Do These 5 Things When You Query

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It’s a new year and many of us are contemplating getting our work out there. That means that we have to write query letters.

Quit groaning! A query letter is just a business letter. Yes, it is important but with a few tips you can increase your chance of hearing yes. The vast majority of us know to personalize the letter – use the agent’s name and tell them why you chose them. We include our word count and point out that the manuscript is a picture book or, if written for adults, a cozy mystery. We include a summary of our manuscript, including the stakes. And we don’t forget our bio or comp titles.

And yet, positive responses are few and far between. Increase your odds of getting a yes by remembering these five things.

  • Remember this is a sales pitch. What is going to help your work sell? What makes it unique? Include this in your letter.
  • Be specific. Don’t just say your story has a surprise ending or a twist. Reveal all! You are selling your specific story and you don’t have the time or space for generic descriptions.
  • Write short and sweet. You don’t need to fill a typewritten page. Agents and editors frequently read queries after hours. This might mean they are reading on their phones during their commute. Short paragraphs are going to be better no matter what screen they are using. Two paragraphs summarizing your story are better than four or five.
  • Where did you go above and beyond? Include this in your letter. Maybe you hired a sensitivity reader or you interviewed someone who witnessed the event your story is based on. Again, this is something that makes your piece unique. Shout it out!
  • Be real. While this is a sales letter, don’t make ridiculous claims. That means that you should not declare your book a future best seller or the next Hunger Games.

The query letters I critique trend two directions. Either they are vague and overly general or they go into the detail that belongs in a synopsis. Finding a happy medium isn’t easy but it is what you need to do to grab an agent’s attention.

Show them that you know what makes your story unique. And make sure that your letter is concise and direct enough for them to find this information.