Thursday, March 18, 2010

Query Letters (Getting a Literary Agent Part 2)

Part One of this series is here.

I can’t tell you how to write a fabulous query letter. I rarely garnered interest for my manuscripts with this method, but I do know what information needs to go in said letter.

1. Your genre and word count. As in, “This is a 55,000 word young adult manuscript.” Your word count is easy to find, your word processor tallies it for you, but the genre can be a bit trickier. Most writers I know, particularly new writers, don’t like being “boxed in” by one particular genre and are tempted to come up with some new name for the kind of stories they write. Like Family Dramas or Heartbreaking Romances. Just say no to the part of you that wants to do this. Where would your book best be shelved in a bookstore? That is what the agent needs to know.

2. If you have a snappy one-liner, it’s great to work it in. The one I’ve used that’s always received a good response is, “When you’re bored with your life and don’t want to marry your fiancé, isn’t the obvious answer eloping with your ex?” Another option for a one-liner is something like, “Veronica Mars meets small town Kansas.” Or, “Gossip Girl meets 24.”

3. A short pitch. Think back cover copy. “During a dangerous event at a summer party, high school senior Skylar Hoyt decides it’s time to change her ways…” Keep it to a minimum and really sell it. Your goal is to make the agent think, “I wonder what happens next.”

4. What makes this book different than the others in its genre? This can be a single sentence. “While lots of young adult novels feature blah-blah-blah, mine is the first to feature something.” Like for 24 you might say, “Fans of action shows will love it, but it’ll also draw other fans because of its unique ‘real time’ format.”

5. Who you are. This is going to be tricky. It always was for me because, frankly, I wasn’t anybody. I finally had to join an organization just so I could have something for my stinking bio. If only I were joking. When the Skylar Hoyt series sold to Revell, my bio read something like, “I live in Overland Park, KS with my husband and daughter. I’m a member of ACFW.” Seriously. Play up anything that makes you the best person to write and market this book.

6. “Thank you for taking the time to consider my manuscript. Sincerely, Your Name.”

7. An SASE (self-addressed stamped envelope) if you’re doing snail mail. If it’s on e-mail, just make sure to include your e-mail address and phone number beneath your signature.

Like I said, I never had much success with this method, so I’m not going to post a query letter of mine. But according to Nelson Literary Agency, here are some examples of query letters that caught their eye.

We’ll continue on Tuesday with writing book proposals. If you have questions in the meantime, give me a holler.


  1. I still love that "elope with your ex" pitch, Stephanie! Of course, that was the one I heard in that chat that marks the beginning of our friendship. =)

  2. I feel like that's the only good one I've ever come up with. And good thing it wasn't total crap, or you might have never become friends with me :) (And I would have been embarrassed in front of about 50 other people.)

  3. Thanks so much for posting this, stuff. I haven't even looked at my manuscript in almost a month... is there something wrong with me?

  4. Emii, other than having a life outside of writing? Absolutely not :) Until yesterday, I hadn't touched mine in about 3 weeks, and this is my JOB. Don't worry about it. Sometimes writing happens in seasons. I know that was especially true for me at your age.