letters from the query wars 11/12/2010

# of queries responded to: 92
# of partials/manuscripts requested: 0
genre of partials/manuscripts requested: n/a

# of queries responded to: 147
# of partials/manuscripts requested: 0
genre of partials/manuscripts requested: n/a

# of queries responded to: 196
# of partials/manuscripts requested: 0
genre of partials/manuscripts requested: n/a

oldest query in the queue: 11/5/2010

Have been noticing lately a number of submissions which don’t include a cover letter with the information I’d like to have. Many of them are only one line. So, I’m revisiting my quick guide to writing a query letter. Disclaimer: this is my guide and while I believe most agents would be satisfied with this, a few may have different layout requirements. Be sure to check their submission guidelines on their own website if possible.


* Item 1: Most agents want a personalized query. What does this mean? Well, it seems many of my fellow agents are satisfied with a simple use of their name (painfully obvious example: “Dear Ms. Jackson:”). There are so many queries addressed generically, or to huge lists of cc:ed agents — that this alone will give a query a more professional demeanor.

* Item 2: A bit of info about the book itself. Something like: “I am seeking representation for my suspense novel of approximately 100,000 words, titled THE NOVEL I HAVE WRITTEN.” It could also mention here if the book is the start of a series.

* Item 3: The pitch. This is the hardest part, or at least I think it is. This is where the writer’s voice can come through. And the queries where this happens are definitely stand-out. But it’s tricky. Overwriting it can make it stale or too slick. Dashing it off can make it sound thin. So, give it some attention. All it needs to do, though, is this: make clear the protagonist, the conflict/antagonist they are facing, and any details of plot or setting that are important.

* Item 4: A little about the writer. This is the place for relevant publication credits and background. Notice the word relevant. Don’t just pad it out here. If there aren’t any previous publication credits, don’t sweat it. Just skip to the end.

* Item 5: The end: A closing line perhaps thanking the agent for their time in reviewing the query or something like that. Signed with the writer’s name (don’t make them guess what it is) and including the snailmail address, phone number and email address all in one place.

* Item 6: The part after the end: Here’s where whatever additional material the specific agent being contacted has requested in their submission guidelines goes. For the record, I ask for the first five pages of the novel and a synopsis (3-5 pages seems good, or about 1 page per 100 manuscript pages).

7 responses to “letters from the query wars 11/12/2010

  1. Honest question: have the rules changed regarding pitching novels that are beginnings (or potential starts) to a series? I was always told in the past to leave this unsaid, as a series is always a tricky sell and could potential torpedo the pitch before it has a chance to be read. I wrote the first novel of my UF series as a stand-alone novel that could be read as simply one book (should follow-up efforts be rebuffed), but maybe I should just go ahead and trumpet it as the first book of a six-novel series.
    Am I completely off-base here, or did the rules just quietly change while I was busy submitting and being shot down? 😛

  2. Thanks for sharing, Jennifer 🙂
    I especially liked Item 3.

  3. (3-5 pages seems good, or about 1 page per 100 manuscript pages)—Thank you for that. I hear so many figures thrown around. I’ve tried to fit a 900 page book into a one page synopsis. Result: laughable impressionist sidewalk painting in the rain. But 9 pages seems a little much for anyone to read.
    And implicit is the idea that 500 pages is more than enough story for one book! 😉
    Sigh, what ever happened to the 1000-page novels of my misspent yout’? Does no one buy them anymore? No need for propping up shelves? For stunning oxen?

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