How to Write a Kick-Butt Query Letter

7 Aug

Ok, guys. Here’s how the next few weeks are going to go.

Today we’re talking about query letters – that was the most popular question from the agent poll. (If you didn’t get a chance to put in your two cents, now is the time!) Next week we’ll talk about where to find an agent and how to know if an agent is right for you. Then we’ll touch on how to tell if an agent is reputable and whether you really need an agent.

Alrighty! Let’s get on to query letters.

A query letter has to tell an agent in three paragraphs what your story is about, and it’s got to blow their mind. Here’s how to do that.

Part One: the Opening

Start with “Dear ‘agent’s name’”. It’s tempting to send out a mass email to tons of agents, but agents like to know that you want them. (It is ok to send out query letters to multiple agents – just don’t do it in the same email. I know, I know. It’s a pain.)

Then in a sentence or two tell them the title, genre, and word count of your novel, and let them know that the complete manuscript is available. These are all things they’ll want to know before they even consider your story.

Part Two: the Meat

Time to sum up your book. You will not be able to tell them everything about your story, so focus in on what makes it unique and interesting. Try writing three or four summaries, each highlighting a different aspect of your novel, and see which one works best.

Leave them hanging. A query letter is not a synopsis, so you don’t necessarily have to tell them the end. Make them want to read more.

Write your summary in present tense, third person. DON’T deviate from this, no matter how much you want to. Agents are used to reading query letters in this format.

Keep the number of characters and new names you introduce to a minimum, 3 to 4, never over that. Let’s not confuse the agent.

Use an appropriate tone for your genre. Show them that you know how to write! Your query should use a voice like the tone of your book. If you’re worried about this with the present tense, third person thing, write your query letter in first person in the voice of one of your characters. Then go back and switch all the pronouns and things so that it’s in third person.

Part Three: the Ending

Now you’ve just got to tell the agent of any writing experience you have. I know this is tough, especially for first-time authors. Keep in mind that this section doesn’t have to be long or impressive. Your story is the most important factor in catching an agent’s attention.

Highlight any writing education you have. Got a writing degree? If not, I’m sure you’ve taken some writing classes. You can also mention any other education you’ve got that will pertain to your story. You have a character who’s a doctor, and you’ve got a PhD? Add that. If not, leave it out! They won’t care what education you have if it doesn’t have to do with your story.

Talk about any contests you’ve won and any previous publications you’ve had. Have you published a short story? Have you self-published?

To close, say why you think this agent would be a good fit for your story. Mention that you’ve looked at their site and know that they are looking for books in your genre.

Last, thank them for their time.

This is a little scary for me, but below is my query letter that I’m sending out to agents right now. Take a look at it. See how I’ve put these things into practice. Please comment with your suggestions!

Dear (Agent’s Name),

Bonded is a YA Sci-Fi, complete at 52,000 words. The full manuscript is available upon request.

Shalayn and Heem were born Bonded, linked telepathically, something that’s never happened before. No one can figure out why.

They’re going to the school where people learn to make the Bond, since they want to get better at using it. The only thing is, normally people make the Bond when they graduate, where they choose their Bonding partner and… marry them.

Heem and Shalayn aren’t married, of course, but when everyone else who’s Bonded is married… it’s not exactly easy for them to make friends.

Shalayn doesn’t know if she has to marry Heem or what. Plus, there’s this really cute guy in one of her classes.

Sometimes Shalayn wonders if she might be more popular… more accepted… if it wasn’t for Heem. She feels terrible for thinking that, and she has to keep those thoughts buried down deep so they never slip through the Bond.

What would Heem think if he knew Shalayn had a crush on another guy?

And then there’s Enemar Melevrin. He’s not Bonded, but he can do everything someone who’s Bonded can and more. He can take over people’s minds and turn them to his side or stop their heart. And he just escaped from prison.

Enemar hates the Bonding school, and he’s going to try to get revenge. When Enemar finds out that Shalayn and Heem are Bonded at such a young age, he begins to wonder if they might be the only ones powerful enough to stop him.

They are his next targets.

I took a writing course from Brandon Sanderson, #1 New York Times Best-Selling Author, who critiqued parts of Bonded. He loved the voice and the characters, and I hope you enjoy them, too. Bonded is a stand-alone novel but has series potential.

I feel that Bonded would fit well with you since you like YA and science fiction. Thank you so much for your time. I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,

Jessica Flory

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7 Responses to “How to Write a Kick-Butt Query Letter”

  1. Pinar Tarhan August 8, 2013 at 5:36 pm #

    Great checklist with impeccable timing! I need to put together a list of relevant publishers and agents after finishing my novel (as in making the finished manuscript ready to submit), and I’ll so go over this list before sending those crucial emails. 🙂

    P.S. The basics in your post also covers query letters to studios, magazine editor and others.

    • Jessica Flory August 8, 2013 at 6:08 pm #

      Awesome! Thanks, Pinar. So glad I could be of help! Congrats on finishing your novel. That in itself is a huge accomplishment!

      • Pinar Tarhan August 8, 2013 at 6:13 pm #

        Thanks. It still have to work a lot on it though… : )

  2. Jessica Flory August 8, 2013 at 7:02 pm #

    Well, good luck! Sounds like it’s coming along 🙂

  3. Jevon August 13, 2013 at 9:34 am #

    Good points. You have the pitch in part two, but what about the hook in part one? You should be able to describe your story in one line in a way that would grab the agent’s attention.

    Different agents also like different things, like including the name, genre, and word count in the subject, or inserting a synopsis in the body of the email, so always read the submissions guidelines.

    I think your pitch goes into too much detail between paragraphs 2 and 7.

    • Jessica Flory August 13, 2013 at 4:07 pm #

      Thanks so much for your thoughts, Jevon! Your comments are very much appreciated, and I will definitely incorporate them into my query.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Is this Agent Reputable? Do I Really Need an Agent? | Story Tips - August 21, 2013

    […] is the last post in the literary agent series, and here you can read about query letters and finding an agent if you missed […]

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