Monday, February 25, 2013
Guest Post: How to Write a Query Letter
Good morning . . .or afternoon, or evening, whenever you happen to be reading this! Today, we have a friend of mine here with a guest post.
Everyone please welcome Jake Bringewatt from Jake's Writing Adventure. But enough of me. On to the guest.
How to Write a Query Letter
To become a published writer by following the traditional route you need a literary agent. Well, technically you don't need an agent, but you need an agent if you know what I mean. Breaking in as an author is hard enough. The 15% or so you'll have to pay your agent is more than worth it. An agent knows the publishing business. They know specific publishers and they can do a much better job of selling your book than you can. But first you must sell your book to the agent.
Enter the query letter. This one page letter is what you send out to agents, usually along with a synopsis or the first few chapters of your book. I'm preparing to start sending out a bunch of these to try and find an agent for my book, The Crystal, so I've done a lot of research into writing a good query letter. I'm certainly not a master yet, but I can definitely share some pointers.
A query letter follows a very particular format. Its best not to break out of this structure and be original because it will probably just come off as unprofessional. Here are the pieces:
1. First write the agent's name, business, and address in the top left corner of your page as shown (but not in italics).
John Doe, Agent
Random Literary Agency
111 Some Street
Sometown NY 00000
2. After writing "Dear Mr. Doe," its time for the first paragraph. This is your hook. Its a catchy one or two sentence description of your book. Make the agent want to read more. If you're struggling try the "when" formula - "When such and such event happens, your main character - descriptive adjective, age, job - must do such and such or faces such and such conflict." Here's a "when" formula hook for my novel.
When Krysta, an orphan with a mysterious past, finds herself in possession of a magical item so powerful that almost everyone will kill to get, she must face the true nature of friendship, trust, and power itself.
Sometimes, however, a less formulaic version works better. You could make a hook that is a question. For example:
What if you found yourself on the run with a magical item so powerful that almost everyone will kill to get?
Or maybe something else entirely.
One day a dark man comes to Krysta's sleepy town, killing her best friend and leaving her on the run with a magical item so powerful that almost everyone will kill to get it.
Finally you could set up your novel as a cross between a couple of different well known authors or books. I don't have a good one for my novel, but a general example is:
My 62,000 word novel, Random Novel, is a psychologically complex cross between Random Novel 2 and John Doe's Random Novel 3.
Anyway, you get the idea. There are some more great examples and tips at http://www.agentquery.com/writer_hq.aspx.
3. The next paragraph (or two if you need it) is a mini synopsis. Expand on your hook and make the agent want to read your manuscript. It's probably a good idea to include an approximate word count too. This should be like something you read on the cover of a book. As an example that follows the last hook example I gave for my book:
My 86,000 word fantasy novel, The Crystal, tells the story of this teenage girl, her long-lost brother, the conflicted son of a ruthless mercenary, and a sarcastic talking squirrel, who are all thrown together into a dangerous world of magic and intrigue where friends may be enemies, enemies friends, and wizards battle for a magical crystal that can control time itself. As they struggle not only to protect the crystal, but to survive, they learn about trust, friendship, and the true nature of power.
This is probably the bare minimum in terms of detail. You may or may not want to include some more of the plot.
4. Next include a writer's bio. If you're unpublished this will probably be pretty short, but include something. Maybe mention if you blog - it shows that you have at least a little bit of a platform, which is always a plus. If your book is going to be part of a series mention that. If you've done some research into the agency perhaps you could describe how your book is similar to something that agency has successfully sold before. As an example:
The Crystal is the first book in a trilogy I am working on (I am currently in the middle of the second book). In addition to writing fiction, I have also blogged for almost a year now, developing an audience of other young writers and lovers of fantasy. I have also guest posted on several other blogs.
5. Lastly, write your closing. Mention if you've included a synopsis or a few chapters of your work as requested in the submission guidelines. Then write "Sincerely, Your Name" followed by your contact information. This is demonstrated below.
As stated in you guidelines I have attached the complete manuscript for The Crystal. Thank you for considering my novel.
000 Some Road
Sometown NC 00000
And that's it. Writing good query letters takes a lot of practice and I'm still working on it myself. On the plus side I'll probably get plenty of time to perfect them trying to break in as a writer. Remember, don't give up no matter how many rejection letters you get. There's a bunch of agents out there and if you keep believing in your work and sending out good query letters eventually you'll succeed.
Jake Bringewatt is a sixteen year old writer. His work primarily includes fantasy and science fiction novels and short stories aimed at young adults. You can visit his blog at http://jakebringewatt.blogspot.com/.
Thanks so much for coming, Jake! Good luck on all you future writing, publishing, and querying adventures.