I am convinced in my publishing career, both as an editor and an agent, I have read thousands upon thousands of query letters. I’ve read snail mail, email, and query forms. I’ve read enough to know which queries get an instant rejection and which will take a little more consideration. I’ve also read enough to be able to spot huge problems with your manuscript based on a few paragraphs in your query.
Now of course we’re always going to hear from the exception, the author who did everything wrong and still found herself an agent. That being said, she likely made all of the mistakes because she didn’t know any better, because she wasn’t reading this or other blogs or tapped into a writers group or other source. You on the other hand are reading this so you know better. You better get this right.
1. Do Your Research
There is a distinct difference between a query from an author who has done her research and understands what agents expect and need and authors who don’t. Addressing your query to Dear Madam (or worse) Sir, sending me something that I clearly don’t represent, or trying to convince me I should represent it (categorizing your book as women’s fiction when it says clearly in your query that its high fantasy) simply because you like me will never work.
Your voice needs to come through in your query. If you’re writing a thriller, the query shouldn’t sound like chick lit.
Also, your professional voice needs to come through. I really have no desire to work with an author who sounds desperate and will do anything to become my client. I want a client who is confident about the work and seeking a business partner. I want us to start this relationship on equal standing, which is why I hate the queries that start by effusively thanking me for taking the time to read the query, telling me how busy I am and how its so nice I took time out of my valuable day. You aren’t that desperate. You have a product I want. Show that to me. A thank you never hurts, but keep it to the end of your letter. After you’ve impressed me.
3. Open with a Bang
I’ll admit this is something I’m guilty of. If every query starts off with, “Thank you for your time. I’m getting in touch to query you about MY Book…” Every query sounds the same. Instead hit me with something that grabs me. “Shelley Coriell has always been one of my favorites so I knew after reading her that I would need to get in touch with her agent. My voice, like hers…”
“When I read that you too had a passion for dark and suspenseful historical mysteries…”
“I first read David Bell back in college and I knew with that first book that he was the type of writer I wanted to be…”
Those are the kind of openings that make me want to settle in and read more.
4. The Blurb
The most important part of your letter and often the part I read first, before the opening line, before the referral, and before your bio. This is where I immediately go. Make sure your blurb tells me about your book. Like the cover copy of a book tells its readers what to expect. Avoid starting out with a rhetorical question. If you ask me if I’ve ever considered what it would be like if my dog turned into a goat and my answer is, no, you’ve lost me. I don’t want to read more.
Show me your book. The blurb, like the writing in your book, should show me the story you have to tell. It shouldn’t tell me the story you want me to read.