Thursday, July 16, 2015

1 Writing for Publication Essentials: What Goes Into a Successful Query Letter?

Finishing a manuscript and revising it until it shines is only the first step on the path to publication.
The search for what happens after that is what brings writers of all genres and age groups to Adventures in YA Publishing on Thursdays for Lisa Gail Green's interviews about what agents want in their inboxes.

But how do you connect with an agent? The right agent? How do you interest them in your manuscript? How do you boil down hundreds of pages and years of work into a message that will convey what you need an agent to know, make them eager to read your manuscript, and make them want to represent you?

Don't worry. It's not as daunting as it seems.

Snagging a literary agent is usually the first step on the path to publication, and the query letter is an essential part of that step. Most writers know that, but it's the specifics, the how to write a query letter and who to send it to, that's elusive. But don't worry, there are really only a handful of things you need to know to improve your chances of success. In this post, we'll walk through all of them and break down the steps.

You have to know:
  1. Which agents are looking for manuscripts like yours.
  2. What sets your manuscript apart from similar manuscripts and makes it special.
  3. What additional material to include with your query and how long to wait for an answer.

How do you research a literary agent?

A literary agent is your partner in your publishing career, and having the wrong agent is worse than having no agent at all. Taking the time to find out who represents the kind of manuscript you have written is only common sense. Don't skimp on the research. The more you know, the better prepared you'll be to find the right match and convince the agent that the match is right for both of you.

Most agents state what they’re looking for on their literary agency’s website, and Lisa Gail Green brings us agent interviews here on Thursdays to help with that. The agent spotlights on Literary Rambles are additional sources of information, and there's also QueryTracker, an online database of literary agents. The #mswl hashtag on Twitter is another source for inside wish list information direct from agents themselves.
Once you’ve determined the right agents to query, you need to compose a query letter to send to these agents.

How do you create a successful query letter?

A query is a short letter that you send to an agent in the hopes that it will make them want to read your manuscript.

How long should a query letter be?
Generally, your query should be as short as possible while still conveying the essence of your book and giving the agent a tidbit of information about you. Your entire query, start to finish, including all biographical information and information about your book, should generally be no more than 250 words.

What goes into the query letter?
  1. Hook the reader into your story. Introduce them to your main character and the dilemma said character is facing. Ask yourself: What is it that makes this character so unique in their world? What happens that upends the life they have been living so far? The answers to these questions will help you find your story’s hook and give them a little detail about the plot and the story world. Don’t tell them everything. Just give them enough to whet their appetite. If you are successful, they will want to know more and make a request for pages. You can find more information about defining the hook and pitch here. Or here.
  2. Mention the cold facts.  Name the genre and word count. Provide one or two comparable titles so the agent will get a sense of what kind of reader your book will appeal to. This is important because their job, if they take you on as a client, is to sell your book. To do so, they need to know where it would go on a bookstore’s shelves.
  3. Include a sentence or two about yourself. This is the place to mention publishing industry experience and contest successes, but don’t worry if you don’t have either. If your story has hooked the agent, they will request pages either way. If you're a member of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, of the Romance Writer's Association, or other professional organizations, you can mention that or anything else that shows you are serious and purposeful in pursuing your writing career.
  4. Information personalized for the agent. You can use your basic query over and over again, but there are three things you need to keep in mind:
    1. You need to address an agent by his or her name. That means changing the opening greeting for every query.
    2. Since you've taken the time to do the research, take the time to tell the agent why you're querying them. What makes that agent a good match for your manuscript? Do they represent a similar book that you've loved? Have you read an interview they did and did something resonate with you?
    3. For every agent you query, you need to check their submission guidelines very carefully and make sure your query fulfills their requirements. While you’re there, also check if they want sample pages or a synopsis included with the query.

Once I’ve sent my query letter, what do I do?

You will probably feel a strong urge to refresh your email every few minutes. Try not to. Query response times can vary greatly and hawk-eyeing the inbox will only waste your time. Most agents will tell you, either on their website, or on Querytracker, how long it will take them to respond. Many agents no longer respond at all unless they want to see more pages or information, and their websites will usually tell you how long to wait before accepting silence as a "no."

To keep yourself sane during the wait, start on your next project. An agent is going to want to know what else you're working on, so continuing to write is sound strategy for many reasons. And always keep a list of where you've sent your query letter and how each agent responded.

~Posted by Sandra Held

1 comment:

  1. Great nugget about being prepared to discuss with an agent what else you're working on!


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