THE PERFECT QUERY LETTER
by Irene Goodman
As agents, we are usually the first people in the business to see your query. That is a responsibility we take seriously. We know that golden nuggets can be found in "the slush", and that queries are the calling card. Every successful author was once knocking on doors, hoping to break in. You could be one of them. We want to help you increase your odds. Here are some simple do's and don't's:
- Do make it technically perfect. No spelling mistakes, no typos, no awkward sentences, no excuses.
- The quality of the writing should be as good as the quality of your manuscript.
- Keep it to one page, single-spaced.
- Do state right up front what kind of book it is. Don't make us guess. If it's historical fiction about an unhappy queen, say that. If it's a YA contemporary about a twerking contest, say that.
- Do state the word length. It makes a big difference. If you have written a 350,000 word tome, well, that's not good news. If you have a 31,000-word thriller, that's not good news either.
- Do mention any previously published books along with their sales records, if you have them. By this we mean real books by real publishers--not self-published or obscure presses.
- If you self-published with great success, do mention that. State your price point and how many you sold over what period of time. What is "great success"? If you sold 8,000 for 99 cents over three years, that's not going to whet any appetites. If you sold 100,000 for $3.99 in six months, now you're talking.
- Do state any publications in prestigious literary journals. But no need to tell us that you published 35 articles about electrical engineering when what you're offering is a middle grade fantasy novel about a dog who can fly.
- Do mention any relevant experience. For example, if you're an Assistant District Attorney and you wrote a legal thriller, or you work at Majesty Magazine and you wrote a novel about British royals.
- Do be active on social media. Have a web site. Get into the game early.
- You can leave out personal interests. It won't help that you play the glockenspiel or that you have a pit bull named Turbo. It's okay to briefly mention these things, especially if they are interesting--like you're a Jeopardy champion or you canoed the entire length of the Mississippi River--but they aren't selling points.
- Do customize your query for each recipient. But please avoid tailoring it too obviously because then it sounds like pandering.
- If the quality of your work is literary, say that. If it doesn't seem to fit into any genre, just say you wrote a literary novel (but you still need a description and a hook). Quite often literary fiction does fit into a genre, though. In that case you can say you have a literary women's fiction, a literary mystery, etc.
- Always include your contact info, the title, the genre, the word count, a brief description, and a hook. Example: I would like to send you LEAVE NO TRACE, a 90,000 word survival thriller about a woman who is stranded in the Australian desert with no food, little water, and only basic survival skills. She must walk 200 miles to the nearest town--if she can outsmart and evade the men who are trying to kill her. (This is an actual case--I sold that book, plucked from the slush).
- Please don't say you have a fiction novel. All novels are fiction. There is no other kind.
- Don't say you're referred by someone the agent knows, unless you are positive that the agent actually knows that person and would respect his or her opinion.
- Don't open with a question, like "What would you do if you woke up to find that your little toe was missing?"
- If some editors have already seen this, let us know which ones. If it has been turned down by 37 of them, don't tell us that. But in that case, don't send us the query! Know when to move on.
- Don't try to be too cool. Ending a query with "Your move" or "The ball's in your court" is unprofessional.
- Don't say you will be in town and would like to arrange a meeting.
- It can--and probably should--take several drafts to get all this exactly right, but it's worth it. Best of luck, and we look forward to hearing from you.