring. Try to write your query in the tone of voice that your book was written. The main character in The Witch Hunter’s Bible is a snarky sixteen-year-old girl. My query was written in her voice (not from her, though!)

-Be professional. Avoid the temptation to call your book stunning, or exciting, or daring or (insert adjective here). Please no ‘My mom thinks it’s the best book she’s ever read’, or ‘This is the next Harry Potter/Twilight/Hunger Games/Any other best-selling book. Same goes for “it’s better than XYZ best-selling book”. Agents have heard it all before, and insulting other authors, their publishers, and their millions of fans isn’t going to get you anywhere. Just let your book do the talking.

-Don’t open with a rhetorical question. As in "What would you do if…” Just don’t. Trust me on this one, peeps! I wouldn’t lead you astray.

-Include your genre and word count

-Include the word ‘completed’ (your book is finished, right?)

-Try to personalize your query whenever possible—no, I don’t mean with colored paper, wacky fonts, perfume, or by accompanying the letter with gifts (though, incidentally, I do accept gifts, including those of chips and salsa in large quantities). Start by addressing the query to the agent by name. Dear Ms. Ranta, or Dear Adriann Ranta works. Dear Agent does not. Nor does To Whom It May Concern. Tell the agent why you queried them.  For example: ‘I am searching for representation for TRULY AMAZING, a memoir complete at 80,000-words. Because you like quirky books, I thought we might be a good fit’. Whether it's better to open or close with this kind of statement is debatable, so I’ll leave that up to you to decide.

-Try not to mention too many characters in your query. It’s only one page, so it gets hard to follow along when there are more than a few character’s names being tossed around.

-Don’t call your book a fictional novel. Agents hate that. Trust.

-Don’t put yourself down in the query. So what if you’ve never written a book before or don’t have a college degree? No one will care about that if your book is great.

-Spellcheck!

-Go ahead and mention if your book is the first in a series (better if you can say your book stands alone, but can be the first in a series).

-Only discuss one project per query letter. It’s great if you have 6 novels completed, but the query letter isn’t the place to expand upon all of them.

-Take the time to send out individual emails. Agents hate when they’re ‘cc’d in one mass email to hundreds of agents.

-Thank the agent for their time and consideration

-Check out AgentQuery and Query Shark for more information than you could ever need on everything that is the Query.

-When in doubt, check out my query critique tab for more information on how to submit your query for review by non-other than moi J

So, I bet you’re wondering what my query letter looks like, huh? Well, I just so happen to have it right here. And I’m going to show it to you…next week! Because this post is way too long already

10 comments:

  1. Omg, what's wrong with me? TOO LONG!

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  2. Lol, Michelle. Never too long when it's all good advice. A good query letter is definitely extremely difficult to write, in my opinion. About every single query I've ever read contains these "blunders", for lack of a better word. This is definitely useful advice (which I will put to good use if I can just manage to get to the querying stage). Do people seriously CC mass numbers of agents at once? Facepalm. That's just funny.

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  3. Brilliant advice. When I'm ready to write my query (pretty soon, I hope) I'll use all your suggestions. It's so wonderful that you're prepared to share your experience with all us aspiring writers.

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    1. I'm so glad you found it helpful, Amaleen!

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  4. Long, but necessary!! I'm going to link to this when I put up the next set of details about my contest.

    Follow these guidelines peoples. Trust the nice lady :D

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  5. Great post! And good advice need not have a length requirement :)

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    1. Thanks, Mindy! And okay, maybe I'll quit being paranoid now :)

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  6. Thanks Michelle. That is very helpful :-)

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