There is so much information about how to write the perfect query and what it needs to include. In all this advice the one thing everyone focuses on is how many queries agents get, the one thing they fail to focus on is how much email agents get.
Whether its a query, emails from editors, authors or spam, agents, like everyone else, receive hundreds and hundreds of email every day. Let’s face it, it gets tiring and a lot of the time what we really want to do is just hit delete. So how can you ensure that your query has what it takes to avoid the delete button and, even better, has what it takes to get the agent to read it right away?
1. Who? Make it personal. No Dear Agent, To Whom It May Concern or avoiding an address. If you want an agent to think you’re serious about your book and hiring an agent you need to show that you’ve done your due diligence. A Dear Ms. Faust or even Dear Jessica Faust is all you need.
2. What? Show the agent what you’re offering right off the bat. That means in the subject and in the first line.
If you know what the agent is actively looking for via #MSWL or elsewhere that’s perfect in the subject: #MSWL Historic Mystery set in New York City or if you know the agent’s tastes and clients she represents: Funny Contemporary Romance like Christie Craig I know that in my case a subject that tells me this query is going to be exactly what I’m looking for will probably get me to open it almost immediately.
Everyone is inundated with too much email and too much to do. If you want to grab an agent’s attention you need to do so immediately. That means, you have your subject and the first one or two lines before an agent decides whether she’ll read more or just reject. Make sure what you give her in those lines is exactly what’s going to make her want to read more.
Don’t clutter the first line of your query with nonsense. Get to the point. Give her an amazing title, the genre (if you haven’t already) and tell her about the book. I don’t want to know that you’ve spent 15 years writing it or that it’s based on a true story. You can tell me that later. Hook me and give me what I want. I want a really great book that’s going to sell to millions.
3. Why? Why should I want to read your book? This is probably one of the key things an agent looks for in a query. Why should this book be any different from others in the same genre? This is the place to tell me how your book stands out in what is guaranteed to be a crowded genre (they all are) and why I should take it on. What’s the hook? How is that different from every other mystery/romance/fantasy/YA out there? If you can’t answer this question easily you might need to take another look at the book itself.
4. Where? Place can tell a lot about a book so tell agents where your book is set. A book set in the back woods of Mississippi has a very different feel than a book set in Portland, OR. It also helps give the agent a visual for the book. This includes time period as well.
5. How? How you write that query will make a difference. Check, double-check and recheck for typos. Send it to a couple of people in your critique group to see how it will look in an agent’s inbox and, very, very important, keep it short. No one wants to spend more than a minute or two reading a query so keep it as concise as possible and give only the most important facts.