#TheWriteWay Post 5: Query Letter Tips
Hi all, and welcome to August!
I can't believe we're eight months into 2020. This year has been upside down. I also want to send my heart to the people of Beirut, Lebanon, after that awful explosion. Canada has a big Lebanese population so I mourn with them.
For my fifth episode of #TheWriteWay, I thought I'd talk about something new writers struggle with: writing a query letter.
To get a literary agent, you have to write a query letter. It can be tricky, but I'm here to offer some tips! Take a look at my query that got me my fabulous agent:
"Dear Literary Agent,
Sixteen-year-old heiress Jessica Prince flies to Milan to see the show of an up-and-coming fashion designer…but someone calling themselves the Crimson Caper is out for revenge. I am querying you because you mentioned that you like mystery, teen fiction, and sabotage.
Jessica Prince, the niece of billionaire businessman Henry Prince, goes with her uncle to Milan to see Carla Valentine, an old flame of Henry’s and a popular new fashion designer. But the night of the show, the lead model is hurt, the lights go out, and a threatening note is left behind. Worst of all, Jessica sees a person in a red trench coat – the Crimson Caper - who seems to be out to destroy Carla’s life if she won’t quit fashion.
With only her trusty notebook and love of mystery novels, Jessica sets out to solve the crime. But as she delves deeper, she realizes there’s more going on beneath the surface and she can’t trust anyone. When Uncle Henry is framed and arrested for the sabotage, Jessica must rely on her intuition and observational skills before she loses her uncle forever…
I am an author from Canada. I have a young adult fantasy trilogy being traditionally published by Fire and Ice in the spring of 2020. I also won a Writing Scholarship to the Vancouver Film School, given to me by actor and director Kevin Smith. My young adult mystery novel, JESSICA PRINCE AND THE CRIMSON CAPER, is complete at 81,307 words. Comparable titles include The Hidden Staircase by Carolyn Keene, Two Can Keep a Secret by Karen M. McManus, and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime by Mark Haddon. It is also inspired by Veronica Mars and Murder, She Wrote, and will be a teen detective series.
Thank you for your time and consideration. I have included the first five pages below and look forward to hearing from you.
Let's dissect it, shall we?
Before you start: Do your research.
This is SO important. Do your research into agents and literary agencies. Make sure they're reputable, then ensure they represent what you write. (It wouldn't be a good idea to query a literary agent looking for sweet romance novels with your gory horror novel.) Websites like ManuscriptWishList.com and QueryTracker are good places to start. Google is your friend!
Also: Make sure your novel is ready.
Your novel should be finished. Never query with a first draft -- every novel needs editing, often several rounds. Get a friend or trusted family member to read it over not just for typos but also plot holes and inconsistencies. Grammarly and HemingwayEditor can help with grammar. Also make sure you have an appropriate word count.
Always consult the agency website.
Different literary agents like different things. Some may require you to use QueryManager to submit your queries, others prefer email. Always make sure to follow the instructions to the letter. You don't want them to automatically reject you.
Finally: A query letter shouldn't be longer than a page in Microsoft Word. Write it in Times New Roman 12 point font. Get to the point right away.
Step one: NEVER write "Dear Literary Agent".
Agents hate it. Always make sure you address it to their first and last name, with no typos. (That's just embarrassing.) It's best not to use "Mr." or "Mrs." either, just in case you offend someone. Stick to their name. I know I wrote Dear Literary Agent above, but that was just an example and not what I used in the email. I actually queried another agent at my literary agency, Metamorphosis, but I can't remember which one. That was transferred to my agent as a better fit who offered representation!
Step two: Underneath that, begin your logline.
In screenwriting terms, a logline is a one-sentence description of your novel. I know, it's hard to condense your 80,000 word novel, but it's helpful to hook a literary agent. Look up loglines for famous movies online to give you inspiration for your novels. It should be very brief and mention the conflict. Look at the logline for Star Wars: A New Hope -- "When an optimistic farm boy discovers that he has powers, he teams up with other rebel fighters to liberate the galaxy from the sinister forces of the Empire." See? It's hard, but not impossible.
Step three: Tell the agent why you're querying them.
Most agents want personalized query letters. You can achieve this by telling them why you're querying them. As I wrote above, you can say that you read they like cozy mysteries. Tailor it to your book. This also requires doing your research. This should be brief -- no more than a sentence is necessary.
Step four: Blurb your book.
Think back to bookstores (and the days we could go to them before the pandemic.) If you picked up a book, you most likely turned it over to read the back where the blurb was. The blurb is usually 100 to 200 words. It doesn't have to summarize EVERYTHING in your book -- that would be impossible -- but the major point plots, like your character, their motive, and conflict. The stakes must be high! This should take up two paragraphs.
Step five: the final paragraph
Quickly give the agent your background. I chose to write that I was from Canada, was being published already by a small house, and won a scholarship. It's helpful an agent knows where you live, especially if you're outsides the United States. Anything pertaining to writing -- such as accolades or scholarships -- looks good. Also, background experience is helpful -- like if you're writing a legal thriller and you're a lawyer. That proves you know what you're talking about. This should be brief, too -- only a sentence or two. In-depth introductions can be had later if that agent wants to sign you.
Then write what genre your book is and for what age group -- mine was young adult mystery, and I included the title in all caps. Include the word count and make sure it's appropriate for your story (you can research that online, too.) Lastly, some agents like comparative titles, so add three novels that released within the last few years that are similar to your novel. This isn't necessary, but it is helpful to get a feel for the story.
Lastly: thank them for their time (agents are busy!) and confirm that you will submit the required pages. Again, make sure to check the agency's websites for each agent's requirements. Some agents like to see the first three chapters of your novel, others five pages, others fifty pages. It varies from agent to agent.
Then sign your real name (pen names can be discussed later) and cross your fingers. Agents can take months to respond, so in that time, I recommend writing more query letters and doing more writing! Most of all, remember to breathe!
If you make any spelling errors in your query -- which I've done -- it isn't the end of the world. Agents know you're human, and it happens to them, too. And if you have questions about a query letter, it doesn't hurt to ask! You can always email or send a Tweet to your desired agent.
If you're an aspiring author looking for an agent, I wish you all the best and I hope I helped.
Thanks for reading!