My query letter is a work in progress. I believe it is improving with each rewrite, but the stack of rejection letters on my desk might challenge that belief. Here are my thoughts after gathering information about queries from several online sources.
Paragraph 1: Explain how you know the agent exists. This helps separate you from the form letters and it creates the expectation that you know something about the agent. Examples: “I met you at the recent SCBWI conference in New York”. Perhaps you saw the agent speak, listened to their podcast, read their blog. Maybe you follow them on twitter/ facebook, you have read an interview with them, you read an article they wrote, or you are a big fan of so-and-so author who happens to be their client. If you have no connection to the agent, start researching on the internet to find some common ground.
Paragraph 2: Give your pitch. Examples: “When Dean finds himself trapped beneath the streets of Manhattan, he must find a way to escape and get to his wedding before his nervous bride thinks he has gotten cold feet. This 80,000 word novel would be found on the bookshelves near [other titles in the same genre].” The pitch paragraph should read like a jacket cover and is intended to entice the agent into reading (or requesting) a synopsis or manuscript from you. If the pitch is long, you can put additional info, i.e. word count and genre, in a separate paragraph.
Paragraph 3: If you have written additional books, you may state that so the agent knows investing time and effort into working with you won’t just result in a one-book deal. But don’t pitch the additional books, just give the basic info and mention whether it is intended to be a series. You may also mention marketing plans, platform information or products that go hand-in-hand with your book if this information is well-developed.
Paragraph 4: Summarize your biographical information. Have you been published? Give details. If not? Write an article for your local paper and get published. Write an article for an internet site. Submit a story or article to a magazine. Do you have a writing degree or have you taken writing classes? Mention them. You don’t need to go into detail about this. Do you belong to critique groups or writing organizations? Have you attended conferences? Do you have a skill or profession that makes you uniquely qualified to write this story? If so, mention it.
Para 5: Close with a note about whether the submission is simultaneous. If you have enclosed/embedded something like a synopsis, mention that here. Be sure to thank the agent for their time.
Keep every paragraph short. Make sure to go to the agent’s website and look for info about what they expect in a query letter. Based on this you may be able to exclude some of the paragraphs noted above. Also check the agent’s website to see if they accept unsolicited queries and simultaneous submissions. Make your pitch as compelling as possible. Don’t try to characterize the writing using words like creative, beautiful, interesting, hilarious or anything else that sounds like a book reviewer’s comments. Just give the story line and then rewrite it until it sounds like a jacket cover. It might help to go read some jacket covers. Don’t say “this is the next Harry Potter” or compare your book in that way to another book. It sounds very “sales-y” and ultimately it is up to the agent to decide if you are the next Harry Potter. If you don’t have a very impressive bio, then don’t write much or skip that paragraph altogether. There’s no need to fill up all the blank space. And remember, the whole point of the query is to pique the interest of the agent. Don’t try to give too much information. Less is better in the case of a query letter.
Good Luck!! And be sure to drop me a note if you find this advice helpful!
1. Join SCBWI (The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators). They have a lot of cool info and it’s so nice to be able to connect with other people who are in the same situation.
2. Join Writer’s Digest. They offer a lot of stuff, like writing courses, critiques, webinars, etc.
3. Join CBI Clubhouse. This may possibly be the most concise source of children’s writing information I have found. And they’re starting email critique groups (I don’t totally understand how that’s going to work yet, but I’ll keep you posted.)
4. Start a Twitter account. I don’t tweet much yet, but I follow tons of literary agents, publishers and other authors. It gives me a CLUE about what’s happening in the world of publishing and these professionals tweet links to fantastic articles about writing and querying all the time. But it’s even better than that- there are blog chats in which you can participate. And professionals will answer your questions…for free!! It’s almost too good to be true.
5. Join a critique group. I now belong to several. Once I got past the need to “defend” my work, I opened myself up to a zillion helpful suggestions. (Yes, that’s “zillion” with a “z”.) Stacy, Barb, Zenith and Sharon: your input on my work has been priceless!
6. Research. I started spending hours at the library and book store studying stories similar to mine. I’d look for one thing. Then I’d ask myself a different question and look through all the books again. The next time I go to Barnes and Noble, they’re probably going to make me buy something. (Usually I just buy those yummy Godiva chocolates at the check-out counter.)
7. Enter some writing contests. My first work didn’t fit neatly into one genre, so the experience was rather painful. Initially the negative comments will really hit home and the positive ones will repel off like water on scotch-guarded fabric. But later, you’ll be ready to believe the good stuff too.
One thing most people don't know about me is that I have something called spasmodic dysphonia. It's a voice disorder. I get botox injections in my larynx to help me keep a smooth speaking voice.