A Closer Look at Query Letters

In an earlier post “Skimming the Traditional Publishing Industry” I talked briefly about querying an agent. Now, I’ll go over this in more detail, as they are a big part of the traditional publishing process.

A query letter is a 1-page description and pitch of your work.  Your goal is to get the agent to represent your book. The agent’s job, when representing a book, is to get a good deal with a publisher. An agent is a mentor, of sorts, they will get you the hook-ups, give you feedback, and push your book to success. The agent gets money when your book sells, so they want you to succeed.

Agents don’t go around taking every book offered to them. They are picky. And they have every right to be, because they make their money off your book. So if they don’t think a book will sell well, they won’t take it. To add to that, many agents get tons of query letters everyday. In saying this, be ready for lots of rejection. Many books that went on to become New York Times Best Sellers queried tens of agents before one agreed to representation. It’s difficult to get an agent. 

The way I find agents in through Google. Search “literary agents” and lists of them will come up. On an agent’s page, they will normally talk about what they want in a book, who they represent, etc.

I like to think there are four parts to a query letter. The basic info, the personalized bit, the brief description, and the closing/contact info.

The basic info – This is the part where you say you’re looking for representation, and basically make it clear that you have written a legit book. The most important part of the basic info part is when you give your book’s title, the genre, age group/target audience, and the word count. This section is small, around a paragraph, and it comes right after the “Dear agent,.”

The personalized bit – Many agents like it when you take the time to tell them why you are seeking representation from them. Why you think your book would be a good fit with them. Agents like it when you do your research, and appreciate that you’re not simply mass producing generic query letters.

Talk about how your book fits in well with the others the agent represents. Many agents will have a list of their past clients, and what they are looking for in a book. Research these authors that the agent represents, explain how your book fits in well with them. Or, don’t do this, and talk about how your book looks just like what the agent is looking for. If your book doesn’t fit in well, explain that you think you would work well with this agent. But be honest. Don’t go saying your book fits in well when it really doesn’t.

The brief description – This is the “make it or break it” part. For this, you will describe your book in one to two paragraphs. I like to think of it being a mix between a summary, and what you would put on a book jacket. Meaning, don’t go as far as to make it cheesy like you would on a book jacket. Advertise like you would on a book jacket, but tell about the book like you would a summary. Use hooks, and intrigue the agent, but don’t leave them with a question similar to, “do you want to see if Denny makes it out alive?” Remember, you have one shot for each agent – you are pitching them your book. Make it count.

Closing/contact info – Be polite, thank the agent. Give them your contact info: Phone number, email. If they say to send some of your book along with the query, paste it below. No attachments unless specified.

I would not recommend putting in a bio about yourself, especially if you’re a first time author. Sometimes an agent will mention that they don’t mind a bio about yourself, but my general rule of thumb is “if you have nothing to show, don’t show it.”

If you’re a teen author, it is up to you weather you want to mention your age. I think that people automatically look for flaws when you give them a reason to. Plus, it will be gratifying when an agent wants to represent your book and you never mentioned your age. You know your book is legit then. I, personally, am not going to mention my age until an agent has agreed to take my book. But it’s up to you, if the agent asks for something that makes you stand out, maybe then you would want to mention your age. If you’re querying an agent who is looking for teen authors, then it would be wise to mention your age.

Happy hunting!

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