The most important part of your submission arsenal, outside of your manuscript, is your query letter. There is so much information out there about this topic but read all you can to create the query that will open a door for you. If you want to catch the attention of an agent, put the time and effort into making your query letter the absolute best it can be. This is your resume, the one thing that agents look at right away to determine whether or not to continue reading your submission materials.
This is your initial pitch, containing the exciting reasons why they need to read your novel. Keep it short but to the point, highlighting the exciting components (without giving anything away) that make them want to read more. Pull them in and hook them, stir that interest in what could happen within your story, and create that air of mystery that makes them want to continue reading to find out what happens next. It is similar to when you read the back of a DVD or the inside cover of a book to get an idea of what the story is about. Those words are written to pique your interest and make you want to find out more about the story and what will happen. That’s the goal of your query letter.
I have read a lot about query letters, sought out great examples online that have hooked agents, and have also attended seminars specifically detailing how to create an excellent query letter. All of this research and time is time well spent. It is an investment in time that could be the solitary reason an agent ever opens that door for you, even if it is initially just a crack. Below are a few query letter basics.
The query should be made up of 3 parts:
Part I - The Intro: Make it only a few sentences. The first sentence should be about the work and some detail. Ex: I am seeking representation for my completed 80,000-word fantasy novel FUTUREWORLD. (capitalize the title). The second sentence, why you are choosing them as an agent, establish a connection. Ex: Because you represent Joe Smith’s novel, The Star Nebula, I think you may be a good fit for FUTUREWORLD. Or cite something they said in an interview you may have read.
Part II - The Pitch: Add what the work is about, what makes your story unique, who the major players are, and what is the main conflict. Do not give away the ending or too much info, just give a good, solid hook that will pique their curiosity. Make it 3-10 sentences only, which can be tough. It should pull the reader in, grab their interest. Talk about the main character, give something interesting about him/her, give the conflict or hook of the story, the stakes, character arc, and wrap up (without giving it away). Paint an intriguing picture for the agent.
Part III - Bio: 4 parts to your bio. 1- Who are you? 2- What are your qualifications? (If none, don’t worry about it. If you have some, list them) 3- Have you won awards? (again, if not, move past this) 4- If you belong to any national writing organizations or have gotten paid for your work, mention it. If not, thank them for considering your work.
Send this in the body of the email without gimmicks or weird fonts and be professional. Straight forward & following the agent’s guidelines stands out. Be sure to include the important stats the agents are looking for with your story; title, word count, genre and what your target audience will be. Try to keep it to about 250-300 words (can be tough) and personalize it to a specific agent, not the agency in general. From everything I hear and read, following directions will give you a leg up on many of your fellow writers.
You want it to be clear to the agent that you have done your homework on them. By following the agent’s guidelines to the letter, it shows the agent that you might be easier to work with seeing that you can follow directions. For someone who submits outside these guidelines, that person probably won’t get too far because upfront, he/she is telling the agent that they cannot follow direction and could be difficult to work with in the long run.
When you get to the part of the query that sets up the story, be sure to get across what the main character wants in their world and what it is that is standing in his/her way. Agents like to see actions and the emotions tied to those actions as well as whatever ramifications might be coming due to the aforementioned actions.
Be sure to add a comparison (comp) title for your story. This should be a comparison of another novel that is similar in story or the way it is told. It can be a combination of two novels (Harry Potter meets Lord of the Rings) Now, with that example, I have to clarify that you do not want to pick a huge bestseller to compare your novel to (Harry Potter, The Goldfinch, The Hunger Games, etc.) but something that was smaller in stature although considered to be every bit as good. Try to pick something from the previous 5 years and if possible, from the previous 2-3 years would be even better for your comp.
A few resources can help to find a comp title in your genre. Try looking at Goodreads (https://www.goodreads.com/) and go through the lists associated with the book (listed under the book description) or look at the “Readers also enjoyed…” on the right-hand side, which can be a help. You can read book jackets on Amazon (https://www.amazon.com/), find a book in your genre, and then look at the “Products related to this item…” area, which shows other books that are in the same vein.
One resource I found extremely helpful is called Novelist Plus. This can only be accessed through a library (from what I have found) and that is how I access this great resource. If you have online access to your library, see if they have Novelist Plus and use it for your comps. Do your research, there is a plethora of information out there for you to research and find comp titles. This is something I neglected to use for my early submissions and now I see what a mistake that was as these are very important to the agent.
My best advice is to never stop trying to perfect your letter. I received feedback recently from a seminar I attended where an agent went over my query letter and provided feedback. All of my research and hard work has paid off to this point as she was impressed with my query letter. She pointed out one small thing to fix, which I have since completed. The query letter is your ticket to opening an agency’s door so care for it like you would anything that is important in your life that could lead to your end goal. Nurture it and help it to grow into what it needs to be to help you succeed.
Use your resources.
There is so much great information online about writing your query letter. Take a class from a reputable source on writing query letters (it will be money well spent). As I said at the beginning of this blog, besides your actual story, this is the next most important piece in your arsenal to one day getting that story out there for the whole world to enjoy.
Happy reading, happy writing!