Friday, July 6, 2012

Query Letters and What To Do With Them

Query letter, query letter, query letter.....

No, I'm not summoning a demon when I say those words together, but it kind of feels like I am, doesn't it? 

I started sending out query letters this week. 

Eventually, this is going to turn out to be a highly motivating blog post. But first...

Admit it. It's scary!

I keep trying to tell myself that it's no different than finding a job in today's pressure-riddled economy. But actually, it's more like working for three years and then trying to find someone willing to pay you for it. In the era of self-publishing, why would anyone want to subject themselves to this torture?

Because it seems like it would be fun to make it the old-fashioned way, and it's still the best way if you hope to see your name on the spine of a shiny new book, or if you dream of making your living as an author. Times, they are a-changin', but an agent can still be a valuable resource.

On to the highly motivating part:

Creating a Query Letter 
Most query letters contain:
A professional, courteous greeting
An introductory paragraph with title, word count, genre and a hook
A short synopsis
An optional biographical paragraph--(if relevant!)
Your name and contact information

It's exactly that simple, and exactly that complicated. Nathan Bransford's mad-lib post is a good to have on hand for those moments when Query Panic begins to overwhelm you. 

But it's much harder to explain the nuances involved in making your novel's voice apparent while staying in third person; in being interesting while still remaining professional. Other people, far more skilled than I, with much better credentials, have done a fantastic job explaining the precision necessary to get an agent's attention--in a positive way. Trisha was one of them, and you can read her post here. 

Some links to my favorite real life query letters from successful authors:
Anything from queryshark:  Be careful though. This blog has been known to suck all the energy out of my body, leaving me staring at the screen with arms too limp to reach the computer mouse and legs too flaccid to run away.

I've Got A Query Letter. Where Do I Send It?
You've survived query writing 101. Every word in your query letter shines. 

Next you've got to find an agent who represents your type of book. I recommend agentquery.  On the left hand side of their home page, about half way down there is a box that will help you narrow the field of agents to find ones that represent the type of book you have written. For example, where it says "keyword" I typed in fantasy and romance. Where it has a scroll down bar for fiction, I picked "Young Adult". When I clicked "search" it came up with 102 entries. I could tell by looking that many were not a great fit for me, but some of them were.

Make sure any agent you send a letter to is legitimate. Often you can tell by their website, but if something seems off, trust your gut. You can also check preditors and editors, which is a website devoted to making sure that agents and editors are the real deal.

Most agents prefer e-mail over snail mail these days, but you've got to do some research by finding their website and clicking both the "About Us" link AND the "Submission Guidelines" link. Make sure your query letter is formatted the way they prefer. Most agents only want a query letter, but some want 5 or 10 pages of your novel printed in the body of the e-mail. Very rarely do agents ever accept attachments. Do your research. They look at zillions of query letters every day, and a poorly formatted letter is as good a reason as any to reject you. They want to work with people who know how to follow directions. (I say this with a sad little grin on my face, because I already know I messed up one of the query letters I was really excited about. #Come back! Come back--I didn't really mean to sent you yet!)

Which brings us to another Nathan Bransford classic (although this is a guest poster, not Nathan himself): The 5 Stages of Query Grief: 

I'd rather just skip this part. But I've got a secret that helps me get through it. Do you want to know what it is?

The Flowchart Doesn't Stop Here
In the old days, if you couldn't find an agent, you were pretty sunk. There are great places that don't work with agents, but if you couldn't get your foot in the door there, you were sunk with an anchor tied around your ankle. But these days, I'm feeling the joy of knowing that if this doesn't work out, there is always self-publishing. In the over-saturated world of publishing, many awesome books are not getting discovered. Sheena has a great post about self-publishing here. And Susan's awesome post about it is here. (And you Vampire Diaries fans who want to self-publish--look here.)

So I've got a deadline. Some amazing agent will discover me this summer. If not...I'm moving on.


  1. Good luck with querying. Hopefully I'll be joining you soon, so I appreciate all the links in one convenient place. :)

    I got my fingers crossed for you.

    1. That's the spirit! Plunge into the publishing world and bludgeon them with your awesome book!

      It's a good thing that you are well informed about the process. That means you're in for the long haul.

    2. I'm well-informed because I've been studying it for years. And years. Because the whole thing has freaked me out in a way completely disproportional to its actual scariness.

  2. On a completely unrelated note, the CAPTCHA boxes seem to hate me today.

    I posted on several blogs and among others I got caps that read "Sexless" and "U Suck".

    Thanks for not doing that to me, Prosers CAPTCHA system.

    1. We've been carefully training our CAPTCHA boxes to be kind to you. I'm glad they are learning.

  3. Melanie, that is a fantastic outlook. I'm really excited for you, and wish you the best in your querying journey. Keep us posted!

  4. Good luck! Definitely pins and needles time. And thanks for all the wonderful advice.


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