10 Query Letter Tips

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In the most recent issue of Writer's Digest magazine (Sept/Oct. 2008), the big focus is on agents, so I got to write a lot of material for the issue. One smaller article I wrote that's getting a lot of attention over at writersdigest.com is a basic piece called "10 Tips You Need to Know Before Querying Agents."

Some of the material below has been addressed before on the blog; some not. I hope it helps a bit.

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Querying Agents:
10 Tips For Writers


1. If you write across categories (let’s say you write both picture books and adult fantasy), look for an agent who handles everything you write. She might just be your perfect fit.

2. Mass mailing (or e-mailing) agents without considering each one’s specialties is a waste of time and postage. Not every agent listed here will be a good fit for you. In fact, the fewer true matches you find, the more you’ve done your research. Agents love when you query them individually and provide a reason, such as, “Because you represented such-and-such book, I think you’d be a great agent for my work.”

3. Make sure your work is edited, revised and polished. Rewriting is a crucial step to bettering your work, so be sure to have trusted peers give you an honest critique, or consider seeking a professional freelance editor to evaluate it. And never query an agent for a novel until the work is complete.

4. Single-space your query letter, and keep it to one page. Double-space your manuscript and synopsis.

5. If you lack a good opening for your query letter, just give the facts. A simple yet effective opening line would be, “I am seeking literary representation for my 75,000-word completed thriller, titled Dead Cat Bounce.” In one sentence, you can tell the agent the length, genre, whether it’s complete and the title. After that, follow with the pitch and a little biographical information.

6. Follow submission directions to a T. If an agent requests “no attachments,” your query will likely be deleted should it arrive with an attachment. If they say “query first,” do just that. If they reply to your query and ask for an exclusive read of your manuscript for four weeks, make sure you give them that exclusive look.

7. If you have an automatic spam filter, turn it off. If you’re lucky enough to garner a reply from an agent interested in your work, the last thing they want to deal with is a spam filter requiring them to prove their existence.

8. Remember that publishing is a business and there’s much to learn. If you’ve finished a novel, make sure you know how to construct a good synopsis. If you’re pitching nonfiction, you’ll likely be asked to submit a full proposal detailing the book and how you intend to sell it. If you don’t know everything that goes into a book proposal, now’s the time to learn.

9. Realize that listings are an excellent start, but there’s still work to be done. Research the agent’s website to confirm that he is indeed still seeking “electronic queries for romance novels,” etc. Also, remember the frustratingly sad reality that the publishing industry is constantly in flux. Agents
quit; they switch agencies; they suddenly stop representing fiction and move completely to nonfiction. The best way to deal with this is to cast a wide net.

10. Be persistent. Every famous author has a story about how many agents rejected their work before they made a connection. Work hard, work smart and don’t give up.

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