How To Write A Query Letter

How To Write A Query Letter
Imagine yourself on a deserted island staring at a beautiful waterfall.

You’re there on a treasure hunt. Diamonds have been seen, falling down into the pool a hundred feet below, mixed into the stream of the waterfall.

Every day, agents read query letters sent by prospective authors. An agent might get fifty emails a day, dozens of letters in the mail and complete manuscirpts too. All of this traffic is like a torrential stream of water rushing by. Occasionally, an agent will find a diamond among the water droplets. But with so much water falling, its quite difficult to spot one of these bright, shiny gems. Every author has recieved rejection letters from agents who are too overwhelmed to spot a good book.

An agent may get 5000 query letters a year. If an agent reads one book out of a hundred, she will read 50 books a year!

The Professional Query Letter
If you want to succeed as an author, you should get a good literary agent. This is best accomplished with a professional looking query letter. A professional letter is no longer than one page, it’s been written in the proper format, and there are no more than three paragraphs.

You don’t need to try to get an agents attention. You’re a professional writer. YOU ARE NOT A CLOWN. Don’t use colored paper, strange fonts, post it notes, or colored ink. Don’t send a box of cookies along with your letter either. I happen to be a juggler (though I’ve never performed as a clown). While I can juggle fire, I know that the best way to get the attention of an agent is with a professional query letter about a saleable story I’ve written.

Your Goal
Here’s how the busines works:

After conduting research to find the correct agents to query and to learn what their submission guidelines are, a prospective author sends in a query letter. If the agent thinks it might sell, they will either ask for a partial or full.

A partial is typically the first three chapters of the book, along with a two page synopsis.

A full is the complete manuscript, along with a two page synopsis.

Your goal is to get the agent’s attention with an intriguing story idea – just enough for the agent to request more from you.

Format
Use solid paper, black ink, a good font like Times Roman 12 point, one inch margins, indented paragraphs, single spaced with no line breaks between paragraphs, no bold, italic or underlined text. The title of your book should be in ALL CAPS.

Three Paragraphs
Your query letter should contain three paragraphs:

  • An introduction, describing why you’re contacting that particular agent. Example: “I’m looking for an agent for my first fantasy novel, TITLE, complete at 90,000 words.”
  • A mini-synpsis. Describe your entire story in three to nine sentences.
  • A brief biography, describing why you’re capable of writing a novel, along with relevant credits you may have acquired.

Note: Your Novel Must Be The Proper Length
If you’re a first time, unpublished writer, do not send in a monster book. WAR AND PEACE is 561,304 words long. How long is your novel? A novel needs to be 60,000 to 90,000 words long. If its fantasy or science fiction, it could go up to 120,000 words. See my article on Word Count and Story Length.

How Hard Is It To Get An Agent?
Always remember that it isn’t hard to get an agent – its hard to write a great story. Concentrate on developing your skills as a writer. When you succeed in writing a TERRIFIC story, one that could compete against Michael Crichton, Stephen King or J.K.Rowling, then send out your query letter.

You CAN write a story that will compete against the greatest writers of our time. Practice every day, study writing techniques and above all, condition your mind for success.

Action Steps
Assuming you’ve written something that can sell, here’s how to write a query letter:

1. Researach agents. Go to AgentQuery.com and research agents. Look for someone who is accepting query letters, in your genre. Find out what their submission guidelines are. Typically, you will send the query letter along with the first 5 pages of your story. Do not send attachments in an email. Emails with attachments will get deleted.

2. Write down your logline. This is a one line description of your story. Your logline will contain the HOOK. What’s at stake in your story? Why is it a story? Here’s a good hook: “An asteroid is racing towards the earth…”

3. Write your query letter. Remember: Use no more that three paragraphs. Don’t try to get too much in. Agents will typically count the number of lines in your query as an indication of how good you are as a writer. If you can’t explain your story in a few words, you won’t be able to do so in the novel.

3. Send out ten queries. Wait a month for replies. If you sent an email, you may not get a reply. This means that they are not interested. If you sent a physical letter with a SASE, you should get a reply. Here’s a little trick to avoid getting depressed from rejection letters: When you buy the stamp, get PURPLE HEART STAMPS. Then, when you recieve a rejection letter, you’ll get a writer’s purple heart! Now you’re a veteran!

4. Be persistent. If your story is good, it will eventually sell. If it isn’t saleable, then it won’t. Keep writing. It took Ray Bradbury 10 years of writing a thousand words a day before he sold a story.

What to do now
Finish your story, research agents and their submission guidelines, write a query letter and send them out. When the rejectio letters arrive, sent out another batch of querry letters. Be patient and never give up.

 

– Mark O’Bannon

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