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HOW TO WRITE A QUERY LETTER


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#21 CeeJam

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Posted 14 October 2013 - 08:50 AM

That's been my big stumbling block--I realize the rules have changed for e-mail query (I still don't have a Kindle...  :huh: ), but call it the "Elevator pitch", and I still can't imagine myself turning toward an editor I've never met, in an elevator at the SCBWI Conference, and suddenly starting the conversation with "Bill was having the worst week of his life..."

 

I'm with you - but as with an email query you have opened by sending the email in the first place, and the agent/ed has opened it, there would be nothing wrong with leading with - "Hi - I'm a writer... Can you give me 10 seconds to pitch you an idea?" as your initial contact!

 

Getting the basic idea across succinctly and with passion or voice is the imperative here.  Although I don't have a wealth of publishing experience, I am fortunate to know a couple of people who work in the industry.  They are receiving up to 30 queries a day, and from what I have gleaned from them, they CAN know two things within the first ten seconds of opening a QL email - whether they have read enough, or whether they need to read more.

 

The first option can be two ways - they know immediately that they want to get pages, OR they know straight away that it's not for them.  Generally they read on after this point, but here's where human psychology comes in... They are loath to change their decision.  Even in their own minds, they would be 'proving themselves wrong'.  Even if the rest of the QL is great, they may well turn it down based on their initial impression, and likewise if it starts off well but ends a little weaker they may still request pages.  They can decide immediately!

 

My point - simply put - is leave the ritual to the end.  By opening your email, the agent is already welcoming the submission and expecting your pitch.  Don't disappoint them.  A courteous "Dear Mr/Ms..." at the start is great, but your title may well be in the email subject, and the rest can wait until the end.  As long as your word count fits the genre, and you get the 'why I am submitting to you' bit at the right point, hopefully things will be dreamy ever after!

 

I can't speak for all agents - I have one agent who is a good friend (not in my genre, unfortunately!) and know an editor for a major YA publisher well, and another as a casual acquaintance.  Not a huge number, but this is what I managed to glean from them under alcohol-fuelled questioning!

 

CeeJam



#22 Blitzing

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Posted 13 November 2013 - 11:50 AM

My point - simply put - is leave the ritual to the end.  By opening your email, the agent is already welcoming the submission and expecting your pitch.  Don't disappoint them.  A courteous "Dear Mr/Ms..." at the start is great, but your title may well be in the email subject, and the rest can wait until the end.  As long as your word count fits the genre, and you get the 'why I am submitting to you' bit at the right point, hopefully things will be dreamy ever after!

 

So this 'why I am submitting to you' bit, should it be at the beginning? Or is it also wasting the agent's time that could be used to read the hook?


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#23 CeeJam

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Posted 17 November 2013 - 11:29 AM

So this 'why I am submitting to you' bit, should it be at the beginning? Or is it also wasting the agent's time that could be used to read the hook?

 

Personally, I intend to leave it for the end, by which time I hope the agent can already see why I am submitting to them.  I hope, if they are a match to the material, they will already be hitting the 'reply' button without knowing my own peculiar reasons for sending it to them individually, but a little extra info at this point will hopefully not break the bank.

 

The other option - putting it up front - may work just as well, but if I recall correctly from conversations in the past my friendly agent will skip over this in any case, and come back to it if they are interested in the rest of the QL.  As long as it is not merging directly into the Hook (in the same paragraph) this could work just as well.

 

It's all very subjective.  What works for one agent may not work for another, I would guess.

 

CeeJam



#24 bewarethejabb

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Posted 22 November 2013 - 03:22 AM

Thank you for this thread! I've spent awhile polishing a query up to my best impression of queryshark standards over at scrib and aw, which means unlike the rules about standard format here: 1. My hook has more than one sentence 2. my mini-synopsis is broken into several paragraphs ("White space. White space. White space.") and 3. I've given zero credentials. I was concerned that I would end up polishing a completely different query here and then have no bloody idea which one to use.

 

This thread clears it up. Thank you!



#25 A Beast Am I

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Posted 01 January 2014 - 02:51 AM

A question about the length of "the hook".... I've recently just started the beginning phase of my query letter.. And I've seen several Hooks that were just as long as a mini-synopsis.. So I guess my question is, how long should a hook be? Is one sentence lasting no more than 20 words okay? Or does a hook need to be longer and more precise? My hook(so far) is fairly cryptic..


 



#26 Corin.Hamelton

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Posted 18 March 2014 - 02:00 AM

I think that this discussion brings up a good point, or rather strategy to writing a qL that is being missed all too often.  Writing a qL should be undertaken in stages. 

 

The hook... why is everyone so stressed about their hook before they even have the query letter finished? Write a query letter that works first... then post it into the AQC forum dedicated to writing hooks to create something that works.  Whether it is one sentence or 3 will not matter much at the end of the day if it works the way it is supposed to.

 

Start your qL off with something like, "Hook is pending at this time" or "Hook goes here" or whatever as your hook and then carry on with the body of your query letter... people should understand that.  And frankly, people will invest more effort and energy helping you with the body that way without getting wrapped up in a hook that they don't understand because the body doesn't make sense yet.

 

After the completed body has the right hook move on to the bio and such last.  Trying to do it all at once is kind of like trying to build a house of cards from the middle first... if it falls, everything around it usually goes with it.


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#27 Carney

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Posted 10 October 2014 - 07:36 PM

I don't know if anyone ever reads this thread, but if so, I found a fantastic blog entry written by Agent Sarah Jane Freymann -- the owner of the agency by the same name. I very much like what she says about the query process, particularly the idea of sharing our passion instead of trying to do the cookie-cutter approach to queries. If you are interested, this is the link: http://www.sarahjane...fect_pitch.html



#28 Spike_Taterman

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Posted 19 October 2014 - 11:35 AM

Thanks Carney. That was a great read--and very inspirational! I'm going to follow that advice, with some key words / concepts in mind:

voice

passion

confidence

clarity

stakes

urgency

should reflect who you are and what you have to say.

 

I feel all this boils down to one rule when it comes to queries (and all writing, for that matter). I am quoting Richard Bausch here.

The rule is simple: it must be interesting.

 

Spike



#29 johnthomasmmv

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Posted 20 October 2014 - 03:50 PM

I wrote my first query letter yesterday.  I don't know if it's any good.  Maybe you guys could help me.  I have a novel that I want to get published.  I am new to this process and I need help.  Thank you.



#30 David Nees

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Posted 07 January 2015 - 03:56 PM

I'm polishing my query letter (fourteen revisions so far) and have now encountered some serious confusion.  I've read through much advice all over the interenet.  A web site called "query shark" reviews many query letters and there are things to learn there.  That person (the shark), however, seems to dislike "log lines" intensly.  She seems to want the query writer to pull the agent/reader into the story right away without (what she considers) a dry summary.

 

There seems to also be differing opinions about where to put the title and genre of the MS; up front or near the end of the letter. 

 

While most of the advice I've found is not conflicting, i would welcome others weighing in on these conflicting thoughts.


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#31 AQCrew

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Posted 07 January 2015 - 04:08 PM

 A web site called "query shark" reviews many query letters and there are things to learn there.  That person (the shark), however, seems to dislike "log lines" intensly.  She seems to want the query writer to pull the agent/reader into the story right away without (what she considers) a dry summary.

 

There seems to also be differing opinions about where to put the title and genre of the MS; up front or near the end of the letter. 

 

 

Query Shark is written by literary agent Janet Reid.  And yes, she has a popular website (she was also the infamous Miss Snark) but it's important to note that Janet Reid does not speak for all agents -- and many, many, many agents would be the first ones to tell you this in person at a writer's conference.

 

Put your genre and title of your manuscript at the beginning of your query. The reason for this is simple: agents want to now from the very beginning if you are querying them with a project in a genre that they represent.  If you say you are querying a mystery novel when the agent doesn't even represent mystery (or represent them any more for whatever reason), the agent wants to know that from the beginning.  And conversely, if they DO rep mystery, and you state that your project is a mysetry novel from the get-go, you're going to get them to keep reading on...

 

Aspiring writers querying agents with projects in genres they don't represent is STILL a huge grievance of many agents.  

 

When you put your genre at the beginning of your query, and flag your query as something within a genre they actually DO represent, you'll be ahead of the pack.



#32 sharpegirl

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Posted 07 January 2015 - 05:59 PM

Another option, if you DO want to start with a hook instead of the book business, is to put your genre in the subject line.

 

When I queried, my subject line (unless there was a specific way the agent requested it to be, and some do) looked something like this: Query: TITLE (YA Mystery) so the agent knew going into the query all the important book business already, except for word count, so I could throw them immediately into the hook.



#33 AQCrew

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Posted 07 January 2015 - 06:52 PM

Another option, if you DO want to start with a hook instead of the book business, is to put your genre in the subject line.

 

 

 

Yeah, just to clarify: we do agree the hook should go as the very first thing in your query, and then the next sentence should include your title, word count and genre.  This has always been our advice since the dawn of time:

 

http://www.agentquer.../writer_hq.aspx



#34 David Nees

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Posted 08 January 2015 - 09:43 AM

Thank you both.  It's interesting that advice given in a straightforward manner (yours) is always considered to be more valuable than advice given in a snarky manner.  I will revise accordingly.


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#35 stumblebum

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Posted 16 January 2015 - 12:39 PM

Raven Clark posted this question, which has gone unanswered:

 

What if you have no credentials? I mean NONE at all. I've heard people mention minor accomplishments, like editing for the school newspaper or getting a poem published, but then other people (Noah Lukeman for instance) say not to list things unless they are major ones, like a published book, or a story in a well known magazine, because minor ones mark you as an amature. Also, I've heard some good agents, like Agent Kristen Nelson, say that if you have none at all (like me, I don't even have a school newspaper cred) it's best just to leave that part out of the query. But then, I've also seen agents, when they do free critiques, like Query shark, or ones who do it for a contest, mark up a query that had none, saying that the person is supposed to add thier credentials.

I, too, am unlearned and ingnorant, and would rather not waste a paragraph making that clear to a prospective agent. I'd much rather let my manuscript speak for itself. What's the scoop on the credentials paragraph? Is it safe to omit?



#36 AQCrew

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Posted 16 January 2015 - 12:44 PM

Raven Clark posted this question, which has gone unanswered:

I, too, am unlearned and ingnorant, and would rather not waste a paragraph making that clear to a prospective agent. I'd much rather let my manuscript speak for itself. What's the scoop on the credentials paragraph? Is it safe to omit?

 

Yes, if it's a fiction query, it's fine to omit the bio graph.  There are hundreds and hundreds of AQ success stories of writers with zero publishing credentials scoring agents and book deals.



#37 stumblebum

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Posted 16 January 2015 - 03:30 PM

Thanks for the prompt response. I appreciate it.

Also, nice pic. I do love me some Thundercats.



#38 mmonikque

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Posted 05 February 2015 - 05:45 PM

Hello all, I need some help with the quert, what do you think:
"Dear...


When Nerys finds herself in a bright and amazing world, something changes inside her young heart. She starts to believe in the white angel who had shown come? to her, but most of all, she starts a long and full of adventurous search. Her curiosity to find where the angels are singing brings along the revealing of deep and old secrets that the people of Spring Sprouts protected for many years.

The three stages story shows the ten year old girl’s experience: The moment when her curiosity starts to raise by meeting an supernatural creature who presents her a different kind of gifts for humans; her struggle to find answers in her world while becoming more and more attached to the angel and blindly trusting him; and the point when the answer she was looking for is discovered and beside that, the truth she wasn’t expected to find about her own identity is coming comes to light.

The first and the third parts of the story is are fully written in third person, but in the section between, the protagonist lets her own thoughts and fears come alive, talking in the first person about the suspicious book she receives from her best friend’s father and the power she believes the book has; the concerns and the difficulty of finding where the angels sing and how subtle the angels slide among the ones she loves. It is a fascinating, full-of-surprises story which promotes the ideas of trust and daring.

I am seeking an agent who shares my enthusiasm for youth fiction. The full manuscript totaling in 57,000 words is available upon request.
Thank you for your time and consideration."

#39 Ireth

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Posted 05 February 2015 - 05:52 PM

Hi mmonikque -- I recommend you make a new thread with your query, so people can give feedback on it and you can keep all your revisions in one place. :)


There's too much blood in my tea system. Time to put the kettle on.

 

~~~

 

All projects except WINTER'S QUEEN are currently on hiatus until further notice. Thank you!

 

Queries:

Winter's Queen: http://agentquerycon...een-ya-fantasy/

Tenth Realm: http://agentquerycon...e-epic-fantasy/

Low Road: http://agentquerycon...orical-fantasy/

Moonhunter: http://agentquerycon...ya-xenofiction/

Song of the Sea: http://agentquerycon...sea-ya-fantasy/

My Soul to Keep: http://agentquerycon...porary-fantasy/

Dancing On Edges: http://agentquerycon...porary-fantasy/

Bellringer: http://agentquerycon...ringer-fantasy/

 

Hooks:

Winter's Queen: http://agentquerycon...tasy-hook-help/

Tenth Realm: http://agentquerycon...k-epic-fantasy/

Low Road: http://agentquerycon...fantasyvampire/

Moonhunter: http://agentquerycon...ya-xenofiction/

Song of the Sea: http://agentquerycon...ong-of-the-sea/

My Soul to Keep: http://agentquerycon...porary-fantasy/

Dancing on Edges: http://agentquerycon...asy-query-hook/

 

Synopses:

Winter's Queen: http://agentquerycon...een-ya-fantasy/

Tenth Realm: http://agentquerycon...ntasy-synopsis/

Low Road: http://agentquerycon...fantasyvampire/

My Soul to Keep: http://agentquerycon...porary-fantasy/


#40 mmonikque

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Posted 05 February 2015 - 06:41 PM

Great, thank you




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