Beat the competition and write the best query letter ever. Girlfriends give their best advice. on how to win an agent's attention.
Put the hook up front
I know that boiling down your novel into 4 - 6 snappy sentences seems almost impossible, but if you can quickly get across what your main character WANTS, you're at least halfway there. Also, keep in mind that your novel's inciting incident is probably at the center of your hook.
Slow and steady wins the race
Seven simple steps
*Be sure to spell everything else correctly, too! (Always good to have a few friends or critique partners read it over before sending.)
*Keep it to one page and include a one- or two-paragraph story summary with the plot conflict highlighted and a short but insightful description of the main character(s), along with the novel's genre and approximate word count. (In most cases, the manuscript you're querying should be completed, unless you've worked with this person before and have instructions otherwise.)
*Another paragraph should be your writing credentials as they pertain to this particular book.
*If you've met the agent/editor before, mention that or explain in a sentence or two how you came to be interested in their agency/publishing house.
*Thank them and be sure to list your contact information so they can respond to you easily.
*Send it out and celebrate taking this big step!!
Practice makes perfect
Don't query until you have a finished manuscript that's as perfect as you can make it.
And don't query all your dream agents at once. You might find ways to strengthen your query as you go along, and you only get one shot
Here is the link to the liveblog of a panel discussion I did at BlogHer 11 on How to Pitch Your Book. It has query tips and other info. I was also on the BlogHer 11 Pathfinder Day panel with author Melissa Ford. She did a great series on BlogHer on getting published. Here is the link to her post on query letters. Lots of great information there! I highly recommend reading her whole 11- or 12-part series.
Make it personal
Personalize each query letter. Research the agent. Find out who s/he represents and what books the agent has sold recently--check Publishers Lunch and Agent Query for details along with literary agent guides. I also kept a list of authors who had thanked their agents in the Acknowledgements section of books that were similar to my manuscript.
These details give you a built-in starting point. "Since you recently sold Brilliant Author's book, Great American Novel, you might be interest in my book, Awesome American Novel, which has a similar style and tone."
A plethora of advice
Keep your query letter to one page. Definitely sell yourself. Don't use passive verbs. Read book jackets for examples of how to make your plot ZING for the agent who is hopefully reading. Think HARD about your title. My agent said that the title of my novel is what kept her reading. Make sure to "hype" any past publications or honors relative to your writing. If you know someone who's published and who's praised your ms., quote them. Be succinct and direct. And, of course, proofread the letter a zillion times. Forgetting to sign the query letter is enough to get you a rejection slip. Look online for query letters that worked. I think mine was published in Writer's Digest last April. There should be some good ones out there on the web. Lastly, don't give up. I have a notebook of rejections, and I recycled most of them because it got too depressing. Oh, and make sure that you are querying agents who are interested in your genre and who are accepting unsolicited queries and submissions. Agentquery.com is a great resource to find a good fit. Thanks!!!!! Keep writing. The joy is in the act.
Takes responses with a grain of salt
In the words of a highly respected manuscript submission reader at a top NY literary agency, "read the friggin guidelines on the agent's website." If they ask for the first ten pages, don't send a chapter. If they ask for a short synopsis, include it. If they ask for everything to be included in the email and not sent as attachment... you get the idea. She says that she feels bad when she has to delete what could be a promising submission simply because the writer didn't follow the rules, but first impressions count. If the writer can't bother to find out what the agent wants, how good of a partner will they be when it comes time to pitching editors and building a platform?
As for what to include in a query, think of it as a tease. The whole idea is to entice the agent and give them a reason to respond to query. Sometimes the more we say, the more we blow the deal. Get in, get out, give them what they ask for and hope for the best.
Dear Very Specific Spelled Correctly Literary Agent,
There are secrets spouses keep. Everyday things, like an overdrawn checkbook or a lingering glance at a woman who isn’t your wife. Maybe it’s a designer outfit—tags torn, stuffed in the back of a closet, poised for a, “This old thing…” moment. We all keep secrets. It’s the line that differs for every husband and wife. It differed for Grady Sommers, who crossed the line, never imagining where his secret would lead. Laura Spinella
Using Google Books
Do you have a tip you'd like to share? Leave it in the comments.