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How to Write a Query Letter – Part 1

by | Feb 11, 2013 | Writing | 4 comments

Grammar Chic Query Letter Blog

Writing a manuscript, and committing your words to paper, is truly an act of love.  Engaging in this type of work shows dedication and as much as any person might say that they do this because they love to write, indeed, there is something else there as well.  Few people simply write a manuscript for the sake of doing it and you probably have the end goal in mind of someday getting that manuscript published.

Now, it’s true that self-publishing is a big business these days and many publishing industry pros are considering this avenue as one that is increasingly legitimate.  With that being said, if you are considering the route of self-publishing, you can probably stop reading now.  However, if you are considering the traditional publishing route for your manuscript and want to attract a literary agent, you must learn how to write a query letter.

5 Query Letter Writing Do’s

In order to get an agent to say, “Love your idea, I would be happy to read your manuscript,” you need to WOW them with a well-thought-out query letter.  It’s true that query letters can generally vary depending on who you are sending them to and the guidelines the agent wants you to follow (i.e. depending on if your work is fiction, non-fiction, etc.). But really, the basic elements remain primarily the same.  I have compiled this list of five tips that you should follow when creating your query letter:

  1. Know your audience and call them by their name.  General query letters are not going to cut it and if you begin your letter with “Dear Sir or Madam” or “To the Attention of a Literary Agent,” consider your letter scrapped.  If you use the agent’s name, you not only personalize the letter, but you show the agent that you have done your homework and figured out that they might be a fit for your manuscript.  Ultimately, if the agent sees this, they might take your letter a bit more seriously.  Just make sure that you spell their name right!  Attention to detail is important!
  2. Get to the point.  Open your letter with a hook.  Don’t introduce yourself, you can do that later.  You need to hook the agent’s attention in the very first sentence.  Realize that literary agents receive dozens upon dozens of query letters and book proposals every day!  If your query doesn’t stand out, it’s DOA.
  3. Pitch your manuscript from a sales perspective.  You have to think of the purpose of the query letter as a method of pitching a product you want to sell—the product being your manuscript.  You should think about summarizing your book through the same method that you might use to write the copy for the back jacket of the book cover.  One or two paragraphs that get to the point, tell the reader why they must pick this book up right now, ultimately selling your book like your life depends on it.  This is the area of your query that you should spend the most time on, because ultimately it is the most important.
  4. Explain to the agent why you have chosen them.  Again, think about this from the perspective of a salesperson.  When a sales guy walks in to present to a new prospect, more than likely they have done a bit of research about the potential client because they want to be able to tell the person on the other side of the table why they would be a great fit for their product or service.  The same theory holds true when pitching an agent.   You want to make sure that you communicate that you have researched their background, understand the sort of books they typically represent and help them understand why your book would be a great fit for their agency.  Make sure you reference a couple books they have represented and briefly outline why you think that your book compares.  Please realize if you aren’t able to make a connection between your book and what the agent has worked on in the past you are probably pitching to the wrong agent.
  5. Reference your existing marketing platform.  Right now, the publishing industry is going through some crazy changes and the industry as a whole is bleeding money.  With that being said, any agent or publisher wants to know what you are willing to dedicate to being successful.  Gone are the days when a publishing house would throw major resources behind an unknown author to build up an audience.  Today, you need to have an existing platform in order to get published.  This existing platform can come in the form of a popular blog that gets 40,000 hits a month or maybe even thousands of followers on Twitter.  If you have these resources, you need to mention them in your query letter.  I’ll give you a for instance here.  I recently worked with an author who was truly the ideal publishing candidate and I realized this from the moment that we met.  She regularly spoke at events in and outside of her industry, had thousands of followers on Twitter, had a network of existing websites, had written for magazines like Newsweek and had penned editorials for several newspapers.  When she came to me with the idea for her book, I immediately signed her as a client because I knew she was a publisher’s dream.  We prepared a book proposal and a query letter mentioning all of the things she could bring to the table and it took only about a week and a half to get a book deal.  Now, that is a unique scenario and it’s not something that is overly common.  Really, I use this as an example so you, the reader, can understand the process.  Publishers and agents want to commit to authors who have a good chance of selling their book on their own because of their existing resources.  They don’t want to have to reinvent the wheel each and every time they sign a client.

Next time, I will go over query letter don’ts, because those are equally as important to be aware of.  In the meantime, if you have questions about what makes a good query letter, require assistance writing the document or if you need a set of eyes on your letter before you send it out, contact Grammar Chic, Inc.  We have been able to help a variety of authors find query letter success and would be happy to assist you. Call 803-831-7444 or email info@grammarchic.net right now.  Don’t forget to follow our team on Twitter @GrammarChicInc!