For the past couple of weeks I’ve been focusing on query letters, and they’ve been the subject of my previous two blog posts. So now we’ve discussed things to include in a query letter, and things to leave out, I thought I’d share my step by step approach.
Please note, as with my synopsis writing method, this method might not work for everyone, so please only use it as a guide. I’m hoping that for authors who are new to querying, it might provide a bit of a starting point.
Research your agent
Once you’ve chosen an agent, research them even more. There’s a number of ways to find out more about an agent. Their website, their social media accounts, interviews, YouTube videos…find out as much as you can. Who do they already represent? What books have they enjoyed recently? What makes a query letter stand out to them? This could be the most important email of your life, so you need to know your stuff. Even the little things, like their preferred contact method for queries. (Some like emails, others have online forms.) It’s the best way to show you’re not just sending out the same generic letter to 100s of agents at once.
After addressing the query to them, you need your icebreaker or introduction. An icebreaker could be if you met them at an event, or heard them give a talk, or were recommended to them by somebody you know. And if you don’t have an icebreaker like this, then a simple introduction is just as powerful. Explain why you chose them, and why you think your story is a match for their interests.
The most important part of your letter, is this moment. Your hook/blurb, your chance to sell your book and make the agent excited to read your submission. This is another example of why doing your research is important. Some agents like to see the hook in two powerful sentences, others would like a blurb or even a whole paragraph summing up your work. Remember, this isn’t a copy and paste of your entire synopsis. Just a quick introduction to the heart, conflict or theme of your work.
Why you wrote it
It can be a great personal touch to explain why you wrote your novel, especially if you have a connection to any of the themes, characters or settings. Did you write it to raise awareness or something, to represent something that isn’t represented enough in books? Were you inspired by your job, or a life changing event? Let the agent know. It can add real heart to your work.
A bit about you
Keep it brief, but share a little info about yourself. Relevant info. Share any courses you might have been on, writing events you’ve attended, qualifications you have or competitions you’ve won. Note that your qualifications and experience don’t need to be in writing – perhaps your degree in psychology helped you to delve into your characters’ mindsets, or your previous work as a carer enabled you to write a genuine account of what it’s like for those living in care. This links in with the point above, and can give the agent a brief, but powerful, insight into who you are.
Time to say goodbye! A standard signing off is fine here. Don’t be tempted to ramble on about how grateful you are for their time, and how you know they’re really busy, and how you desperately would love a reply even if it’s a no. Keep it simple, polite and professional. And don’t forget to include contact details or other relevant information (website links etc).
Don’t tell them you’ve attached your first three chapters and a synopsis and then…don’t! Although you could send them again afterwards, it’ll be much easier for the agent if they have everything all in once place. Once you’ve read through your letter, attach those files, and then you’re all set to press the send button. Exciting!
Good luck to anyone who is at the beginning of their querying journey. It’s long and scary and exciting, but most of all a huge positive step in your writing life. If you have any query tips of your own, or any questions, just pop them below.