Monday, January 25, 2010

Winning Query Letters

Janet Reid from Fine Print Literary Agency gave an excellent lecture on writing effective query letters at a recent Greater Lehigh Valley Writer's Group meeting. Here are some of the things she talked about and tips taken from her hand out. Check out Janet Reid's blog too.

A query letter is a business letter, even if you’re sending it via email, it should still be professional. Get rid of auto-signatures with pictures and fancy fonts. DO NOT copy and paste from a Word.doc file into the email or that email the agent gets will be full of those weird characters, you’ll lose all the formatting and get a big block of text that’s hard to read. Type the letter manually into the email or save it into a draft in your email and then copy and paste.
A query letter MUST tell an agent what the book is about:

Who is the main character(s)?
What happens to her?
What choice does s/he face?
What terrible thing will happen because of that choice?

Here’s a sample formula for writing a blurb: The main character must decide whether to ________. If s/he decides to do (this), the consequences/outcome/peril s/he faces are: If s/he decides NOT to do this: the consequences/outcome/peril s/he faces are:
A query blurb describes the book’s premise, it’s not a synopsis. Don’t tell the ending. Stick to hero/heroine and possibly the protagonist in your blurb and that’s all. Avoid character soup in your blurb.

A query letter should include the word count, title, genre and publishing credits you have. You don’t have to say the novel is complete. It should be before you query. Publishing credits are published works, not self-published, not winning a contest, not awards, not classes or teachers you’ve studied under, not an MFA, not conferences attended.
Instant rejection phrases: Fiction novel, sure best seller, Oprah, film potential, “dear agent”/”dear sir or madam”.

Things to avoid: Don’t beg, flatter or demean yourself. Don’t quote rejections letters (even ones with good feedback). Don’t quote critique groups, friends, paid editors, or ask rhetorical questions like: “What would it be like to kill your husband?”

Don’t offer exclusives (if you do give a time deadline). Don’t attach anything unless asked to do so. Don’t engage your spam filter or auto responder. Keep your letter to the point and be specific.

For email queries, put your contact information at the BOTTOM. Include the following: Email, phone, website, blog, Twitter, Facebook, mailing address. Janet said she once had to get intouch with a potential client through his blog because her emails kept bouncing.

Expect to hear a lot of NOs. And never, ever argue with a rejection.

Have a query tracking system so you know what/who/when/where you queried and the response.

Here’s an example of a format for an equery:

Subj: QUERY – Title by Author

Dear (Name of Agent)

Paragraph ONE: 100 word paragraph on what the book is about. This is not a synopsis. Have a line break every three lines. Makes it easier to read. Include Title, genre and word count.

Paragraph TWO: Your writing credits (If none, then skip)

Paragraph THREE: Any kind words, how you found the agent, why you picked that agent, etc.

Closing: Thank you for you time and consideration. (No need for other stuff.)

Your Name
your email
your phone
your website
your blog
your twitter name
your Facebook page

Your physical address


Karin Shah said...

These sound like great tips! Thanks for such a thorough post. This really helps!

Karin Shah
In print now!
An undercover agent, a beautiful space pirate, with the fate of the galaxy at risk, love may not be enough…

Tori Bond said...

I found Janet Reid's presentation very clarifying and your review of her talk hits all her points. Great blog post.

Aimless Writer said...

Thanks for posting this! I love Janet's blog and especially the Query Shark.

Cris Anson said...

Great lessons here, Kathy. Thanks for posting it.

Regina Carlysle said...

Great post. Most of us dread writing these things.

Kathy Kulig said...

Thanks everyone for stopping by. Janet does have a great blog. I'll have to check out the Query Shark. Thanks Aimless. Janet's been Hashtagging
#thingsishouldnotseeinaquery on Twitter. It's hysterical.