There are many articles about writing queries. The list of dos and don’ts can seem endless. What I found to be both helpful and effective fits into a lovely, little list of five:
1) Personalized address
2) Choose a target
3) Short, simple and to the point
4) Be positive
5) Keep trying
Keeping it personal
The quickest way to turn someone off is to send him/her something that is not addressed to him/her. It’s like receiving a text message that was meant for someone else—annoying. So, keep it as personal as possible. Address the agent or person who is in charge of receiving submissions by name. If a name isn’t evident, browse the site (you should do this anyway) to see if you can find one.
Tip: If writing to an agency choose one agent, don’t submit your query to the entire agency.
Targeting is very important when submitting queries. You don’t want to send a horror query to someone who represents children’s literature. The obvious reason being they won’t read it. Your best bet is to do a little research and find out if the agent or publisher handles the genre that you have written. Many agents and publishers deal with multiple genres, choose the one that best suits your needs or is seeking the type of work you are pitching.
Bulk but brief
Writing a query is like writing a resume. You’re selling yourself and your work. And like writing a resume your query should be brief, easy to read but thoroughly explain what you are trying to get across. A basic template is: an opening, body and accomplishments. The opening of your pitch, or hook line, has to grab the reader’s attention—make him/her keep reading. You can use a line from your book or a fact relating to your book. For example if you’ve written a piece about the process of making honey, your opening could be a fact about that method.
Did you know honey is really bee barf?
It may not be the most eloquent sentence, but if definitely is an attention grabber. Bee barf, really? Agents and those handling submissions read hundreds, if not thousands of queries. Your job is to get them interested, grab their attention and put their focus on you.
Once you have an opening (it may take a while, don’t get discouraged) the rest is pretty easy. In your body address what your book is about, the word count and genre.
The last thing twenty-seven-year-old Lydia Miller remembered was being in Naples, Florida. Hurricane Vita had been raging but now Lydia finds herself in a small hut. A hut filled with people she doesn’t recognize. They have questions but so does she. She can’t find her seven-year-old son, and no one has seen him. Suffering from a bout of amnesia, Lydia attempts to piece things together. She believes her ex-husband may be involved. However, the more she sees and the more Xavier—a young man from the village—explains Lydia begins to question her sanity. This jungle has no patience for the weak minded, and the jungle is not the only thing to fear. The Great Storms is roughly a 40,000-word count* Sci-Fi novel that will take the reader from the quiet suburbs of Naples, Florida to a futuristic jungle where the world as we know it has become a twisted nightmare of humanities’ faults.
In a few sentences I’ve summarized my book without giving away the ending. By including the genre I’ve established my target audience. Therefore, I’ve put some thought into who might read my book. This is important because that’s the big question: will the book sell? Your story may shoot rainbows and burst with warm, fuzzy feelings, but if it won’t sell what’s the point? No one knows if a piece will sell or not until it actually is or isn’t. That’s why you have to be positive.
By being positive, I mean believe in yourself. Believe in your work. If you think your work is crap then it’s crap, and no one will want to read it. Now, I’m not saying build it up so much that it needs its own secretary and zip code. You don’t want to scream, “it’s the best thing ever! If you don’t read it, you’ll forever wallow in the depths of no enlightenment!” I guess you could say that but, eh, good luck. Anyway, the point is be positive but honest. If you’ve accomplished a lot then add that to your closing. Only add what is relevant. No one cares that you worked at McDonald’s unless your book is about working at McDonald’s. If you haven’t published anything before don’t sell yourself short. Focus on what makes you qualified to write about your topic or tell your story.
Try, try and try again
So after you have labored over your query and checked it a zillion times for errors and blah, blah, blah you’re ready to send it in. This is both an exciting and hair-yanking process. Nine out of ten times (and sometimes ten out of ten) you will be rejected. That’s ok, it’s going to happen, expect it. Besides, you only need one to say, “yes.” So keep sending, if you feel the need to fine tune your query then do it. Make a list of all the people you have sent your query to. It will allow you to keep track and not send your query to the same person twice. Yes, I’m advising you to keep a list of rejections; it’s discouraging but practical. This list will also help you keep track of name changes.
There are a lot of things to be leery about in this industry. In fact there’s a site dedicated to just that WRITER BEWARE ®. Everyone makes mistakes, I know did. The important thing is that you learn from your mistakes. Here are few other sites that I’ve found helpful.
Poets and Writers has a directory for small presses
WritersNet has an agent directory
I know I haven’t covered everything; there’s a lot that goes into it. Hopefully, though this has been helpful. Please feel free to leave comments, suggestions etc.
*It’s more than that now.