Okay. The time has come.
My Elder Throne manuscript sleeps quietly on my USB (and C drive, and external hard drive, and in my drawer as a print-out, just in case). It’s exhausted. It went through a rigorous round of Final Edits with me this week and its shiny, polished self is spent.
As am I, but I can’t rest yet. It’s time to get to grips with my query.
That means it’s also time to follow my favourite piece of advice ever given by an evil lion.
I’ve read a fair bit about how to construct a query letter. This is mainly because I haven’t a clue how to write one, but I’m told it’s a bit like writing a covering letter… just for a book.
Unfortunately, my past experience of writing job covering letters is absolutely pitiful. I’m simply no good at it and this is a problem I fear will repeat itself when I begin querying. At the moment, I’m trying to do everything ‘by the book’ and follow this commonplace advice:
- Address literary agents by name. Personalise and spell it correctly. Show you’ve done your homework.
- Cut right to the chase. Introduce the hook of your MS immediately.
- Sell your manuscript. Basically write the blurb you’d want on the back of your book. Spend the most time on it.
- Explain why you’ve chosen to query this specific agent. Knowledge is power. Know who you’re selling to and why.
- Mention your platform (if you have one). And only if the following is significant, it seems.
- Study other query letters. Homework, homework, homework. Learn from successful examples.
- Extra ‘Do’: Be professional. No chatty language. Check your spelling, punctuation and grammar. Don’t make jokes. Don’t ask how their weekend was.
- Be arrogant. Don’t say ‘my book is a bestseller’ or ‘you’d be lucky to get this one’… because why, why, why would you do that?
- Include your age. It might create unintentional bias.
- Tell agents that you value their time. Agents know they’re busy. Don’t waste a sentence or two telling them what they already know.
- Include writing credits that aren’t meaningful. Published in a ‘big name’ newspaper or won a well-known international competition? Probably can include. Anything less than that, probably not worth the page space.
- Extra ‘Don’t’: Be shy. Don’t hide the ending of your book or any details because you’re worried about plagiarism. This is a personal piece of advice I learnt during an internship at HarperCollins. An example of a rejected query letter was circulating the office and it contained the sentence ‘I don’t want to tell you the ending in case you steal my idea’. Needless to say, this didn’t go down well.
So, that’s what I learnt about content. Now, what about structure? I also found this on Writers Digest, because that’s where I spend all my time now.
- Para 1: Hook
- Para 2: Your bio
- Para 3: Your conclusion
Other basics pieces of advice:
- Query letter shouldn’t be too generic. This implies your book will be too.
- Should never be longer than one page.
- Make the book sound interesting. Otherwise why would the agent want to request it?
The thing is, this sounds pretty standard. It probably isn’t anything you couldn’t have guessed. Writing a query letter is a bit different to researching it to death and, at some point, you are – and I will – just going to have to knuckle down and do it.
But, before I chain myself to my desk and bleed out a piece of my soul to send as my query, here’s some non-standard advice you might not have heard before.
From Carly Watters – 8 Query Tips No One Tells Writers (read the full article for reasons):
- There are no second chances.
- If you say you’ve been published, we assume traditional.
- Telling us you’re self-published doesn’t actually say anything.
- It’s okay to break the rules.
- If we’re not confident you can pitch your book, we’re not confident you can write a novel.
- For fiction writers, social media is not a deciding factor.
- Author bios can bring us in or push us away.
And, from KidLit.com, here’s The Best Time of Year to Query (read the full article for reasons):
Avoid sending queries during:
- The holiday season (Thanksgiving to New Year)
- The first few weeks of January
- Bonus: Don’t send your Nanowrimo novel in without it being revised. I can’t quite believe people really do this, but it’s apparently true. So if you’re thinking of doing that, don’t.
Okay. Now I really have no excuses left. Let’s write this thing.