Tag Archives: query letter

Just how important are those dang query letters? What do I really want to see in them?

Those dang query letters are important. They are my introduction to you and your work (unless I already know you). If I’m struggling through reading your query letter, I’m probably not going to keep scrolling down to read your manuscript. I’ll just cut my losses and reply with a pass. I know you don’t want to hear that. But it’s true.

A good query letter will do its job and pique my interest. It will invite and entice me to read your manuscript. It will put your work in a context. It will intrigue me and perhaps even make me want to Google you.

This is what I want to see in your query letter:

  • that you take your writing seriously and professionally
  • that you’ve done your homework and know what should be included in a query letter… and what should not.
  • that you’re following my submission guidelines, which you can find many places, including on my agency website and here on the blog
  • that you’re not being weird or cute in the query (except normal weirdness or cuteness) because a query is a business letter
  • that you understand what an agent does and does not do (i.e. I don’t publish your book. You don’t hire me.)

The above are general things I want to see. I’m not getting specific, because I feel like I’ve talked about query letters a whole bunch here on the blog. Like here. Here. Here. And here (I got a lot of pushback on this one. People didn’t like my tone.)

Do you have questions about queries? I’m happy to answer questions!

And now, because I always put pictures in my posts, here’s a post of my new typewriter. I bought it this past weekend for no reason whatsoever at all except that one can’t have too many typewriters. Right?

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Query Letters: Three Basic Things


 

A query letter is a business letter. Writing may be art but publishing is a business. As a writer you are the creator of a potentially sellable product. Being too weird or unprofessional in your query letter can lessen the chance that you will get your work noticed, published, on bookstore shelves, and into the hands of readers. It’s ok to have personality, be interesting and inventive and perhaps a bit funny. And it’s ok for your work to be weird. Just keep the weird out of  your query letter. And remember to check for typos, as that’s part of being professional.

The whole point of a query letter is to get someone to read your manuscript. That means you don’t need to describe every little thing that happens in the plot, or name all the characters, or give away the big secret, or say how it all works out in the end. Unless giving away the big secret will be the thing in your letter that gets someone to read your manuscript… It’s way more important to write an enticing query letter than to spell everything out.

A query letter shouldn’t run longer than one typed page (even though it’s usually an email). Figure on double spaced, 12 point font, 1″ margins. Think 3 or 4 shortish paragraphs. An introductory paragraph with a pitch or a logline, a short synopsis (preferably without spoilers), and a bio with only relevant information. Don’t overthink this but do polish it to a high shine.

There are many places where you can get more detailed information about how to write a query, including lots of past posts on this blog. There are books on writing queries, workshops and breakout sessions at writing conferences, and more places online than I have time to link to. Just try a Google search. And good luck!

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Three Reasons I Reject Queries

detective21. Submissions for genres I don’t represent

I know you think I’m cool (I’m really not). Or you read something about me that makes you think I’d be the perfect person to have as an agent. But the truth is that if I don’t read and represent the kind of book that you wrote, I’m just going to reject your query. I’m not really sorry about that either. You see, when you have an agent you want them to totally love your work, to get it, to be able to make editorial suggestions to you because you’re on the same page and to go to the ends of the earth to sell it. When someone sends me a thriller, a horror story, paranormal romance, a mystery, I just want to get on a bus, go to their house and shake them! Look on my agency website or this blog to see what I’m looking for! Why can’t you do that? Ok, so I said I might like a cozy mystery, if it was really quirky. Glomming onto the word mystery and sending me your mystery manuscript, when it’s neither quirky nor cozy is just being a dumb-ass.

2. Not knowing who I am

I know I’m not famous. I know I’m new to this agent game. I know it’s scary to send your work out into the world to be read by someone you don’t know. But you need to at least know my friggin’ name. If you send me a query letter that starts out, “Dear Agent,” “To whom it may concern,” or even worse, just begins by blabbering at me with no salutation at all, I just don’t start out inclined to read whatever’s coming next. Of course the worst thing you can do is open your query letter with, “Dear Michelle.” Or anyone else’s name that isn’t mine. Seriously, people.

3. Being too weird or too familiar

A query letter is a business letter. I’m kind of weird myself, so I have a little bit of room for weirdness. You can be creative in a business letter. But when I get weird queries or ones that I have to take a deep breath and focus focus focus on to understand what they are even saying, I invariably just reject them. I don’t have time for this! I have a gazillion other queries to read! And you know what? I’m not your friend. You don’t know me, no matter what you might have read about me. We might get to be friendly, if I represent you. But for now, just write your query like you’re writing to an insurance company trying to get them to cover something they don’t usually cover. You wouldn’t be cutesy. You wouldn’t start rambling about unrelated things. If you were smart, you wouldn’t try to bully them or threaten them either, because that never works. (You’d be surprised at some of the nasty follow-up e-mails I’ve gotten after I’ve politely rejected someone’s manuscript. And then the writer still thinks I might represent them!)

I’m in this business because I love books and reading, writing and working with writers… I’m not your friend or the enemy and I’m also not a plumber you’re trying to hire. Writers, please do your homework before sending out queries and then be professional and polite.

(This blog post was originally posted here in 2011, but is still absolutely relevant and true.)

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