Wednesday, October 17

Query Letters: How To Write Them And Who To Send Them To

Query letters, summaries, tag lines, blurbs: sometimes I think this kind of writing is as hard as writing a novel!

Fortunately there are writers like Chuck Sambuchino willing to lend a helping hand. He writes:
When contacting agents, the query process isn’t as simple as “Just keep e-mailing until something good happens.” There are ins, outs, strange situations, unclear scenarios, and plenty of what-have-you that block the road to signing with a rep.
Chuck Sambuchino mentions agents, but query letters can be sent to editors too. Though there are fantastic agents there are also a bushel-load of not very good ones and these days it is possible to have a career as a writer without an agent. If you'd like to read more about this, here are a few great articles on the subject:

Dodging the Agent Bullet and Agents, by Laura Resnick
Deal Breakers 2012 by Kris Rusch,
Agent Fail by Joe Konrath
But Why Would You… Ever Need an Agent in this New World? and Agents by Dean Wesley Smith

Okay, on to the good stuff! Here are Mr. Sambuchino's first four questions and answers about query letters:
1. Can you query multiple agents at the same agency?

Generally, no. A rejection from one usually means a rejection from the entire agency. If you query one agent and she thinks the work isn’t right for her but still has promise, she will pass it on to fellow agents in the office who can review it themselves. Agents work together like that.

2. Can you re-query an agent after she rejects you?

You can, though I’d say you have about a 50/50 shot of getting your work read. Some agents seem to be more than open to reviewing a work if it’s been overhauled or undergone serious edits. Other agents, meanwhile, believe that a no is a no—period. So, in other words, you really don’t know, so you might as well just query away and hope for the best.

3. Do you need to query conservative agent for a conservative book? A liberal agent for a liberal book?

I asked a few agents this question and some said they were willing to take on any political slant if the book was well written and the author had platform. A few agents, on the other hand, said they needed to be on the same page politically with the author for a political/religious book, and would only take on books they agreed with. Bottom line: Some will be open-minded; some won’t. Look for reps who have taken on books similar to yours, and feel free to query other agents, too. The worst any agent can say is no.

4. Should you mention your age in a query? Do agents have a bias against older writers and teenagers?

I’m not sure any good can come from mentioning your age in a query. Usually the people who ask this question are younger than 20 or older than 70. Concerning an age bias, I would say some agents may be hesitant to sign older writers because reps are looking for career clients, not simply individuals with one memoir/book to sell. If you’re older, write multiple books to convince an agent that you have several projects in you … and don’t mention your age in the query to be safe.
Excellent advice! Read the rest of Chuck Sambuchino's article here: 9 Frequently Asked Questions About Query Letters. Thanks to Elizabeth S. Craig for tweeting a link to Chuck's article.

Another person with loads of marvelous information on how to write a query letter is former agent Nathan Bransford. Here are links to a few of his articles on the subject:
- How to Write a Query Letter
- How To Format a Query Letter
- Example of a Good Query Letter
- Example of a Good Query Letter II
- Example of a Good Query Letter III
- Holiday Cheer: Anatomy of a Really Bad Query Letter
- My Query Letter for JACOB WONDERBAR

If you don't read any other article about writing a query letter, read this one: Query Letter Mad Lib. In it Nathan gives a template for writing query letters. He writes:
Well, we're going to play query letter mad lib today. Here's how it works.

First I'm going to need these things:

[Agent name], [genre], [personalized tidbit about agent], [title], [word count], [protagonist name], [description of protagonist], [setting], [complicating incident], [verb], [villain], [protagonist's quest], [protagonist's goal], [author's credits (optional)], [your name]

Now, look how your query turns out:

Dear [Agent name],

I chose to submit to you because of your wonderful taste in [genre], and because you [personalized tidbit about agent].

[protagonist name] is a [description of protagonist] living in [setting]. But when [complicating incident], [protagonist name] must [protagonist's quest] and [verb] [villain] in order to [protagonist's goal].

[title] is a [word count] work of [genre]. I am the author of [author's credits (optional)], and this is my first novel.

Thank you for your time, and I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Best wishes,
[your name]
Best of luck writing your query letter! :-)

Other articles you might like:
- Query Tracker: Keep Track Of Your Stories
- Indie vs. Traditional Publishing, Which Should You Choose?
- How To Sell 100 Books Per Day: 6 Things You Need To Do

Photo credit: davide vizzini

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