Part of my job as a literary assistant – and a very useful one to me – is reading over all the queries that come in to the agency. It’s been invaluable to me as a writer to see thousands of queries in action.
I won’t rehash all the wonderful advice about writing a great query. I’ll just list some resources below.
But I do have some pertinent advice of my own.
- SIGN YOUR QUERY WITH YOUR FULL NAME. Crazily enough, some people write a whole query and never actually use their name. Or any name. How are we supposed to address you when we reply? Use your email?
- That brings us to your email address. USE A PROFESSIONAL EMAIL ADDRESS. Ideally, your name. (Pseudonym, if you must.) Not a cutesy “email@example.com” or worse, “firstname.lastname@example.org” type of address. I’d also advise against creating an an email address with your protagonist’s name, book title, or series title. What if that’s not the book that sells?
- MODESTY IS A VIRTUE. You may be the best writer since Shakespeare, but it’s far better to let your sample pages speak for you instead of proclaiming this in your query. No sample pages requested? Make sure your query letter shines.
- We are not friends. Your query may be clever or charming, but don’t forget: THIS IS A BUSINESS. YOU ARE WRITING A BUSINESS LETTER. While not addressing an individual agent or using a colon after your salutation isn’t a killer for us, it may be for others. Don’t know how to write a proper business letter? Look it up.
- Last, but not least, FOLLOW THE DIRECTIONS. Most agencies have a submissions page on their website. Check it out, and if they have specific directions, follow them. If they require you to use a form on their website, do so. If they ask for sample pages, include only the number of pages requested – and please, please, please use the first number of pages from your book. Sending pages from, say, Chapter 3, is not acceptable. We want to read the pages as if we were reading the book.
Agents want to say yes. Clients are how agents make money. No clients, no money. However, because of the vast quantity of queries, a bad first impression means your query is going into the “No” pile.
Yes, the quality of your writing is why you should be signed by an agent (or a publisher). But if you can write a good book, you can write a good query letter. So far, the reverse holds true as well. I have yet to see a horrible query with amazing pages. (Dull? Yes. Business-like? Yes. Bad? No. No really bad queries have had good samples.)
Today’s bonus tip: Like an author? Discover their agent (often from the acknowledgements in the book). Follow their agent on Twitter. That will give you interesting information about the agent’s wish list and their preferences and personality.
Resources for query advice:
Get Published NOW! (Molli Nickell)
How to Write the Perfect Query Letter (Writers Digest*)
How to Write a Query Letter (Jane Friedman)
*Writers Digest magazine always has articles about query letters. You should take a peek at any classes or workshops for writers in your area. Many SCBWI conferences also offer sessions on querying.