You’ve done it. You’ve finished your book. You’ve edited it to perfection. You’re ready to show it to the world. Which means you’re ready for your window to that world; the Query Letter.
I queried my debut thriller Wrong Girl Gone for nearly five years before receiving a publishing offer, and I learned a lot along the way. From finding the hook, to structuring your letter, to researching agents and publishers, having a solid understanding of the querying process is just as crucial as writing the book itself.
With that being said, before you begin pitching your masterpiece to agents and publishers, your book’s query letter is your next writing project. All too often, agents will turn away what might be a perfectly good manuscript because of a poor query letter. Your manuscript might be great. Your idea might be pure gold. But just having a great manuscript and a good idea isn’t enough. A major aspect of publishing is marketing, and if you can’t sell your book with an A+ pitch, how can you expect a publisher to?
If you’re ready to take the next step on your journey to becoming a published author, consider the following when writing your query letter.
1. Personalize Your Introduction - Many agents receive hundreds of impersonal query letters a week. By simply personalizing your introduction, you show the agent that you’re not only congenial, but that you’ve also done your research. Finding an agent or publisher that’s a good fit for your manuscript takes time and patience. After all, you wouldn’t want to submit your YA Fantasy Romance to an agent who only reps Literary Fiction. Show the person you’re querying that you took that extra twenty minutes to learn about what they’re looking for in a manuscript. Even better, if you met them at an event or conference, lead with that, and include it in the subject line (Follow-up from EVENT - Query: MY BOOK).
Example: Upon viewing your website, I understand that you’re in the market for LGBTQ science fiction featuring a strong female protagonist. With that in mind, I’m excited to introduce you to My Book, an LGBTQ heroine-driven sci-fi romance.
2. Perfect Your Logline - One of the hardest things a novelist ever has to do is summarize their book in a single sentence. But your logline is your primary selling point. Essentially, you’re narrowing your story down to three key points: Your protagonist, the setting, and the main conflict. Once you’ve identified those, arrange them into an interesting sentence that tells the agent what’s unique about your book and why they should want to read it. We’ve included an example below, but for more examples, scroll through your Netflix queue.
Example: Aerial’s life in her small hometown is threatened when a mysterious stranger from an alien planet not only captures the watchful eye of the townspeople, but also captures Aerial’s heart.
3. Summarize Your Book in One Paragraph - There’s a big difference between a summary and a synopsis. A synopsis is typically a treatment or full description of what happens in your book from beginning to end, while a summary is a back-cover-style blurb about your book that leaves the reader wanting more. Some agents may request both a summary and a synopsis, while others may just want a summary, so it’s important to learn the difference. The summary should focus only on the main plot. As interesting as your romantic mermaid subplot may be, it doesn’t belong here. Walk into your local library or go on your e-reader and skim through the latest bestsellers for some marketable examples.
4. Define Your Genre and Know Your Audience - One of the main questions a lot of agents will want answered is your book’s genre and demographic. Who will want to read your book? Is it a domestic thriller or a mystery romance? Is it geared towards men or women? What age group does it appeal to? Keep in mind that defining these things doesn’t exclude readers from different groups, but gives the agent an idea of how they might be able to market your book.
Example: My Book is an LGBTQ heroine-driven sci-fi romance that will appeal primarily to women, ages 18 to 34, who have an affinity for classic sci-fi films of the 1950s.
5. Choose Your Comp Titles Wisely - One mistake a lot of writers make when selecting their comparison or “comp” titles is only looking for books that have similar stories to theirs. Comp titles can be used to describe a variety of elements in your book, from the narrative style to the underlying themes. While it’s good to make sure that one of your comp titles is a book, film and TV show comp titles can be particularly helpful when trying to describe a visual element to your book.
Example: My Book blends the raw narrative of Catcher in the Rye with the setting and style of Planet of the Apes.
6. Give Your Background - This is your chance to tell the agent or publisher a little bit about yourself. Not necessarily about your cat or your favorite book, but about your writing background, experience, and accomplishments. Did you go to college? Brag about graduating with honors. Won an award for that poem you wrote last year? Tell them about it. Have another book in progress? Let them know! Share the top highlights of your accomplishments. (It’s okay to brag!)
7. Thank the Agent and Keep the Door Open - If the agent requested that you submit the first ten pages of your manuscript, let them know that you have included those ten pages, and that you’d be happy to send the full manuscript for their consideration if they like what they’ve read. End your query with a simple thanks, and let them know that you look forward to hearing from them. The key is to stay attentive and interested without appearing too eager. Letting them know that if you don’t hear from them by the end of the week, you’ll be promptly following up or calling their office to check in, might be more than a little too much.
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