Saturday, February 22, 2014

Query letters

The WIFYR assistants have been at it already prepping for this summer’s conference. I am blessed that Carol Lynch Williams has asked me back again. 

Besides the numerous emails, coordinating with faculty, and planning, we have been critiquing each others’ work. WIFYR is a place for serious writers who hope to get published. Besides bringing manuscripts up to snuff, we’ve discussed query letters and synopses. 

A query is a one page letter to introduce yourself to an agent or editor and to try to get them interested in your work. It sometimes is confused with a cover letter which is similar, but attached to the complete manuscript. A query is more fleshed out and stands in place of your book, the hope being it will prompt a request for your manuscript. 

Writing your book is only part of the story. Selling the thing to an agent or editor is an undertaking of it’s own. A killer manuscript, needs a killer query letter to get them to take an interest in it. 

A query letter, according to, is meant to “elicit an invitation to send sample chapters or even the whole manuscript to the agent." It has a rather precise format that writers should not stray from. A query letter must stick to a single page in length with three concise paragraphs. The first is the hook, the second a mini-synopsis, the last your writer’s biography. The hook is a succinct, one sentence tagline for your book. Its obvious purpose is to peak interest and snare the editor/agent. The mini-synopsis is an expansion on that one sentence hook. It takes your 300 page novel and boils it down to 150 words or so. Your writer info is where you do your best to sound like a writer. List published works if you have them. As I have not, I would probably list my association with writing conferences such as WIFYR and time I’m involved with the local Salt Lake area SCBWI group. The only thing left for the query letter is a closing thanking them for their time and consideration.

This is a short summary. You should seek out the linked article for complete information.

Where as the synopsis reveals the ending and every plot point along the way, the query does not have to do that. Marissa Meyers, who loves the challenge of writing them, says a query should distill the novel down to its essence, providing just enough information to draw the editor, yet not so much that the story loses all sense of mystery and intrigue.

Brian Klems of The Writer’s Digest offers DO’s and DON'Ts for writing them, some of them reiterating what the AgentQuery people said. You should address the person by name rather than a mass blanketing of query letters. When pitching to an agent, research them and what kind of work they represent. Show how your’s fits and explain why you’ve chosen that specific agency. Klems also says to mention your platform if you have heavy blog or Twitter followings and to study other successful query letters. You should not include meaningless writing credits and  be sure to avoid arrogance by telling how fantastic you or your work are. Again, the complete article is found at the link.

No matter how good the manuscript, a good query is important or the novel won’t see the light of day. 

The AgentQuery folks sum it up best. They say to “write a professional, intelligent, concise, intriguing query and not only will you entice an agent to ask for more, but you’ll move yourself one step closer to a book sale.” 

(This article also posted at

1 comment:

Yamile said...

Great pointers! I'm keeping this post bookmarked as I tinker with my query.