Saturday, January 26, 2013

Query Letters 101


Today I'm talking about the ever dreaded query letter. This post is for those writers who will one day write a query letter in an effort to snag an agent, or any writer trying to hone querying skills. 

I'm writing this based on my own experience querying two YA novels and interning for an agent. I read queries for MG and YA fiction and thought since YA Stands is now holding query critiques, this may be helpful. 

Disclaimer: We are not agents/editors. There have been several agents as of late who are openly not happy about interns dolling out advice or even saying they are, in fact, an intern. I assure you, those of us at YA Stands who are interns are simply trying to share what we are learning and pay it forward. We are writers helping writers. 

Onward with some helpful advice...
A great place to start is this super simplified query letter I found a couple years ago on former agent Nathan Bransford's blog. 

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]

After many query critiques of my own and countless drafts, I'd advise to leave out if it is your first novel. To find many other helpful hints on querying, check out the rest of Mr. Bransford's blog. 

Another awesome site is Query Shark. The host/agent critiques queries sent in. Warning: It's not for the faint of heart. It's honest, straight-forward feedback on real query letters. It doesn't get any better than this!

Another thing you can add to the above query mad lib, are comparable titles. [Title of your manuscript] would appeal to fan of Anna and the French Kiss. Or [Title of your manuscript] is [television show] meets [YAnovel]. 

I tried to find a way to personalize each query letter, even if it was just a few words. It lets the agent know that you did your homework. It's not everyone's cup of tea, but that gesture fits my personality. 

*Professionalism goes a long way. 
*The average query letter is less than 300 words and pasted into the body of the email.
*Triple check the spelling of the agent's name and watch punctuation.
*Your query letter should read like the back jacket on a book. You want to entice agents. You want them to  
  HAVE to read more. 
*Your query is not a synopsis.
*You want your query to reflect the voice in your manuscript

Best of luck to you queriers out there! And remember: you took the time to write a book. Take the time to write a great query letter!

Do you have advice to share with fellow queriers? Do you have questions that us seasoned queriers could try to answer?

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Do you listen to music while writing? Does music inspire your words?

If so, All The Write Notes is for you!
Come for the music, stay for the lyrics...

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  1. Love this! Your professionalism when reading subs is noted and appreciated. :D

  2. I think the query reflecting the voice of the manuscript is extremely important. Going through the slush "pile" is a tedious and often tiresome task and the main reason is because a lot of queries LACK voice.

  3. Thanks, Risa. :D And, so far in my experience, I totally agree, Nicole!