Query Letter Tips and Tricks

Posted: August 12, 2014 in Uncategorized

“We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.”
—Ernest Hemingway

So you’ve written your great novel, novella, manuscript, or whatever else. So now what? If you want to get a literary agent or publishing house interested in publishing your work you need to write a query letter. A query letter is formal letter that writers send out to garner interest in their work. In my opinion the query letter contents are just AS important as the content of your writing. If you do not want to go the self-publishing route, then you need to write a gripping and informative query letter to grab interest in your book. Within the query letter there should be three separate but distinct sections:

  1. First paragraph- Brief overview of your book and audience

In the first paragraph you should introduce your book, briefly, and the target audience you hope to reach. Make sure you include the title (in all CAPS), the genre and sub-genre, the word count and one to two lines describing the heart of the book. If you have a log-line for your work already then you should include it in this paragraph. The log-line of a book conveys the premise but also makes the reader invested in the book in only a couple of sentences.

  1. Second paragraph- Full book blurb or synopsis

In the second paragraph of your query letter you need to put the full synopsis of your book. When introducing the names of your characters for the first time use all CAPS as well. If you want to add a small part at the bottom to compare your novel to other well-known novels, you can. However, if you choose to do this you need to make sure you compare to well received and well known novels. It won’t help your case to say that your book is just like some unknown self-published book that no one’s heard of. Use books that are well known within that genre such as Twilight, The Hunger Games, Harry Potter, 50 Shades of Grey or Game of Thrones. Whatever your genre, find a book that you can parallel your book to so they understand the type of manuscript you would like to send them.

  1. Third paragraph- your information and accolades

This last paragraph is reserved for information about yourself. This does not mean include your life history. The only information you should have in this paragraph needs to involve your history with writing. List any previously published works such as novels or articles. DO NOT include personal facts about yourself such as being a stay at home mom, your family, or anything else that doesn’t reflect a past writing history.

These three paragraphs contain the only information that a literary agent or publisher will be interested in and you will most likely have to write and rewrite this letter a couple of times until it flows well. One website I recommend using when you’re ready to send out a query letter is querytracker.net. With this website you have access to information about contacting hundreds of literary agents and publishers. You can narrow the search down by genre or by percentage of those who approve or decline manuscripts. But, before you send anyone your manuscript, make sure you check their website and find out exactly what each literary agent or publisher is looking for.

 

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It is perfectly okay to write garbage—as long as you edit brilliantly.

– C. J. Cherryh

The most important part of writing a book is to just start writing. It doesn’t matter what you’re writing as long as something appears on the computer, paper, parchment, graffiti on the side of a building, spray painted on an overpass…whatever the medium; just start writing. I found that the entire process is very organic. I searched through multiple search engines to find out how writers start writing a book before I figured out that I have to figure out what works for me. One item I read said that you should make out an outline in advance to each chapter so you know what you’re planning and what needs to be happening. I attempted to do this with disastrous results. For me, writing is an organic process. As I write one sentence the next sentence would pop into my head. Whether or not each sentence or paragraph ended up being a pearl of wisdom was irrelevant. At least I was putting to paper what was in my head.

  1. ‘Picturing’ your characters 

I spent a lot of time on Google Images, looking for pictures of people that match what my idea of a perfect male and female MC (main character) would be. When I found what I wanted I saved them so I could pull up their images when I might need to describe them. This means that if the pictures you have show someone with a freckle on their left cheek, then you should always keep it in there otherwise you may forget that you chose not to add it. While writing my book I kept going back and forth describing the male MC’s hair as either dark or black because I kept forgetting to check my pictures.

  1. Listing the stats 

Making a Word doc that contains the information on each individual character is also a good way to keep their specifics in mind. With most of mine I put down their basic stats (height, weight, eye color). But I also put added information such as nicknames, background stories and any other thing I might want to remember about them that makes them unique. With each added characteristic you give your character more dimension and depth and soon they become real people to you. When you care about the characters then your readers will care about them.

  1. Subscribe to writing groups

Writing groups are a good resource for those of us who aren’t sure about where your story is going or if you are giving the reader the chance they need to become involved with the characters. With these writing groups you will be able to have your work critiqued by people who are also attempting to write a novel. Never underestimate what a fresh set of eyes will catch that you never noticed. Some writing groups that I recommend are Scribophile, Critique Circle, or Writers Cafe.

  1. Research, Research, Research

You will always need to research something within your book. Even if the whole book takes place in present time in your living room, you will still need to do some research to ensure that your book is as accurate as possible. Google Earth can be a life saver if you have a setting in a different area anywhere in the world. You can use the street view to make the location as vivid as possible for your readers. Even if you see these places (such as New York City) on movies and TV shows all the time, it doesn’t mean you actually know what they look like. And before you buy a plane ticket to ‘scout it out’, that is also unnecessary. It’s still your book and you can have some literary license. If you know anyone that lives in the area you should attempt to get some information from them as well.