James and I did our first social distancing video on Top Ten Query Tips and when we were finished he turned to me and asked if I was writing a blog post. So I guess I am.
1. Know Who You Are Querying
This means doing the research. A blind list of agents won’t give you the information that an agent’s website will. In other words, you need to know they represent your genre.
Also, make sure you know their name, the correct spelling of their name and the pronouns they use should you want to address them with a Ms. or Mr. Honestly, I would avoid that altogether and simply address your query to First Name Last Name.
And a pet peeve from both James and me. Don’t shorten their name. No matter what, James is not Jim and I am not Jess. Use the name they present to you on the website, not your preferred nickname.
2. Personalize the Query
If you know something personal about the agent or have a connection that feels personal use it.
Something like, you read the blog, watch their YouTube channel or interacted with them on Twitter. If you haven’t or don’t, don’t bother. It’s not a deal-breaker and not necessary.
3. Check for Typos
This seems obvious. And yet it’s not. One typo is fine. Excessive typos in a one-page query give the impression that your manuscript will be riddled with typos and errors. It’s not how you want to introduce yourself and your work.
4. Keep It Concise
Unlike the video, your query will need to be tight. It’s the cover letter to your manuscript and shouldn’t be longer than one page. That’s roughly 250 words max.
5. Stick to the Facts
The blurb is your selling point and as any good selling point does it should stick to only the key marketing points of your book. The highlights.
By looking at the cover copy for your competitive titles you’ll see that they don’t include every character or every plot point. They only include the key points that sell the book to the reader. That’s your job with your blurb, just the key facts.
6. Third Person Only
Your query comes from you, the author, not from your character, not from your dog, and not from your grandmother, editor, or a submission service. This is, hopefully, the start of your relationship with the agent. No one else’s.
7. Give Us the Specs
We need to know all the technical details of your book–word count, genre, title and James apparently likes to know POV (point-of-view) I personally don’t care.
This can be included in your opening paragraph or way down at the bottom. As long as it’s in there, it doesn’t matter where.
8. Tells Us About You
Every query should include a biography of the author. Ideally, it will highlight career writing experience–short stories, previous publication, or your other job. If you don’t have that, don’t worry. Let us know a little about you in just two-four sentences. Are you working the same career as your protagonist? What writing organizations do you belong to? Do you live in the same local as your book is set? At this point we just want to know a little about you…just like the author bio on the back of a book.
9. Don’t Be Weird
Writing from your character’s POV is weird, and confusing. Is this your character? Does the author think they are the character? Is this a memoir? Confusing.
Don’t comment on our looks or make it sound like you’re crossing the line from a query into a Tinder profile. It’s creepy.
Just act professionally. By writing a professional query I can promise you you won’t be weird.
10. Master the Blurb
At the end of the day, the blurb is everything. Work on it now, not just when it’s time to query. Use it as part of your writing process, study cover copy of published books, and know what will sell your book. You are the person who should know best after all.
This blog post is short and sweet, but the video was a ton of fun. For all of our extra insights into each of these things, and to find out what we really think, you can watch the video that started it all.