Sunday, October 08, 2006

The Basics

Dear Rejecter,
What do you look for in a query letter? What causes you to request an ms?
Jon Piper

Let's go over the basics once and for all.

The query letter is actually a fairly simple letter of introduction that is so stylized that you only have to worry about the first 1-2 paragraphs. It's when people vary from the norm that gets them in trouble, though having a bad novel idea helps too. The letter should look like this:

Dear [Mr./Ms.][Agent's Last Name],

[1-3 Paragraphs introducing your manuscript. It's not so much a summary as an enticement to read the material. Imagine that you are writing a book jacket that is meant to entice potential readers to spend up to $20 on your book. It should hit key plot points, but should not be a summary of what happens. This section of the query should be the best material you've ever written in your life, because it is basically what we judge your work by. Fortunately, if you are a terrific writer with a terrific novel, it shouldn't be hard. The problem is that most people aren't terrific writers. Oh, and don't make it more than 3 paragraphs, quote the text, or list characters unnecessarily]

[1 paragraph containing these these VERY important items:

  1. Title of manuscript (Having only a working title or no title is the sign that you haven't thought out your manuscript)
  2. Word count (page numbers mean nothing to us)
  3. Genre (Don't lie. Your sci-fi novel is not contemporary fiction. And don't include multiple genres to try to make it seem like it will be a crossover hit. I've done that in my own queries and it looks stupid)
  4. Significant Writing Credentials (And writing a column in your town's newspaper about the annual street fair doesn't count, even if it is technically published. If you don't have any, just ignore #4 and move on)
  5. Referral Info (If you're querying because you were told to by the agent themself or a client of the agent, you could mention it here or on the first line of your query, your choice)
  6. Biographical Information Immediately Pertaining to Your Manuscript (Important ONLY for non-fiction. Includes: professional research done for material or things in your personal life that led you to write it. Let me repeat: This is only important for non-fiction.)
  7. Some last line about "thanks for reading" and that your completed manuscript is ready for submission. ]
[Signature, with full contact information, including email if you have it]

...And there you have it. Don't make it longer than one page and/or four paragraphs. We bore easily.

For more on query formatting, check out AgentQuery's site, or numerous others on the internet. Don't spend money on a book just on query letters. I have a couple, and they're all pretty bad and expensive.


Anonymous said...

Thank you. It sounds like you immediately toss the query if it doesn't follow the described format. If the format is followed, what part of the letter convices you to put it in the maybe pile?

Jon Piper

Nancy Beck said...

I came over from writtenwyrd's blog - thanks for this.

When it comes time for me to write the dreaded query letter (ack, I've already had a whack at it a couple of times, with miserable results) for my current story, I'll be coming back to this entry for guidance.