I'm currently helping a new writer with her query letter, and since I'm covering similar issues, I thought I'd also share this with my readers who might be aspiring authors.
A great query letter is clear, concise, and to the point. It doesn’t meander or include information that’s not pertinent to luring the agent/editor into reading/asking for your manuscript. As a rule of thumb, if you’re in doubt as to whether something should go into your query letter or not, leave it out. Some of these tips you might already know, but I’m writing this to include people who have no experience with query letters.
The basics of a great query letter are:
Your hook, general details of your manuscript, and reason for querying particular agent/editor.
Your comparison/tagline and book summary.
Your bio and platform.
It sounds simple, but to write a dynamic letter with so few words and in one page can be a challenge! So here are some suggestions to help you:
1. Salutation. Never use a general form of address like Dear Madam or Dear Sir. Address your query letter to the editor or agent you are sending to by name.
2. Start the first paragraph with your hook or pitch.
Why am I suggesting you start a query letter with the hook for your novel? Because agents/editors get hundreds of queries a month, and generally will only read the first couple of sentences before going on to the next. This is your chance to (hopefully) lure them in to reading the rest of your letter. This is a subject I hope to expand on in a future blog post. For now, I can suggest that you research other author’s pitches on the internet to help you come up with yours.
Follow your hook with pertinent details (What type of book is it? Word Count? Is it a finished manuscript?)
Then follow with the reason you are writing to this particular agent/editor. Whether it’s because you were referred to them, or they publish another author whose work is similar to yours, or maybe you’ve just read a lot of the books they publish/represent. Also, if you have met the agent/editor at a conference and they asked to see your work, be sure to remind them of it here…and if you’re querying via email, put Requested Material in your subject line. If you are querying by snail mail, put this on the envelope, somewhere under the name and address of the agent/editor.
3. Now launch into your plot summary, and lead with a tagline and/or comparison of another book, author, movie, or character.
Here’s some examples of comparisons to help you: Indiana Jones meets The Real Housewives. In the tradition of The Lord of the Rings. Harry Potter for grown-ups. The imagination of JK Rowling and the romance of Julie Garwood.
If you need help on how to come up with a tagline, I wrote a blog post about it here: http://kathrynekennedy.blogspot.com/2010/05/for-writers-taglines-query-letter.html
If you’re struggling with your plot summary, study the back cover blurbs on books in your genre to help you formulate an intriguing summary. Another way to approach your summary is to write one paragraph about your heroine, and then another about your hero, working in their goals and motivations. In a romance, you want to show why these two people are uniquely perfect for one another. Weave your plot in with the emotional conflict.
4. For your biography, include personal information about you if it pertains to the book you’ve written. For example, you raise Arabian horses and have written a Western. You did your Doctorate on Italy and have written a historical romance in that time period. Include any major publishing credits or contest wins. Keep in mind that you don’t need to pad your bio. Sometimes less publishing experience will work for you.
And here’s a tip that I’d suggest in this internet era. List your platforms, if you have any. If you Blog or Tweet or have Facebook friends, include them here. And if you have other platforms available to you, mention your profession or degree. Why? If you’re an attorney, for example, you have a platform within that community. If you have a degree, you have a platform in the university alumni.
5. Your closing sentence, short and professional. Be sure to submit only what the agent/editor’s guidelines asked for, which means that you should have already visited their website for this information.
Include your own website url or blog (if you have one) after your signature/name if you haven’t already included it in your address information. Most agents/editors want submissions via email, so you may not have a formal return address on your letter.
EXAMPLE QUERY LETTER
Here’s an example of a professional query letter to help you with the points I’ve mentioned above:
Dear Ms. Wheeler:
When a Wild West American heiress travels to London and hires an impoverished Duke to launch her into English society, his predictable Victorian life is turned upside down. This is the premise of my single title Historical Romance novel, complete at 100,000 words. I’m interested in your representation because I attended your workshop at the Desert Dreams conference and appreciated your insight into promoting an author’s career.
Who says a proper lady can’t carry a knife? Inspired by the classic tale of Pygmalion, My Unfair Lady is about a Wild West beauty who takes Victorian London by storm. Frontier-bred Summer Wine Lee has no interest in winning over London society--it's the New York bluebloods and her future mother-in-law she's determined to impress. She knows the cost of smoothing her rough-and-tumble frontier edges will be high. But she never imagined it might cost her heart.
The impoverished Duke of Monchester despises the rich Americans who flock to London, seeking to buy their way into the ranks of the British peerage. So when railroad heiress Summer Wine Lee offers him a king's ransom if he'll teach her to become a proper lady, he's prepared to rebuff her. But when he meets the petite beauty with the knife in her boot, it's not her fortune he finds impossible to resist.
I have published several short stories in various magazines, including a Sword and Sorceress book anthology. I earned Honorable Mention twice in the Writers of the Future contest. I am a member of Romance Writer’s of America and have served as librarian in my local chapter. I am on many social-networking sites, including 400 Twitter followers, 500 Facebook friends, 1,500 Myspace friends, and 500 Gather connections. I have a degree in Business Administration and am a licensed insurance professional.
I’m sending you the first twenty pages of my manuscript per your submission guidelines. Thank you for taking the time to review my request. I look forward to hearing from you.
I hope you find these suggestions helpful, and if you have any questions or comments, feel free to share!