First off, what is a query? A query is the first letter you will ever send to a prospective agent or publisher. Keep in mind that most publishers won’t look at your query unless you have an agent. Some small presses, as well. This is your one opportunity to represent yourself and your work as sparkling, new, interesting, and basically worth their attention. So how do you do that? Once again, The Writer (July 2006) pulls through with a great article by Jordan E. Rosenfeld. Once again, I will pull the main points.
First off, please understand that agents and publishers are constantly inundated with queries from hopeful writers convinced their work is the new Great American Story/Novel. Oftentimes, they are wrong. Maybe they queried the wrong agent/publisher. Did you do any research? Did you look at the type of writers they represent? The style of the works? Did you read their submission rules? You must do this sort of research before you even think of querying someone, or else you have shot yourself in the foot before you even mailed the query.So. Now onto the actual writing of the query, now that we know exactly who we are querying, and what sort of writing/writers they represent. Everything must fit on one page, so the information msut be succinct, yet engaging and complete. Therefore, keep your introduction down to a few sentences. Always address the query to the specific agent, and make sure the name is spelled correctly. There is nothing worse than receiving a letter addressing “To Whom it May Concern:” not only does it show you haven’t done your research, it tells the agent you actually don’t care enough to do things properly. How many letters have you kept that said “To Whom it May Concern:” rather than your name? Now that we have that covered, it would be nice to give a short explanation why you chose this agency, and keep it to one sentence, preferably the first one in the query. Explain you are “seeking representation for your book and list the approximate word count.” Round that word count number up. No one is impressed by a 112,347 word count. Say it is approximately 113,000 words. If you got the name of the agent from a “respectable writer or friend, use the name.” It helps to know why you not only picked that agency, but also why you picked that specific agent.
And now we have reached the middle of the query, the part where you get to talk about your work! Rosenfeld reminds us,
Remember that you are selling your idea. Therefore, try to write the pitch with as much flavor and character as you wrote your book. The pitch should reflect the style and tone of your manuscript.
Begin with the hook; describe what makes your book exciting, unusual, different. Why would anyone read it? This can be anything from “an unusual character to a fresh idea, to a compelling psychological theme.” Once the hook is complete, describe the body of the work: the plot, the crises. Do it in the fewest amount of sentences possible without losing quality information. Then describe the resolution without giving it away, just to show you’ve thought your narrative arc through.
The ending of your query should be a description of any credentials you might have; any publication credits, teaching experience, writing degrees. List your strongest credentials and publications, not all of them. If you have a method to help sell your manuscript such as a “radio show or motivational-speaking engagement around the country, mention those.” “Your goal is to make yourself sound like a competent, practiced and professional writer.” Don’t worry if you don’t have any writing credentials, just refer to anything that might explain why you wrote the novel. Something like “I felt like it” will not cut it.
In closing, list the materials you included with the query, as per their guidelines.
One last thing: my business writing class stressed the importance of making sure the letter is You-Oriented. That is, write the query as though it were sent to you. How would you want to be addressed?
Dear Mr. Smith:Your agency has long impressed me with your dedication to quality writers and engaging, heartfelt historical romances. I noticed that you represent some of my favorite authors, Cherly Zach and Ann Rinaldi, both of whom write insightful historical fiction for teenagers. I feel my novel, Catching the Rose, which is 95,000 words, not only fits the criteria of your agency, but is also comparable to these authors. I have enclosed the first three consecutive chapters, per your guidelines.
Catching the Rose is set during the American Civil War and follows 17-year-old Veronica Vernon, a southern belle who has run from home in order to escape a marriage arranged by her late father, and put into play by her uncle, both of whom think it high time she learn to settle her wild ways for the proper role as wife, mother, and plantation mistress.
Veronica, determined to marry for love, convinces her uncle to give her two years to find a replacement fiance or face marrying the man he chose, Bentley Stratford. She runs from home in search of her childhood friend, Jonathan, in the hopes that his memories of their childhood together will convince him to go along with her scheme that they pretend to be engaged, and therefore release the pressure from her family.
With the support of her mother’s friend, Mrs. Beaumont, and her friend from Virginia, Amy, Veronica blazes through the first years of the Civil War searching for love and learns there is more to life and loving than simply getting what one wants.
I am in the middle of earning an English minor from Northwestern; my self-published book, In The Rain, was a part of the 2004 Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Competition and received encouraging criticism. I run my own website and have received favorable attention from local television stations and newpapers for In The Rain.
I have enclosed the first the chapters of Catching the Rose and a SASE for your reply. I would love to send you the entire manuscript at your request, and I look forward to hearing from you.