Query, query they aren’t all contrary.

You’ll never guess where I am right now. Well, if you follow me on social media you may be able to guess since I posted a picture of it. haha

It is February 6 and I am currently poolside watching my fellas enjoy their first pool day of the year! Can I just tell you how much I love living in Arizona? We moved here last summer so I could take the bar exam and become a licensed lawyer in this wonderful state. As a transplant of Chicago, the winters were something I just had to get away from! Looking at the weather for back in Illinois right now, I can see I made a wise decision! My two little fish seem to love it too.

Speaking of other news that may make you jealous, 🙂 my guest interview for next week is going to be amazing! It is with the wonderful editor Ellen Brock who has graciously offered to assist me with my query letter! I can’t tell you how excited I am and how honored that she has agreed to help me. Stay tuned for more details, she will be documenting the whole process on her site and I will give you all the details once I know them. So check back on Wednesday to read her interview (which is extremely enlightening) and also the next couple weeks to hear more behind the scenes glimpses of the query letter process.

I thought I’d take the time in this post to write about what I know so far about query letters. It will be very interesting to see how close to the mark I get after the fabulous Ellen Brock looks over my rough draft. I have done quite a bit of research on the topic (I like to be prepared) so I will share a bit about what I’ve learned.

First let me start by explaining what a query letter is, for those of you who may not know. For a writer hoping to be published in the traditional manner (aka not self-publishing) a query letter is what you send either to a literary agent or directly to a publisher telling them about your manuscript and a little about yourself as well. Most agents and publishers receive so many requests from authors to publish their stories that they simply do not have time to read all the manuscripts that come to them. To help them cull the field, most now ask for query letters. This extra hurdle for writers has now become an integral part of traditional publishing.

Now that we know what a query letter is, let’s discuss the various aspects of it. I will be writing about querying agents but the word agent can be easily interchanged with publisher so don’t tune me out if you’re querying straight to a publisher. Just insert the word publisher where you see the word agent and Bob’s your uncle.

Each agent will have their own requirements for querying and it is essential for you to follow their rules. They may want a one page, double spaced synopsis along with your query letter. Give them exactly that. They see so many of these querying packets that you don’t want to be thrown out of their TBR (to be read) pile just because you couldn’t follow their directions. That would be heartbreaking! Some agents won’t have instructions for every little thing, if they don’t tell you what to do for a certain area, then you just do what you think is best. Just be sure that everything your write is respectful, exciting and free of errors! While it’s true an agent may overlook spelling and grammar errors if your story sounds utterly intriguing, it’s highly likely that they have a plethora of other intriguing pitches where the author spelled all their words correctly. Which writer do you think the agent will go with?

I encourage you to do what I did, look around for examples of query letters. There are many out there on the vast World Wide Web. Just be sure the source isn’t Joe-Bob writer who wrote his letter twelve years ago and still hasn’t landed an agent.

The letter is a one page description of why an agent should take the chance to help you get your manuscript published. You are mostly selling your work but you are also selling yourself (as you will see a bit later). If you look at query letter samples you will see that there are some items that can be found in all of them. There are some general items that you should almost always include and I will discuss them below.

You’ll see that most of them start with the name and address of the agent they are querying (just like a normal business letter might). Then comes the “Dear Mr./Ms./Mrs. So-and-so.” Query to a specific person if you are submitting to an agent. A “To whom it may concern” is a quick way to have your letter tossed. They want to know you’ve done your homework and that you know who you’re talking to.

A few personal details that you’ve learned about the agent can be helpful too. Do a little research on them (maybe following them on social media) and you can pick up some relevant tidbits to mention. This shows a genuine desire to be represented by that particular agent and they are more likely to pay attention to the rest of what you have to say. I’m not saying to stalk the poor agent. There shouldn’t be anything about how you liked the red shirt they wore that day when you followed them to the coffee shop or something. You don’t want to be a creeper. Make sure your tidbits are literary related and nothing that required an FBI wiretap to discover.

In your letter, you also want to give certain specifics of your manuscript, such as a working title, word length (not page length because that doesn’t really give an accurate account of the length), and the genre your book falls under. Some people put this information at the beginning of the letter, some put it at the end. This is generally up to you, UNLESS the agent gives instructions otherwise.

The bulk of your letter should be about your manuscript. It needs to be attention grabbing. You have one or two paragraphs to get the agent hooked on your story. This is the hardest part of the query letter and if you don’t agonize over it, then you aren’t doing it right. This will be the majority of where you spend your time. If you thought writing a synopsis was hard, just wait! You are pinning all your hopes and dreams on these few short paragraphs. I know that sounds a bit melodramatic but it’s still true. Have people you trust read over these paragraphs again and again. You need to have enough information to give them a sense of your plot but you also want them to become invested in the character(s) of your story. This is extremely difficult to do in a paragraph or two so give this part some serious, serious thought.

Finally, you typically include some information about yourself.

Relevant information to include: literary awards you’ve achieved; if you have had work published before; life experiences/education THAT DIRECTLY RELATE TO WHAT YOU’RE WRITING ABOUT.

Information that you SHOULD NOT include: that your mother read your book and liked it; awards you’ve received from places like you’re small town’s garden club made up of 10 members; life experiences/education that has nothing to do with your subject matter. For instance, in my case, it’s really great that I used to be a youth pastor or that I’m currently a licensed attorney but I won’t be including that in my query letter. It has nothing to do with my story about teenagers who have to save the world from a group of people that have control over the minds of every adult on the planet. Now if I were writing a book about religion or a courtroom drama then I would include those facts, make sense? Good, I knew you were all smart cookies!

So what about the brand, spanking new authors that have never published before and don’t have any notable life experiences/education to put in their bio sections? Well, first let me welcome you to the club, we’ve got t-shirts. Like me, your bio section will be very brief. You can mention that your manuscript is finished (I highly recommend you don’t query without a completed novel if this is your first time publishing). And mention anything you can bring to the table that makes you more marketable as an author. Otherwise keep it short and sweet and make sure your paragraph(s) about your manuscript are really amazing!

The ending should always include your gratitude for their time and consideration and of course your signature.

These are just the generalities of what typically goes into a query letter. It is in no way a complete list of every little detail, those details you will have to glean from the directions of the agent themselves and from experience. If your letter fails to attract any agents in your first round of querying, that’s a good sign that your letter needs more work. If that happens, do some more research, find some letters that have successfully landed the writer an agent recently (trends change so make sure you’re looking at the most recent letters you can find). You’ll see what works and hopefully that will give you some new ideas for things to try.

I wish you all the luck, for those of you who are going to go the querying route. For those of you who are just reading this because you enjoy my sparkling personality or because you’re related to me, I hope this was interesting to see all the work it takes behind the scenes to get a book published. Thanks for joining me this week, I can’t wait to talk with you all again next week.

Until we meet again!

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