Tag Archives: Query Letters

So the book’s done. Now what?

retro-porn-3Last week I gave you a sneaky peeky of my new novel, and this week and next, I’m taking a well-deserved rest. But what do you do after all that resting is over? After you’ve nipped and tucked and primped and preened it until it’s pink and screaming? After you’ve made absolutely sure you couldn’t get it any better, after you’ve edited it one more time, after you’ve saved it in several places, and now you’re sitting back and admiring this positively stellar work of art? Well, I’ll tell you – now it’s Business Time. And what does that consist of? Let’s start with…

  1. The Dreaded Synopsis and Blurb– Oh my aching neck – is there anything worse than writing a synopsis? Yes, a blurb, which is a one sentence encapsulation, boiling your 85k word work of art down to its very essence. I thought of one the other day while I was making my lunch, so maybe they aren’t as hard as they seem. (Right!) Maybe because they’re all foreplay, and you don’t have to go for the beginning, middle and bang-zoom! Now synopses…well, they’re a bit more of a challenge. Used to be synopses were five to ten pages, but now my agent tells me the industry standard is getting closer to two. And that’s double-spaced sweeties, with the same formatting rules applying. And don’t make it a tease like the blurb–agents and editors will just spank the delete button if you try to play cagey. Give the plot, characters and theme, and make sure it covers your work from beginning to end and in the present tense. They’re looking for content, not for coy. Save that for your fabulous prose.
  2. More Dread – The Query Letter – There really is an art to writing these things, no kidding, and you do so need to get them right. Even before you begin your search for an editor or agent, create a good query shell as once you do, you can tailor it to each house or agency’s preferences. There’s much more information that ‘you’ll need about crafting one than I can give you right now, so click here to an earlier post for more in-depth instructions.
  3. Now do your research– What do you write? Romance, science fiction, mystery, commercial or literary fiction? Whatever the fiction (as it’s slightly different for non-fiction, and for that, I’m not quite the authority), you need to do your research so you’re targeting your work to the right house or agency. If you’re a genre writer – romance, sci-fi, mystery, etc. – there are some houses that still accept unagented fiction. It’s YOUR job to find out who they are. To do this, you might want to search the web for each publisher, pick up the latest copy of the Writer’s Market by Writer’s Digest or their Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck  Sambuchino, or Jeff Herman’s Guide to Book Publishers, Editors or Literary Agents,. Or take a trip to the library and check out the Literary Marketplace Database (the definitive guide, a pricey subscription to get on your own, so use it at the library for free). But even those guide aren’t going to help if you don’t know what kind of fiction they buy. I always like to go to the local bookstore and browse the authors I feel my writing is most like, and then check the Acknowledgements page. See which editors and agents they thank, and that should send you in the right direction.  Another great source is the database on agents, Agent Query.  But nothing will get you in the door better than a personal invitation. Go to writer’s conferences, attend writer’s clubs, join national organizations for your genre. At conferences, you’ll have the chance to meet editors and agents in person during pitch sessions At writers’ clubs you’ll get to hobnob with published authors who might like you well enough to recommend you to their agent or editor. Put yourself out there! Face-to-face is always the most effective.
  4. Send it and forget it – Does the manuscript shine? Did all your research? Found the perfect editors and/or agents? Now start querying. Most, if not all agencies and publishers, post their submission guidelines on their websites, so do your research first. Send queries in small batches, though NEVER send an email blast to everyone at once, and NEVER use a form letter. If you’ve created a good template, you can tweak each letter for each specific agency/agent and publisher/editor. Thank your lucky stars and talent if a request comes back for a partial or a full, though only send attachments upon request or per submission guidelines..
  5. Now get back to writing – You’re only as good as your last book, and writers’ write, my dear. If you’re not doing what you should be doing, there’s no need to pay attention to any of the above. Now get back to work!
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Writing the Dread Query

hammond

If you fancy yourself a novelist ( as I, on occasion, have been wont to do), and you’d like to see yourself represented, sooner or later you’re going to have to attempt that necessary evil, the Dread Agent Query Letter. Truly, I know people who’d rather stick pencils in their eyes than apply that pencil to the task, but sweeties, it doesn’t have to be that painful if you know the assembly method. So here, in four easy paragraphs, I’ll try to show you how to compose the Perfect Agent Query. Now pay attention…

First, some preliminaries… First and foremost, a query is a business letter. Since most (if not all) agents accept queries only through email, and since that email entails one finger firmly adhered to the delete button, you want your query to be as concise and professional as possible, contained in the body of the email and NOT by attachment. Since attachments can carry viruses, agents are loath to open them unless they know you, so send attachments by invitation only. Most definitely use honorifics (Mr., Ms. etc.) in your Salutation as you should never assume familiarity. If you had previously met with the agent at a conference, workshop, cocktail party, etc, and were invited to query, most definitely write REQUESTED in the subject line as well as the first line of the email. These will get opened first. As a best practice, check the agent’s website or blog for query/submission guidelines. If you don’t have a particular agent in mind, try Jeff Herman’s guide, the library for The Literary Marketplace, or www.agentquery.com, just to name a few resources. Another one is troll the library or bookstore stack of the books of your genre, and see who the author thanks in her acknowledgements. Now, on to the actual construction…

Para One – Howdy! With Benefits – This is your query knock-on-the-door, your literary calling card designed to get the agent’s attention. Introduce yourself, remind her if you’ve previously met and where (we chatted during lunch at the XXXX Writers’ Conference), if you’ve been invited to query/submit, the name of your novel, the genre and word count. You might what to toss in a quick teaser like, A cross between Stephen King and Carl Hiaasen, My Bloody Margarita is a 80,000 word…, to illustrate what your writing is like. But on the whole, keep this para to a five-six line minimum, with just the facts, ma’am, inviting her to the next para to learn more.

Para Two – In which we employ The Hard Sell – this is where you get ONE paragraph to car-crush your entire 80,000 word novel into one easily digestible capsule.  Twelve to fifteen lines in all, introduce your main characters, basic plot line, conflict, lessons learned, the conclusion. Remember, although you want the agent to be intrigued, you don’t want to raise her ire. So if you say …but if you want to know how the story turns out, you’ll just have to request the rest of it… you’re just asking for a delete.  Be creative, not cagey.

Para Three – It’s all about YOU! – This is where you get your close-up, Mr. DeMille; it’s all about you, you, you. Cite your published works, awards, training, blogs, websites, education (if pertinent), professional associations, jobs or skills that give you credibility for/authority on what you’re writing about. Again, because this is a business letter, remain professional. Don’t take this personally, but no one really cares if you like to raise bunnies and take long walks lakeside, unless, of course, you’re writing about The Killer Hare of Lake Superior. Again, no more than twelve to fifteen lines. A link to your blog or website is also advisable, as most industry people now assume you have a web or social media prescience, and if you don’t, you have to ask yourself why.

Para Four – Wrap it up – This is your shortest paragraph of all. I’ll even toss in examples free of charge: I can send a proposal or the complete novel at your request. Thank you for your consideration, and I look forward to hearing from you soon. OR  According to your submission guidelines, what follows is the first ten pages (or synopsis or first three chapters, or any combination thereof stated in their guidelines) of <Name Work> Thank you for your consideration, and I look forward to hearing from you soon. THAT SHOULD BE IT. No more, no less, just a salute as you head out the door.

All finished? PROOFREAD AND SPELL-CHECK, then add your email address and your phone number. All in all, a succinct query should never contain more than 400-450 words, and NEVER more than one page. And never query unless you have a completed, fully-polished, proofread and spell-checked novel ready to go. I know of agents who get 200 queries a week, and some substantially more. That’s a heck of a queue, and if you’re not ready to submit at a moment’s notice, rest assured there are hundreds of others who are.

One more thing — good luck!