Friday, March 16, 2012

How to Write a Query Letter

A query letter should be no more than four paragraphs long. It should all fit on one page in a size 12, readable font (Arial, New Times Roman, etc). If it does NOT fit on one page in size 12 New Times Roman, it is TOO LONG.

Now we have that out of the way, the four paragraphs should contain the following:

1. An introduction with the genre, word count, title and status of the novel. For example: I am seeking representation for my fantasy manuscript ‘Hackensack Queens’ which is complete at 95, 000 words.

If your novel does not currently have a name, you can leave that out or put in ‘untitled’. It is, however, much better for you to have a title and have a GOOD one.

2. The second paragraph should have a blurb that summarizes the plot of the manuscript. I’ll go into more detail on this later, however the important thing you should know is that it should read like the blurbs on the inside or back cover of the novels you see in the book store.

3. A paragraph about you. I’ll be expanding on this one later in the tutorial too.

4. Your contact information. Make sure this is correct. I checked mine three times and still sent out twenty queries with the wrong address. We all get nervous sending queries and we screw up. Check it three times then check it again. Show it to someone else and ask: ‘Do I live here?’

Be sure to include your email address in your contact details, even if you are querying by e-mail.

Be Professional-

A query letter is a professional letter. You are writing to a business and you are asking them to consider a business contract with you.

You are not writing to a friend. You should not attempt to be funny or cute or casual. Professional. Just be professional.

Here are some tips to be professional:

- Use plain, white A4 sized paper (If posting, most agencies expect emails these days.)
- Do not include anything with your query unless it is requested in the submission guidelines.
- Date your letter and use proper formatting. (You do not need to date email queries.)
- Use correct grammar, spelling and punctuation. These people edit for a living and they WILL think you are an idiot if you can’t capitalize your sentences and nouns correctly.

Here are some things NOT to do:
- Use coloured or scented paper.
- Send photos of yourself (No really, this is weird. Don’t do it.)
- Send gifts. (This is weird too.)
- Send money.
- Beg in your letter.
- Threaten in your letter.
- Be rude or casual in your letter.
- Send a letter that stinks of cigarette smoke or has coffee all over it.
- Trash other agencies, writers or publishing houses.
- Talk about your pets, your job, your kids, your partner or give any other irrelevant, personal details—particularly about your sex life.

Writing The Blurb-

For most of us, I think this is the hardest part. A fascinating, one paragraph synopsis of our manuscript. It’s like getting blood from a stone.

I recommend you start practicing these long before you have to write one for your own novel. Instead, write them for books, movies and TV shows you love—then compare yours with the actual ones.

Anyway, there is a formula for writing blurbs which helps give you some direction for writing successful ones.

Firstly a query needs to introduce your main character and something about them to give the reader a chance to empathize. Secondly, we need the primary conflict. Thirdly we need the villain and finally we need the stakes.

Play around with the order in which you present these four things, but make sure you have them all in place.

DO NOT rattle on about the setting, themes and philosophies in a blurb. A blurb is to tell the reader/agent/editor what the STORY is and who the CHARACTERS are. If your manuscript doesn’t have a story, I have a paper shredder you can borrow.

It’s All About You-

So given I’ve already said you can’t talk about your pets, your job, your kids, your partner or your sex life, what DO you say about yourself?

Firstly, you mention anything else you have had published, when it was published and who it was published by. Do not worry if you don’t have anything worth mentioning—simply say nothing. Don’t draw attention to it by SAYING you haven’t had anything published. They’ll assume. That’s okay.

Secondly, if you have a public platform that may be useful, mention that. For example, having a blog that gets 50, 000 unique hits a day? That’s relevant if you can pitch your book there.

Fame and previous publishing credits not withstanding, you may mention your job and history, but only if they are relevant to the book. If you’re writing about cops and you are a cop, it’s okay to say so. However cops don’t necessarily write good books, even good books about cops.

Some people will tell you it’s good to mention writing courses and lectures you’ve attended. I say the less said the better.

Final Note: The SSAE-

SSAE is a Stamped Self Addressed Envelope.

The only places that don’t require an SSAE are places to which you submit email queries. If you are posting things overseas it is easier for the agent/publisher if you buy stamps than international replied pay coupons.

Do with this information what you will. However make sure you send those SSAEs with your queries if you want a reply.

Too Scary?

Feeling completely frazzled? I offer query writing services. You can read more about it here.

Copyright. Talitha Kalago. 2008

Edited 2012

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