Writing the Perfect Query, Again

DiceAs summer ends and thoughts of autumn come to mind I take a page from Heather’s blog. Having worked in the education field for thirty-three years and been a student for nearly my entire life before that, I always think of September as a time of beginnings. I’ve just finished a new novel and know it’s time to take it shopping. Like so many of you, I’ve had my share of rejection and almost acceptance; an agent who’s enthusiastic about representing me, only later to put me on hold. I’m seriously considering an indie press and self-publishing and may soon travel down those bumpy roads.

My stomach is tied in knots just thinking about writing new queries. I really detest it. I don’t like that you have to schmooze the agent, looking up things about her to use as a lure to get her to read your letter, stroking her ego to get her attention. I’m all about the project. It’s either good or it isn’t, it sounds intriguing and unique, or it doesn’t.

When I see some of the stuff that gets published, I often frown. Snooky wrote a novel? Seriously? Wendy Williams wrote an erotic novel, even Al Roker wrote a mystery. Kathy Lee Gifford writes children’s book and Cool J wrote a workout book. When did people start confusing their profession? Models can’t work as much because actresses/actors have stolen a major chunk of the ads/commercials for fashion and makeup in magazines and on TV. Actors and actresses and reality TV stars write novels. Even more irritating is that fact that 99% of the time they use a friggin’ ghost writer anyway! Okay, I’ll tone it down. Some of them might actually be proficient writers.

You’re probably telling me to take my own advice. And you’d be sorta right. I had a successful career, I’m financially independent and won’t have to worry in old age, but I’ve openly admitted on many occasions that I’m not in this to make money. If it happens, well that would be wonderful and I’d find some worthy cause to spend my millions on. A girl can dream…

Anyway, I’m running a refresher post of my own on how to write an effective query.

The Dos and Don’ts for Writing a Query Letter

  • Do read the submission requirements for each agent carefully. The formula varies for each agent-agency.
  • Do stick to the rules. The format for queries is different depending on what type of book you wrote (novel, nonfiction, poetry, etc.) Know it. Get rejected on the work, not because you didn’t follow the guidelines.
  • Do address the agent by name and use business letter format.
  • Do keep your query to a single page.
  • Do start with the pitch. I always led with my introduction, now I begin with the hook.
  • Do tell the agent why you chose her. Do you follow her blog? (Which I highly recommend.) Did you see her speak at a conference? Find something you have in common or cite a book she’s championed as one of your faves.
  • Do state your platform if you have one. Do you have a blog with 20,000 subscribers or a Twitter account with a significant following? If you don’t then don’t mention it at all. This ties in with selling your novel. You will be more attractive for marketing if you’ve already amassed an audience.
  • Don’t brag that you have the next bestseller or a book that will earn a mega million-dollar movie deal. Be humble and ask for their guidance.
  • Don’t include your age; it can only lead to bias.
  • Do thank the agent for her consideration. All business letters usually end with a customary thank you, don’t skip it here.
  • Don’t follow up with an email asking if she’s had a chance to read your query. Following up when interviewing for a job is good practice, but with a query- you’re either going to get their attention and get a response or not.
  • Don’t include writing credentials that aren’t meaningful. You won the poetry contest in 11th grade? Leave it out.
  • My last piece of advice is the most important: Study other successful query letters. Tons are available online. Try Query Shark for tips or Successful Queries for sixty examples of winning letters.

Now that we know how to write the perfect query, I just hope I can stand to take my own advice. Maybe this time’s the charm.

A little luck wouldn’t hurt either…

Author: Caryn McGill

Caryn is a former high school science teacher, school district administrator and adjunct college professor.

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