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Query Letter Tips: By Agent Michelle Andelman

At the CNU conference this weekend, I sat in on a presentation on writing query letters by literary agent Michelle Andelman, formerly of Andrea Brown Literary Agency, now at Lynn C. Franklin Associates. She had some great advice and I've included a lot of her tips.

At the 2008 CNU conference this weekend, I sat in on a presentation on writing query letters by literary agent Michelle Andelman, formerly of Andrea Brown Literary Agency, now at Lynn C. Franklin Associates. She had some great advice and I've included a lot of her tips below.

First of all, I should mention this cool point: She said that agents not only see a lot of queries, they also write a lot of queries. She then showed a query that she wrote to an editor, pitching a writer's project. Very interesting! In the query, she talked a bit about markets and readers who would find the project interest—squeezing in audience info and market thoughts in the middle of a story pitch, which is exactly what we writers must try to do.

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Michelle's Query Writing Tips:

  • Queries are formal communication, so treat them as such. They are your "first foot forward," so make sure it's a good one.
  • Queries must be crafted, and you will get better with them over time. You remember that first short story you wrote back in high school or college? If you look at it now, it's probably not as good as you remember it. Well—queries are the same way. You will get better with time and practice.
  • Think ratio. If you spend 10 years writing a book, what's the logic in spending just 10 hours on a query? Take the time to perfect it. Your work deserves it.
  • Do give a pitch, but don't give a plot summary.
  • Extract elements of your project that make it special. Recognizing these elements is part 1. Incorporating these elements into the query is part 2.
  • Avoid gimmicks! It can't be said enough. Michelle mentioned a time where an author queried their agency regarding a middle grade novel where the female protagonist lived in Maine. The gimmick? The author sent a crate of live lobsters shipped from Maine along with the query. Some lobsters survived; some didn't quite make the cross-country trip so well. Disaster!
  • Don't put all your eggs in one basket by querying just one agent. If you do your research, you should have a limited list of prospective agents, but you should have several names, at least.
  • Every project should be able to be boiled down to one sentence. Try and include that first sentence in the first paragraph of your query.
  • If you're writing a fun, fluffy book, then you should use fun, fluffy language in the query.
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