Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Dreaded Query Letter

If you're like me you'd almost rather have a root canal than write a query letter. I have a little secret for you though. It doesn't have to be painful. Think of this post as your Novocain. Query letters are so much harder because they aren't writing so much as they are selling. A query letter is more akin to a sales pitch than a novel. But there are a few keys to making them easier.

Try to write your query letter in your character's voice. Not from their point of view, but with the flavor that is particular to them. This will make it feel less like you're talking about yourself and more like they're talking about their own story. I've found this helps a lot because it's the talking about myself part that I don’t like. However, when it comes time for the bio paragraph you need to switch to your own voice.

A good standard to follow for a query letter is this: Some kind of personal greeting saying why you chose to query this particular agent (their interests, blog, clients, whatever drew you to them), a logline or one sentence pitch (though this isn't necessary), one to two short paragraphs that cover the basics of your novel, a paragraph about yourself (include publishing credits, awards, writing organizations you belong to, author mentors), then a closing sentence. At the end don't forget to include your email address and phone number.

*Be confident and polite, not apologetic or pleading.
*Never query for a rough draft, only a thoroughly revised novel.
*Revise your query letter as much as you revised your novel.
*Do your research and choose agents carefully.
*Don't 'blanket' query a standard letter to every agent.
*Take your time on each submission.
*Keep track of the queries you send out.
*Read guidelines thoroughly and follow them.

This month the wonderfully peeps at WriteOnCon are hosting three fantastic opportunities for you to have your query letter critiqued by an agent. YA Fantasy Guide is also doing a contest where the winner will receive a query letter critique from agent Tamar Rydzinski. My friend Shelley Watters is doing a one line pitch contest where the winner receives an entire manuscript request from agent Suzie Townsend! Check back here next week when I'll be posting my query letter for my new novel so my Sisters, and you, can critique it. Now get clicking on those contests!


  1. Ah, such great advice. I'm not sure which is worse-the query or the synopsis. But we are writers, and must get the job done. Thanks for the great links!

  2. Such great tips, thank you. And the contest links are icing on the cake, I'm going to go check them out now. :-)

  3. That is such an excellent point about the comfort and ease we can find by using the flavor of the character's voice. Love that! And agents love it when the query demonstrates the novel's voice, too, so it's a win-win for us shy marketers (talk about an oxymoron!). Thanks, Heather.

  4. Heather, this is excellent advice. I love the idea of writing it in the characters point of view... and ALL the tips. I'm using them!

  5. It's great advice. and for the record, I'd much rather write a query letter than go anywhere near a dentist office! :)

  6. Julie, I'd have to say the synopsis. Just saying or writing the word makes me shudder.

    Lindsey, you're welcome! I hope to see your name among the winners of the contests!

    Lindsay, thank you!

  7. Linda, you're welcome! I'm glad that tip helped. :)

    Karlene, thank you! I'm glad the tips will help.

    Laura, LOL! Okay, true. I would rather write a query than go to the dentist too. :)

  8. Heather,

    Thanks for the advise. I'll be querying both my novels soon and I am "Dreading it." As you know I've had a rough rejection month so I'm a bit anxious about it.

    Great contest coming up, too. You know how I LOVE a contest.


  9. Great advice. I'm planning to have my MIP done within 3 months. Then, I'll be working on querries. Good to have more information.

  10. Great advice. I have to agree and I've had a root canal so I know.