Saturday, March 23, 2013

Writing Tips: Query Letters

If you read my post on Wednesday you'll know I've been hard at work fixing some minor plot holes in my manuscript. Well I'm happy to report that they are now fixed! Where this all started though, was with my query letter. I called my brother-n-law (the writer/director) and asked him his opinion on two different queries I was considering submitting. We settled on one which we thought fit the tone of my story better. I gave him a run down of the plot, characters, etc. so he could get the right idea of what I was trying to say. That's when we discovered the plot holes. He started asking me questions that, if he were an agent, I wouldn't have been able to answer. So I made note to fix the holes then we focused on what should be in the query. He gave great advice, telling me to really hook with the first paragraph and helping me decide what was important enough to be in the query and what I should leave out. Something he said that really caught my attention was that I needed to use active verbs. Most of my verbs were passive. All in all, he helped me shape a much better query letter which is why I decided to do this post today. It's fresh on my mind--I spent a lot of time yesterday researching successful query letters and reading websites with helpful advice. So I'm going to post some great links that will hopefully help you as much as they helped me. Most of what I cover below will be expanded on in those links.

First let me start by saying that whenever you are ready to submit, make sure you research each agent and tailor your letter to his/her likes and guidelines. Address the query to that specific agent, using a "Dear Mr./Ms." format. Make sure you get their gender and the spelling of their name right! Your research will tell you how long they like the queries to be and how many pages, if any, they want you to include. Every agent I have researched has said DO NOT attach the pages of your manuscript to the email. Always paste into the body. If they say this, please follow. They will not open the attachment. Some agents will want you to include a synopsis with the query, some will want a marketing plan, some only prefer snail mail or email queries (check how they want those snail mail and email queries addressed/subjected/sent to). No matter what, DO YOUR RESEARCH! 

There really is no exact formula or right way to do a query. The tone of it should match your novel and it should include the plot, the major character(s), the conflict, and setting. Make sure you put the title in ALL CAPS and include the genre and word count. And give details. You don't have to reveal all major plot points but be sure to include the relevant ones that move the story along. You want to leave the agent wanting more but you don't want to be vague. The query should read like a book jacket. Think about what makes you want to buy a book or check it out at the library. And put yourself in the agent's shoes. What would make you want to keep reading this query and later the novel and what would make you hit "Delete."

Other do's and don'ts:
Do include a paragraph with your writing credentials/why you are qualified to write this story.
Don't make grandiose claims: "This book is the next Twilight!"
Do use the spell checker!
Don't go over one page (unless the agent says this is OK)
Do include your contact information (name, address, telephone, email)
Don't include links to your blog/website
Do paste only the number of pages they say to include but
Don't cut off in the middle of a sentence. Stop at the end of the nearest page/chapter.

Now here are the links to the websites that have helped me:

http://blog.nathanbransford.com/  **Look through his list of post links on the side that relate to queries.

http://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/guide-to-literary-agents/successful-queries   **Scroll through to find ones that match your genre.

http://www.mediabistro.com/galleycat/successful-query-letters-for-literary-agents_b62590  **Scroll through and click on the ones that match your genre.

http://kathytemean.wordpress.com/2013/01/15/query-letters-and-examples/

http://thegracefuldoe.wordpress.com/helpful-writing-sites-blog-posts-masterlist/pitchesqueries/  **This one's really comprehensive with lots of links. Plan to spend some time here.

And lastly, Agent Query Connect has a forum where members can go and share their successful queries. Here's the link: http://agentqueryconnect.com/ Scroll about halfway down and you'll see their "AQ Connect-Examples of Successful Queries" link. This one's great because you can see a lot of recent winners.

Well, that's all for today. Hope this was helpful--I know these links have been great resources for me. As always, thanks for stopping by and feel free to comment below and let me know what you think!