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The Query Letter

Since hurricane Irene entered my area on the east coast, I have had plenty of time inside to think about my query letter. At this point I have rewritten my query letter about fifty times, and that isn’t an exaggeration. So why am I so concerned about this query letter? I’m concerned because if written well, it could be the Willy Wonka golden ticket to the literary agent of my dreams. In this blog I will explain what a query letter is, my experience in responses to query letters I have sent, and the impact it can have on an aspiring writer’s chances of grabbing the attention of a literary agent.

Caveat- I am a complete wimp when it comes to my ‘ideal agents.’ I have sent only one query letter to one of my uber agents. I am still waiting to hear back (fingers crossed). There are more, but again, I am feeling wimpy.

A query letter is simply an inquiry asking a literary agent or editor to look at your unpublished manuscript or proposal in order to obtain representation or publication. Simple enough right? Well, not exactly.

I have written many cover letters, especially in the world of academia. However, a cover letter with attached vita is a very different animal from the publishing query. So in my ignorance I did a small amount of research and wrote what I thought was a good query letter and sent it off to about five agents. I was overwhelmingly rejected. After I picked myself up off the floor, I did what I do best. I rebounded and did a huge amount of research.

This is what I found:

1. A query letter consists of three major sections. The first section usually has a hook to draw in the reader and the vitals/scope of your manuscript of work (i.e. 70,000 words, genre, etc.). The second section is a mini synopsis or teaser of your manuscript. The third section is a brief biography about you. That’s it. It should be easy right? LOL. No really, LOL.

2. Literary agents continuously give advice on query letters through their blogs, interviews, and in rejections. But in addition to that advice, agents also discuss their preferences for query letters. Some agents don’t want you to give away too much information, while others want all the information up front. Some enjoy a nice hook in the beginning, some don’t. Some like humor, some don’t. The list goes on.

3. Each agent who receives a query letter may or may not respond. It is difficult to wait, especially for me. But, some agents openly state that they will not respond to a query if they are not interested. Fair enough, you’ve told me as much. The one thing I love about this style is that many of these agents keep a public query log letting those who have submitted queries and not heard any response know they have been rejected.  I seriously love the efficiency. It makes me want to work with that agent even more. The only piece that I find missing is in some cases, an automated response letting the querier know that their query was received. From the agent perspective this lets them off the hook of arrogant queriers sending another query assuming that their query must have been lost. From the querier perspective, you know that your virtual owl delivered your query to the right inbox.

In addition, there are also those agents who are backed up and sorry, but it will take a while. This is a tough one and not much can be done but wait. It is agonizing if this is the method for the agent you really want to work with (And yes, this is where one of the agents I really want to work with is at, but everyone wants her to be their agent. That’s why she is so backed up!).

Finally, there are those agents who respond quickly, sometimes within a day. Personally, I have only felt the cold, hard form rejection this quickly. Wow, they really hated it. It’s kind of funny now, looking back. I imagine them at the computer, ‘Dear Ms…’ ten seconds later…click- form rejection. They are efficient too.

What is my preference? None of the above. It doesn’t really matter in the end. I prefer the agent who likes my query letter and/or my work.

So in the end, a query letter is extremely important in finding a literary agent and the overall publication process. It isn’t easy, and it takes a lot of work in revisions. I am still hopeful and I am waiting to hear back from my beta readers before I get serious about querying again.

Here is a great agent blog on query letters:

In case you are wondering, I have not gone in the water with the query shark. But, if you are so inclined, be my guest. I have always had a fear of sharks, especially the ones who can take a bite out of my self-esteem.

In the end the right agent will come along and not only love my query letter, but love my manuscript as well. When that happens I will be more than happy to post my query here. (You know, uber agent, you could help me make this happen).


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