FORMULA FOR A QUERY LETTER
First things first:
A query letter is a BUSINESS LETTER.
The PURPOSE is to entice an agent to request your full manuscript.
If you can, show your personality and the personality of your ms in the query letter.
Research agents! (click on the link to find out how)
- Send your query ONLY to agents who represent what you write.
- DO NOT query on a book that is not complete.
Dear Mr./Ms. (name one agent! spell their name correctly.)
There are 2 schools of thought on how to write the 1st paragraph:
1-Some agents want you to jump right into the synopsis of your story.
2- I, along with many other agents, prefer to know why you are querying me upfront. If you are querying this type of agent, in the first paragraph include short, precise and true reason(s) you are querying a particular agent. Research agents to not only find out if they are a good fit for you but also so you can tell them why you are querying them.
In the 2nd and possibly 3rd paragraph, write a short--3 to 10 sentence synopsis of your story.
Here is how:
The query synopsis is not a plot play-by-play. IT IS A SALES PIECE. The easiest way to get started is to imagine someone asks you..."What is your book about?"
In TITLE, X-year-old Main Character needs to (define problem) before (obstacles).
Now not all your stories will fit into this neat sentence--mine didn’t--but you get the idea.
All info upfront. Agents want to know:
-the title of your manuscript-
-if you are querying on a pb, cb, mg, ya, etc.,
-genre: is it a fantasy, contemporary, dystopian, romance, tear-jerker, etc,
-the age of your main character,
-what is the mc’s problem,
-and if important, the setting.
Here is an example from my query for TWIN SISTER: I AM NOT YOU (unfortunately I now know that this book needs a lot of work and I am not sure I will ever finish it so I will share the query synopsis with you here):
In TWIN SISTER: I AM NOT YOU, Gina is a seventeen year old grappling with the death of her special-needs twin sister, her parents’ over-the-top expectations, and her boyfriend’s desire to smother her with love. We meet Gina just as her mother finds out she’s been sleeping with Steven. However when Gina realizes that her mother is not upset because Gina is ‘compromising’ herself, but is blinded by the fear that Gina is putting herself at risk for becoming pregnant with a special-needs child, Gina’s past, present and future collide. In 2004, TWIN SISTER: I AM NOT YOU won a Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) Work-in-Progress Honorary Mention.
Paragraph about you
Next is the ‘who are you’ paragraph. Agents really vary on what they want to see here. I like to see whatever you think is important about who you are. Others do not want to know that you train lemurs as a hobby. But, in general:
-mention any previously published work. If you are naming books, make sure to name the publishers and year of publication. It drives me nuts to have to look up so-called previously published books only to find out they are self-published. Self-published is not published, it is you getting your book printed. If you have sold 10,000 copies or more, then mention a self-published book.
-yes, magazine publications count, esp if they are Highlights or Cricket mags. But little known e-zines really don’t make much difference.
- Mention any legitimate awards and honors for your work.
-if you have an MFA, mention it.
-Writing a book on ancient Greece and happen to be a anthropologist who worked in Greece, mention it. You get the idea....
-I know some people don’t care if you have dogs or kids or zebras, I like that info....so research each agent to find out what they want to hear.
-don’t mention your kids/grandkids/neighbor kids love your book. Are they going to stand up and tell you they don’t? Doubt it.
-don’t mention which agents/editors have turned you down and then quote their rejections. Even if they are glowing, they are still rejections. Plus, their opinion may vary greatly from the agent you are querying.
-Mention relevant memberships: SCBWI, RWA, etc. It shows you are active and learning.
Keep it simple---Thank you for your time and consideration.
Good luck! Now go forth and query!
The amazing polymer pictured above was created by Herman Agency client Doreen Gay-Kassel. Click HERE to see her stunning portfolio and HERE to view her wonderful picture books.