If you want to get a literary agent, the first step in that process of submitting your work to them for consideration is a query. This important query letter will help you get your foot in the door, and get you requests to see more material — be that the whole book or the nonfiction book proposal. But there are plenty of things to understand before you query. Here are some great #Querytips shared on Twitter in 2018.
This is a manuscript writing tip, but also a very good #querytip as well. Agents read dozens of queries each day. One thing that can help your chances is if your query immediately (or quickly) introduces your main character(s). That instantly allows the agent to focus on that character, and what will happen to them, their problems, and their wants. Starting a query with backstory or word-building is not as effective.
Another manuscript writing tip that doubles as a #querytip. Know the cliches so you can avoid them. Story opening cliches include talking about the weather, or waking up in bed. Just as you want to avoid these no-nos on your first page, you also want to avoid them in your query letter.
Query letters should be one page, single-spaced. The largest (and most important) part of any fiction query letter is the pitch. Try to keep your pitch from 6-10 sentences to make sure your query letter is an appropriate and effective length.
Yet another great tip that could be either a manuscript writing tip or #querytip. Try to stand out from the crowd.
“Comp titles” is short for comparable titles — i.e., books in the marketplace that are similar to yours. Dropping a few in a query letter is typically a good thing. That said, a few words to the wise: Try and avoid comparing your work to huge bestsellers such as Harry Potter. You can compare your work to projects in other mediums, such as movies — maybe calling your sci-fi novel “Die Hard on a space station.” And, in my opinion, the ideal time to mention comp titles is when your book is hard to describe, or a mix of genres. If it’s hard to explain, feel free to say “It’s X meets Y.”
Use 12-pt font and a typical font such as Arial or Times New Roman or Courier. Going against font or style norms is not a good way to stand out. Feel free to send a practice query to friends and ask them if the formatting looks weird.
Tia is right. Most of the time, it would be completely irrelevant to say how you’re a rock & roll drummer, or a nurse, or a local mini-golf champion — unless — that is part of the story. If it is, then yes, mention it. From what I see, writers get very afraid of white space at the bottom of their query. Keep in mind you can just end your letter with “Thank you for considering my work. I look forward to hearing from you.” You do not have to list any bio information in the query unless you have good, relevant info to share.
Yes. Feel free to use a general line such as “While this book stands alone, it has series potential.” But only pitch and delve into Book #1’s plot in the initial query. Have pitches and/or synopses for follow-up projects, if you wish, but let the agent request those.
Know your book’s genre and age category. Being uncertain is an amateurish move.
I agree. This is an easy Query Don’t. If you say something unusual like “I wrote this book in 3 weeks” or “I wrote this book in 6 years,” such statements beg the question Why is that so? And that’s not a question you want agents asking. You want them yearning to read your book, not wondering about how your book came into existence so fast or so slow.
An agent is a business partner. Feel free to let your literary voice & style be heard in the story pitch, but besides that, keep it professional. Humor is tough to decipher over email from a new contact, for instance.
In your pitch, you will talk about the main character(s) and what problems befall them. But some people forget to explain the stakes — i.e., if the main character fails in their endeavor/quest, what is at stake? What do they lose? We have to be invested in the stakes to root for the main character and be interested in the story.
If you skip publication details, it seems as if 1) you may be fudging the truth, or 2) the book(s) came out and tanked, and you’re trying to conceal such facts. If you’re going to say “I’m previously published,” that means, to an agent, that you have had a book (or eight) traditionally published in the past — not self-published. So provide dates and full titles and publishers.
This goes back to the first tip of this roundup. Lead with character in a query letter — not setting or backstory or world building.
The bigger point here is that sci-fi and fantasy queries can easily get bogged down with details. If your main character is an elf princess on a jungle planet, I can understand that easily. Don’t deluge the query letter with details, such as how the planet portal works, or the names of the elf tribes, or all the proper nouns concerning the princess prophecy. Stick with character, conflict (problems), and what the characters set out to do to make things right.
There are different schools of thought concerning how to start your query letter. I’m with Carrie in advocating for you to state your genre up top. An innocuous first line would be “Dead Cat Bounce is a completed 88,000-word thriller.” In one line, you told us the title, the word count, the genre, and that it’s complete. Other things you can say in the intro would be 1) comparable titles, and 2) why you are contacting this agent, if a specific unique reason can be presented.
If you’re mentioning such a thing in a query letter, your heart is in the right place, but you’re just getting ahead of yourself. A query letter (for a novel) is not the ideal time to talk about things such as a book tour, or blurbs, or a pen name idea. Those talks can happen later in phone call discussions with your agent.
Interesting tip I’ve never heard before. A more simple piece of advice would be to understand typical word count and then adjust your work accordingly. But sure, if you have a scary long (or short) word count that you don’t feel can be altered, feel free to stick it at the bottom of the query letter if you want to give your pitch a better shot. Good idea.
ATTEND A WRITERS CONFERENCE IN 2019. Here are some writers conferences WQP staffers are either speaking at or wholeheartedly endorse:
- Feb. 23, 2019: New Orleans Writing Workshop (New Orleans, LA)
- March 2, 2019: Minnesota Writing Workshop (St. Paul, MN)
- March 8, 2019: Alabama Writing Workshop (Birmingham, AL)
- March 9, 2019: Atlanta Writing Workshop (Atlanta, GA)
- March 9, 2019: Pittsburgh Writing Workshop (Pittsburgh, PA)
- March 29, 2019: St. Louis Writers Conference (St. Louis, MO)
- March 30, 2019: Kansas City Writing Workshop (Kansas City, MO)
- April 6, 2019: Kentucky Writing Workshop (Louisville, KY)
- April 13, 2019: North Carolina Writing Workshop (Charlotte, NC)
- April 27, 2019: Seattle Writing Workshop (Seattle, WA)
- May 4, 2019: Writing Conference of Los Angeles (Los Angeles, CA)
- May 11, 2019: San Diego Writing Workshop (San Diego, CA)
- May 18, 2019: Cincinnati Writing Workshop (Cincinnati, OH)
- June 8, 2019: Florida Writing Workshop (Tampa, FL)
- June 29, 2019: Writing Workshop of Chicago (Chicago, IL)
- and click here for more 2019 writers conference suggestions — in Cleveland, Sacramento, San Francisco, Denver, Washington DC, Toronto, Boston, Dallas, Oklahoma City, Houston, Austin, Indianapolis, Phoenix, and Philadelphia.