Monday, January 3, 2011

Query Letter Advice

I know there are several websites and books that give you a formula for how to write the perfect query letter to an agent or publisher.  Let me be clear, I know there are several websites and books that give you DIFFERENT formulas on how to write the perfect query letter to an agent or publisher.

The truth of the matter is, until they write a book saying how to write the perfect query letter for each specific writer and publisher, there is no "right" answer.  It's a craps shoot.  The only advice I can give will seem completely logical, but you may be surprised...So here goes...

1) Spell the person's name right.  Double check it.  Triple check it.

2) Include a one paragraph biography of yourself.  Include past writing credits -- self publishing does not count.  They do not need to know your life story.  Just the highlights.

3) Tell the agent or publisher why you are querying them, and be specific.  This point takes a bit of time.  You can't say, "I found your name in a book and I'm praying you'll love me."  That won't fly.  Google the agent or publisher.  Find out what kinds of books they buy or represent.  If they have one similar to yours, that means they like that kind of work and might be willing to read yours.  If the agent only represents Fantasy, don't send them your Children's Picture Book...They don't care.  Take the time and research and then put evidence of that research into your letter.  That way, you're not just throwing shit against the wall to see if it sticks.  You're throwing strategic darts.  Big difference. Ultimately, it saves you time and heart ache too.
(Ex. Since you represented "The Funniest Book Ever" I hope you will be interested in reading my manuscript, "The Book that Makes Me Laugh.")

4) Include a one paragraph summary of your book.  Think of it as the back book cover.  Be provocative.  Be interesting.  Be grammatically correct.  If the book is funny, the summary should be funny.  If the book is edgy, the paragraph should be edgy.  If the book is...You get the point.

5) Notify the agent or publisher if the book has been submitted (not queried) SUBMITTED to any other agent and/or publisher.

6) Let them know you appreciate their time and that you look forward to their response.

7) Include a Self Stamped Addressed Envelope (SASE) if it is snail mail.  Include your email address for an email query.

What Not to Do:
1) Don't beg.

2) Don't threaten.

3) Don't lie.

4) Double, triple, and quadruple check spelling, punctuation and grammar.

5) Don't submit to the wrong kind of agent and/or publisher.

6) Don't be self-deprecating unless it's a part of the book.  Sell, sell, sell! Why would they want a book if the author is not confident about it?

7) Don't submit manuscripts that are riddled with typos, grammatical errors, consistency problems, and poor editing.  Hire a school teacher during the summer to red pen your book.  Ask your writing buddies for notes and take the best ones.  Ignore the rest.  Make sure the book is in tip top order.  Editors and Agents want a book that is practically ready AS IS.

8) Don't send your manuscript unless they ask you to! Most agents and or publishers want a letter first, then ask for sample chapters if they like the idea.  Some agents want the first fifty pages right off the bat. Look up their website and check to see what their specific submission guidelines are and follow them exactly.  To. The. Letter.

9) Keep querying.  It can take up to 100 letters before you get the hang of querying.  

Good luck!

I hope this helps.