Sunday, May 12, 2013

When to Quit Working on Your Query Letter

I won't try to give advice on how to write a query letter. There's already much more than enough on that out there. But, the thing is that I see a lot of people who get far too much worked up over a query letter. Now, sure, a query letter is very important, but your project is way more important than that. If you find yourself spending more time on your query than on editing, then you know you've got a problem.

Nowadays, most agents also ask for the first three chapters or something along those lines in addition to a query, so they'll also be seeing that. Provided of course, your query letter isn't absolute trash.

I would say that once you finish your first draft, you should leave it aside for around two weeks. For a few days, do something and don't even think regarding the project. Then, start writing the synopsis. Write a one line synopsis, and then a full page one. Then move on to your query letter. You'll probably need to do a few drafts to get it right, usually around four, but the effort is well worth it. If you end up making ten drafts, then you're probably putting way too much thought into it. It's not necessary to have the query finished before you go to editing, but you should have a rough idea of how it is.

And, though what makes a good query varies from agent to agent, the following guidelines are things that you should definitely follow:

1. The query letter should tell you everything important about the book, genre, word count, title, etc. in the very first paragraph. Start with an interesting line (most people would advise against using a question in the first line) and explain your book in one or two lines, and then continue and give all the information above. Don't bury in in the last paragraph like it's some sort of secret.

2. Research your agent. I can't stress this fact enough. Remember, agents receive around one hundred queries a day, and for starters, get the salutation right. If your letter begins with 'Dear Agent' they might not even read it and go to the other 99 emails that they've received. And make sure that the font of the entire letter matches so it doesn't look like you've copied and pasted everything into it.
Also, make sure that you put at least one line (not more than two) about the agent. Mention a book that's similar to the one that you're pitching that the agent has represented, and how it is similar. If no books match your book, then that agent is not worth querying. If you've met the agent before, you might want to mention it, but don't go overboard with this. One or two lines and getting the salutation right are all that you need.

3. Make sure that your query is interesting. Sure, it is a business letter, but check to see if your mini-synopsis sounds interesting. It should sound like the blurb that you see at the back of a book. If your query is just average and very engaging, then some agents might pass it off and not bother with reading the sample that you've sent.

There are a whole lot more rules, but they're sometimes broken. But these three things are what your query letter should have, no matter what. And like I've said before, don't sweat over your query letter too much. Make it good, and take some time to let some other people proofread it, but don't go overboard with it.

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