Research is devoured to make his story accurate.
First drafts pour through his fingertips as the plot thickens and the characters take on lives of their own.
The first, second, and third rewrites still hold his excitement as he tightens the story and polishes it to perfection.
Finally, with rounds of applause (most likely by one), he types “The End” and raises a glass in celebration.
Then he begins to quiver and shake in his boots. It is time for the query letter.
Nothing strikes more fear into an author than the sight of the cursor mocking the blank screen in front of him as he ponders how to condense one, two, five, maybe ten years of sweat and tears into a one-page plea to accept his work. It appears to be an insurmountable task.
So let’s break it apart and see if we can climb Mt. Everest.
Salutation: Always address your query to a specific agent, one you have researched. Be choosy and only send to agents that are currently accepting your genre. This requires checking their website to find out what they are looking for. You cannot assume that since they published one book in your genre that they are still looking for that now. Follow their guidelines to the letter. If they want a query only, do not send a chapter of your book. If they say query and synopsis, be prepared for that too. Pay very close attention to how they want things submitted, via email or postal? For email, most agents do not accept attachments and prefer everything in the body of the email. Trying to be different or “stand out” will only get you in the slush pile.
Paragraph One: The Introduction – Especially with new authors, a little butter can go a long way. A sentence of praise for one of the novels the agent recently published lets him know you have done your homework and are not sending out generic queries to every agent on the planet. Keep it brief. One to two sentences at the most.
Paragraph Two: – the Pitch – This is when you really begin to sweat. Start with a sentence that gives the title of your book, the genre and the approximate word count. Next is G.M.C. Goal, Motivation, Conflict. In twenty five words or less, include those three points to your story, basically your premise. Who needs to accomplish what in order to have blank or this terrible thing will happen. You do not have to give the resolution in the query. Save that for the synopsis (your second heart attack) This paragraph should be two to four sentences at the most. Resist the urge to expound on how you know this will be the next best seller and they would be insane not to take it.
Paragraph Three: – the Bio – If you are previously published, this is easy. Simply tell what you published, when and with whom. If you won any awards that are more noteworthy than your local writers group, say so. It won’t help to say your mother read it and thought it was great. Mom may be just a little prejudice. If you have never published before, use other points; college degrees, or specialty workshops you attended. Keep this brief; you are only trying to point out that you are actively working toward a career in writing. Do you have a large following on your website or blog? Mention the number of followers. Having a built in platform is always a plus. If you are published, this may be your longest paragraph. If not, this will probably be your shortest.
Paragraph Four: Thank the agent for their time. Include your complete contact information below your signature. That includes phone, address and email. Do not expect them to open any links to your website or blogs but it okay to include them at the bottom.
For good examples and help with query letters, there are many great resources. I like http://www.AgentQuery.com and http://queryshark.blogspot.com
Have you struggled or been successful in your queries? If you have had success with a query letter, share it. We would all love to read it.