Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Query Letter Tips That Work

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

Get that hook in the first sentence--yes, first sentence! And don't confuse theme with hook. Get that editor's attention right away with not only what makes your novel marketable, but what will make him/her want to read it THIS MINUTE. If your novel isn't particularly hook-y, encapsulate what makes it special in that first sentence. –

Melissa Senate

The Desire Line

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.

Ellen Meister

Three quickie tips

1. Chek you're speling. Then check it again and again and again.

2. Do your research BEFORE you hit send. Have you read the agent or editor guidelines for submission? Have you tried to find authors this agent represents, titles from the publishing house just to determine where your pitch might fit in their niche?

3. Your query isn't the closing argument for the defense. If you have to persuade the agent/editor, then perhaps your hook isn't hooky enough.

Christa Allan

Slow and steady wins the race

My best tip regarding query letters? Don't give up. Ever. I received 300+ rejections to my queries over 5 (yes, FIVE) years. I did get a few positive responses, but never sealed the deal. Finally, I'd revised the MS enough and tweaked the query itself enough and got the "Yes" I'd been waiting for. But it took all those rejections first. That was part of the journey. All you need is one yes. And it's worth waiting for. You don't want it to be lukewarm; you want an agent who believes in your book as much as you do.

Judy Larsen

Seven simple steps

*Be sure to spell the agent's or editor's name correctly.

*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!!

~Marilyn Brant

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

April Henry.

Links with tips

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.

Carleen Brice

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."

Also, if you've recently won an award or contest, mention it! Find more tips in my book, The Nitty Gritty Guide to Finding a Literary Agent, at Amazon, BN.com, and Smashwords.

Sara Rosett

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.

Michele Young-Stone

Takes responses with a grain of salt

Before I wrote my query letter, I read the backs of a lot of novels to learn how to effectively distill a book into a couple hundred words. Oh - and here's another tip: Take the response you get from agents with a grain of salt. I got a glowing email from one big-name agent (who shall remain nameless) who told me to rush my manuscript to her, since she was so excited about reading it. But the agent's assistant had mistakenly included all of her correspondence with the agent at the bottom of the email. The agent kept writing things like, "Oh, I don't know... doesn't it sound kind of boring?" until the assistant finally convinced her to take a look. It still cracks me up. Needless to say, I signed with a different agent!

Sarah Pekkanen

Read the guidelines

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.

Saralee Rosenberg

The best you can muster

The query and I go way back, an intense love/hate relationship that, I like to think, I eventually conquered. It was the query to one book that got my foot in the door, thus leading to the sale of a completely different book. So, in the end, I wrote a hell of a query for a novel that didn’t sell, and probably a mediocre query for the one that did. Follow that? If you want my honest opinion, I believe the only thing more painstaking than a good query is a great synopsis. I hate them both. I truly do. But you wouldn’t head off into the wilderness without, at the very least, a reliable Swiss Army knife. And I wouldn’t recommend sending a manuscript out without the very best query letter you can muster. Maybe those are more random thoughts than tips, but that’s okay. I bet my fellow girlfriends have some killer step-by-step query tips. (I’ll be sure and copy them) However, for what it’s worth and probably breaking plenty of query writing rules, here’s the intro paragraph that sold mine:

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

In addition to researching agents through Publishers Marketplace (a must for any search), you can find other books an agent reps by doing a search for them in Google books. (Their names usually show up in the acknowledgements.) Also, don’t go for the lowest hanging fruit when you personalize your query letters. For instance, I bet agent Jodi Reamer gets hundreds of letters mentioning her famous client Stephenie Myers. Better to dig a little deeper and try to mention a not-so -famous client or an interesting agent interview to set your letter apart from the herd.

Karin Gillespie

Do you have a tip you'd like to share? Leave it in the comments.


  1. Thank you for the wonderful reminders and the encouragement to keep trying. With so many other options these days, it's sometimes tempting to give up the traditional route.

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