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Query Letters

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Old 09-18-2008, 11:14 PM
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The Guide to the Perfect Query Letter... gosh, wouldn't it be great if that existed? The sad fact is that every agent is different, just as every writer is. I'm currently trying to compose a brilliant query letter. I have three books: Making the Perfect Pitch: How to Catch a Literary Agent's Eye, How to Get a Literary Agent, and Author 101: Bestselling Secrets from Top Agents. With all of that stuff (crap) put together, I have a pretty decent idea of what I need. Most of it, though, either contradicts itself or overlaps. The basic ideas are that the query letter needs to have as little information as possible and that you are selling your book. Don't put in things that the agent doesn't need to know, like your age or your height. Don't tell the agent that you're the next Shakespeare or that your mom loved your book more than she has ever loved anything. An agent gets hundreds of query letters every week, if not, every day. The moment they find something they don't like about your query, it's into the slush. You should spend as much time on your query letter as you do on your manuscript. It should be pristine and error free. When the agent sees it and begins to read, it should shine at them like a beacon: *pick me*, though you should never have to say it. The words should be as carefully picked as the first sentence of your book. Every single word will make an impact on the agent. Choose them wisely. Make sure that the words that you put in the query letter are words that you would want your favorite person in the world to be reading. This is an interview. This is a sale.

Also, a very important thing to do, before you ever start writing your query letter, is to make sure you have chosen the right agent. You could spend six months writing the perfect query but end up sending it to someone that represents non-fiction when you're writing a science fiction and fantasy novel. As much as they would love your query, they just wouldn't be able to represent you because that's not what they do. Look at guides and directories like the 2009 Guide to Literary Agents and Jeff Herman's Guides. The Absolute Writer Water Cooler is a great place to get information on agents and to ask questions, but be sure to look at their index before you ask about a particular agent or agency. Preditors and Editors has lots of information about agents, publishers, attorneys and other literary personnel that can help you find out if the agent you have in mind is reputable. The actual task of finding an agent can come from going through networks like these and getting on more message boards like the Water Cooler. You can also check the Association of Author's Representatives (AAR); writers organizations (Author's Guild, National Writer's Union, American Society of Journalists and Authors), Literary Events, The Web, Magazines (The Writer, Writer's Digest, Coda, Publisher's Weekly), publisher's catalogs and websites (seasonal catalogs and publishers websites mention the names of agents that control the rights to their client's books), Books (check the dedication and acknowledgement pages of books, sometimes authors thank them). Once you find an agent, be sure to do your research. Make sure that the agent you have in mind is the right one for you. Many agents have websites these days and if yours doesn't, P&E, The Water Cooler, Writers Beware, and other websites can help you find if your agent is reputable and Agent Query, Query Tracker, Publisher's Marketplace and The Association of Author's Representatives can help you find out more information about your agent and usually your agents contact information. I hope this helps. If you have any questions about query letters, please ask. I want to learn about about query letters and there's no better way to learn then to teach. Hearts and hugs, Natalie

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Old 09-19-2008, 12:30 AM
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Wonderful post from you, Natalie. We do get quite a few members asking about query letters, too, so I'm sure this will be very helpful.

A lot of writers say that the query letter and synopsis are far harder to write than the novel itself. Hardly surprising, really, when it's your letter that has to grab the agent/publisher first. As you say, if that doesn't impress them, they may never read one word of your opus.
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Old 09-19-2008, 07:41 AM
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Thanks for this post.

I've not written a novel yet so I have no experience querying agents, but I was looking over some of the cover letters I've submitted to magazines and wow, did I make some pretty amateur mistakes.

It took me a while to realize that a cover letter is merely just to let the editor know what he's reading and why you chose him. I tried to hook editors by summarizing the story like it would appear on a book jacket. Man, was that a mistake. They no doubt didn't even give my manuscript a glance.

I've had much better responses to short and sweet little letters like,

"Please consider my 1200 word story XXX for publication in your upcoming issue. It's a quirky little tale about a boy's quest for the holy grail of gaming.

I chose your magazine because I've been a fan for years and finally wrote a story that I think would fit well.

I've had some work published in XXX and XXX."

Thank you for reading this, and I look forward to hearing from you soon."

That's it. That's all it really takes. No, I have to be a simpleton and try to ensnare this editor with a witty opening that he no doubt vomited on.

Anyway, I'm rambling. I'm just really embarrassed about some of the letters I've sent out. I'll go continue bashing myself over the head now.
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