Sunday, August 30, 2009

Advise On How To Write a Query Letter

How to Write a Query Letter to a Literary Agent
Posted by Chuck

This is a "Blast From the
Past" post. To celebrate the
GLA Blog's 2nd birthday, I am
re-posting some of the best
"older" content that writers
likely missed.

I talk to a lot of writers about how to compose a good query letter. Make no mistake - it's no easy task, and it will take a lot of work. But what I can tell you right off the bat is that a good query has a distinct structure, and I can show you it right here below.

Think of a query as a three-part monster, broken down into three paragraphs. At the top of the page, you will have your contact info, as well as the mailing address info for the agency and the date. After that, you have your three paragraphs:

Paragraph One:

1. Explain what the work is. So - what are you writing? What is the genre? The length? The title? Is it complete? State all the basic info upfront so the agent will immediately know if this is a type of work that she represents.

2. Explain why you're contacting this agent. Did you meet them at a conference? Were they recommended by a friend? Did you see an interview online where they said they were looking for steamy romances and you're writing one such steamy romance? Show them why you picked them out of the big pile, so they have a reason to pick you out of a big pile.

Paragraph Two:

1. Pitch Your Work. This is the most difficult part. You have to boil your book down to about 3-6 sentences and explain what makes the story interesting. You've got to get to the hook. What is the irony - the catch - that makes this story interesting? If your story is simply about a police officer who retires and adjusts to a new lifestyle, that has no hook. But if you say that this newly retired police officer decides to get a sex change, and finds that the police union wants to cancel his pension, and his old friends won't speak to him - then you've got a hook. You've got a unique, interesting idea for a story.

Paragraph Three:

1. Explain who you are and why you're qualified to write this work. Do you have publishing credits? Are you a journalist? Have you won any awards? Have you had short stories published? If you're pitching nonfiction, this becomes the most important section of the query because you will have to prove that you are the ideal person to write this particular book.
Keep in mind that if you don't have anything to say or brag about, you can just keep this section short. Tout your accomplishments quickly and humbly. You want to say "I'm not brand new and I take writing seriously." You don't want to say "Yoo-hoo! Look at my accolades! I'm the man, if you didn't know it, sucka."

2. Thank them. Thank the agent for considering your project. Ask them if you can send more. "Can I send you the first few chapters or some pages?" "Can I send you the full book proposal?"

Want more on this subject?
  • There are lots of articles about queries on this GLA blog. See the whole category here.
  • The newest issue of Writer's Digest (September) has some real query letters that worked to snag agents, as well as tips on writing good queries. If you're not subscribed to the magazine, please sign up.
  • Looking for a literary agent for your work? I'm teaching an awesome webinar on Thursday, Aug. 27, called "How to Land a Literary Agent." Sign up today!

Queries and Synopses and Proposals


BBC said...

I have no intention of ever trying to put a book together in hopes of making money on it. If I did I would write a book on how to do something, like my painting tips that saves so much time and effort.

But if I have anything really useful to the world that may make it a better place I'm more than willing to give it to the world for free.

I just want a better world, fuck the money. I get by just fine on my 938 bucks a month and help others with some of it.

Utah Savage said...

BBC, could you get by on $748? That's how much I get from Social Security. I'd been ill for years and unable to work when I got SS, so I got the lowest possible SS. Nobody can live on that. Not in a city that charges tax on food. I can't afford to pay my property taxes. Every day is an exercise in disaster budgeting. Today I had to pay a repairman to fix my 1940s gas stove. He was here twenty minutes, tightened four screws and charged me $60. That's food money.

And for the record we all know you have no intention of putting a book together. I appreciate that if you had an idea that would save the world you'd pass it on for free, but you seem to have no new ideas. For the most part, you say the same sour, cranky, negative shit every time you post a comment. Obviously this post was not intended for you. You aren't a novelist. I am. I know other bloggers who are. This post was intended for them.

Randal Graves said...

So I shouldn't swear in my query letter?