TERRY ANN MARSH
From Premise to Published: The Query Letter
Along with your manuscript submission, you will need to send a query letter. This is the who, what, and why of your submission. A lot of attention should be paid to your query letter, as it is the first thing an editor/agent will read.
Once again, I will say, as I have said in previous blogs, books and books have been written about this subject. There is plenty of material online as well. I’m going to give you the bare bones of what it is and what it’s for - you can take it from there.
The best explanation I have heard concerning a query letter is that it consists of: the hook, book, look, and cook. And the best advice I can give you when defining these things, is write well and be succinct. Considering the editor/agent will most likely have to sift through hundreds, maybe thousands, of submissions in a year, keeping your well-written query letter short and sweet and to the point is a good way to start a relationship with them.
A couple of lines to explain the essence of your book. Another term for it -- the elevator pitch. What would you say in 30 seconds to an agent to capture their interest about your manuscript? It’s a lot of pressure to put on a few sentences, so take your time. I’ve read several books and articles about query letters, and I found it helpful to look at examples of the good, the bad and the ugly.
A paragraph or two giving a few more details about your book. I’m hoping my hook got their attention and now, I want to further entice them with a few interesting tidbits about my story that hopefully makes them want to read more. Brevity is the key. Enough information to give a good idea of what to expect, but not so much that you give away all the secrets.
This is the “What shelf does my book belong on in the library?” part of the letter. You will have to research, or be very well acquainted with the publishing industry, so you can tell the editor/agent which other books your book is most like. Is it a sci-fi mystery like Blade Runner? Or is it a cozy, intricately woven mystery reminiscent of an Agatha Christie novel?
Editors and agents need to know some specifics about who would be the most interested in your book and they gather that info by looking at the other books within the same genre. In other words, what book is your book going to cozy up to on the Barnes and Noble shelf?
This is you! A brief bio. If you’re just starting, it’s okay. As with any resume, you put your best foot forward. Is your book about something you are well-versed in? Did you write a picture book about trains and you’ve been a collector since childhood? You have some authority there, so mention it. I was a children’s entertainer for over 20 years. I absolutely mention that experience as well as the contacts I have made in schools and libraries over the years.
Keep in mind that your query letter is the first thing an agent/editor is going to read from you.
I went back and looked at some of my earlier attempts at query letters, and I blush! Not well written...not the right kind of information... and oh, the typos! I even tried to be funny once and write in the voice of the main character. I blushed harder (I’m Irish—it happens).
So, take it from me, and hundreds of others who would tell you the same thing if they could - put some thought and time into the query letter. Find a book or website and read examples of the good, the bad, and the ugly. Maybe you’ll find one of mine in the chapter “What Not To Do In A Query Letter.”
I’m already blushing.