The Query Letter

I’m at that stage where I’m sending out query letters to agents for my next novel. While the publishing industry changes daily, the advantages of having an agent to sell your book has not disappeared.

Query letters are tremendously important, but too many authors get hung up on them — as if agents will laugh in your face if your query letter isn’t absolutely perfect.

You’d better use proper grammar and have no misspelled words, but if an agent thinks your book sounds interesting — and if it’s the kind of book they handle — then the other stuff doesn’t matter too much.

The key is to get them interested and make them want to read it. They want to read your letter and think “Hey, that could sell if done well.”

Remember: This is a business letter, not a piece of fiction. Act professional. Treat it like you would a cover letter for your resume.

There’s a hilarious blog called “Slush Pile Hell” in which an anonymous agent posts some of the terrible queries received. It amazes me that people think they sound professional when they oversell their work as the greatest thing ever written or ask questions that are the equivalent of raising your hand and admitting you know nothing about the business. Keep in mind that you are hoping to establish a business relationship with the agent. No matter how good your novel, no one will want to represent you if you present a “difficult” image.

You’re just wasting time if you don’t know who is receiving your letter. Never send a “Dear Agent” letter. Find out which agents are right for you. Make sure they like the kind of book you’ve written. Agents who represent cook books won’t be interested in your science fiction novel. A textbook agent couldn’t care less about your children’s story. You might as well just toss your letter into the trash before you even mail it and save the postage, since the result will be the same.

Make sure you read their guidelines. Do they want an email instead of a letter? Do they want to read the first ten pages? Do they want it in the body of the email or as an attachment? Seriously, if you can’t follow simple directions, how difficult of a client will you be?

The world of publishing is smaller than you think. Agents talk to each other. If you make a fool of yourself with one, it probably won’t be long until another knows about it. There’s plenty of information out there for you to learn how to do it right, so you have no excuse.

Finally, do not take rejection harshly. That’s part of the business. Every author has been rejected before. Sometimes the work just isn’t what the agent wants, and sometimes the agent likes the work but doesn’t know how to sell it. It doesn’t mean your novel is bad. (There are plenty of great novels that were rejected many times — for that matter, there are plenty of bad novels that make the best seller lists…)

In a future post I’ll share my standard query letter (which is adjusted and changed based on who is to receive it) and will discuss the format. And I’ll be sure to let you know if I have any success with it!

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One Response

  1. Great post, Michael!

    As an agent who has been on the receiving end of far too many disastrous queries, all I can say is Amen!

    Marie

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