The Successful Query Promotes the Book, not the Author

One of the services we provide for our editing clients is to write query letters for them if they are interested in pursuing traditional publishing. As a result we have written a lot of queries. We have also reviewed a lot of drafts of queries and have seen the pitfalls that writers fall into.

paper-mtnAgents are bombarded with query letters. You don’t want to give them any excuse to toss yours in the trashcan while making them curious enough about your book to ask to read it. Here are eight conclusions we have reached about writing successful queries:

1) A query should titillate agents, rather than leave them sated. Give them just enough to provoke interest and make them hungry to learn more.

2) Unless the book is non fiction and steeped in some knowledge you and only you have, the query letter should be about the book, not the author.  Who you are doesn’t matter.  What you do in your day job, what you studied in college, and how many children you have do not matter. The book is what you are selling, and the query should focus on it.

3) Have a reason for contacting this agent (so the agent doesn’t think you’ve sent query letters to every agent in the book). For example: “Because you represented XXXXX (a book like yours) I thought this might be your kind of novel.”

4) If you are querying by snail mail, always include a SASE or you’ll never hear back. If the agent accepts e mail, query that way because you will get a response more quickly.

5) It doesn’t hurt to compare your book to books that have sold well:  (eg: “XXXX is a character-driven thriller in the tradition of Frederick Forsyth’s The Day of the Jackal and, more recently, Daniel Silva’s The Mark of the Assassin.”)

6) It should be somewhat cocky.  Tell them what you’ve got and end with an expectation rather than begging. (“I look forward to hearing from you.”)

7) But also use your nice-guy voice. While you are selling the book and not yourself, you do not want to come across as someone an agent would not want to deal with.

8) A query should never be longer than one page.

The website, Galleycat, which focuses on the publishing industry, provides examples of successful query letters for a number of genres. To read them click here.