Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The Art of the Query

Ok, so you have a short list of agents you’d like to query…now what? If you’ve done your research, you’ll know what kind of submission they are looking for. Most will want a query letter, a synopsis, a sample chapter, and a return envelope with paid postage. Some might accept electronic submissions. Many frown upon multiple submissions, so if that is the case, be sure to submit to only one agent at a time. As I mentioned in a previous post, it’s never a good idea to deviate from an agent’s requirements.

A good query submission is clean, neat, and easily readable. It is typewritten on plain white paper. The manuscript is in a clear, 12 pt font, double-spaced, and printed on only one side of the paper. All manuscript pages should be numbered and have the author’s name in one corner of each page, and should be secured with a clip or rubber band—no staples. All of these nit-picky rules are designed to make it easier on the reader. Never include head shots, money, or any other sort of marketing gimmick or bribe. The manuscript will be judged solely on its own merit, not on how fancy or different-looking it is. Trying to stand out in this regard is actually detrimental.

For most aspiring authors, the toughest part of the submission packet is the query letter. Essentially, it is just a business cover letter. Like any cover letter, it is best to be as clear and brief as possible, making sure to keep it to one page only. The tone can be warm, but avoid being too casual or overly familiar. You may state your credentials or achievements, but try not to sound boastful. More importantly, don’t be presumptuous. Don’t compare your work to something on the market—especially a bestseller. Don’t tell the reader you’re sure they’re going to like your work. Let him decide that for himself.

Your query letter should contain the following:

1. Your intention.
2. The title of your manuscript and one or two sentences about it (aka the pitch).
3. One or two sentences about you.
4. Your contact information.
5. A polite closing.

Here’s a dry (but useful) example:

March 11, 2008

Mr. John Smith
ABC Literary Agency
123 East 456 Street,
New York, NY 12345

Dear Mr. Smith:

I am currently seeking literary representation for my science fiction manuscript, entitled THE SNOW WON’T STOP. It’s the story of a small town buried by the biggest blizzard in recorded history, and the young boy who discovers a secret portal that will allow him to transport some of the residents—but not all—before disaster strikes.

I’m a 1998 graduate of New York University, where I received my B.A. in English Literature. My short story, “It’s Snowing Again” recently appeared in Sci-Fi Magazine. If you need to contact me, I can be reached anytime at (212) 555-1000.

Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.

Best wishes,

Jane Doe

A query really can be as straightforward as this. Don’t worry if you don’t have any credentials under your belt—it’s not nearly as important as how well you write.

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