For this month’s Author Toolbox Blog Hop, I thought I would post a few tips for writing a good query letter. I’ll also comment on patterns I’ve noticed in query letters in submissions recently.
- Do your research: I’m sure this one seems obvious. Before I started interning, when I’d read articles and agent tips (I still do this), a lot of them mentioned this very thing: do you research and follow submission guidelines. I would always think to myself “well, isn’t this obvious? I doubt I’ll stand out just by following submission guidelines.” I was wrong. Whenever I get a well-crafted query letter by an author who followed our guidelines, I’m so excited to start reading their submission. They’re already a step ahead. But when the person who submits doesn’t follow guidelines and their query letter hits every red flag, although I’ll still read it, I won’t be as enthusiastic. And trust me – you want us to be enthusiastic when we start reading 😉 So for example, if the query letter is just a list of themes, I know the author hasn’t done their research, and the MS will probably reflect that.
- This applies for Pitch Wars, too! Make sure the mentor you’re submitting to works with your category/genre.
- Don’t start with backstory: A lot of queries I’ve seen begin with backstory on the main character, and then the second paragraph is when things really get interesting. You want to hook the agent as soon as possible. So if the second paragraph is where the story really starts – cut the first paragraph and start with the second!
- Be specific: Another common issue I’ve noticed is when details in the query are too vague. So a lot of times when I’m critiquing a query, it will involve asking questions to help narrow things down and make them as specific as possible. For example, “X faces a problem/has to overcome obstacles…” “X will lose it all if…” those are too vague. What obstacles does X have to face? What exactly will X lose if they don’t accomplish their goal? Be as specific as you can.
- High stakes: This is probably the most common issue I’ve noted so far. You need to mention what’s at stake for your MC in the query letter but you also have to make sure the stakes are high and specific (as mentioned above).
- You want to be answering these questions: Who is the MC? What do they want? What stands in their way? What happens if they don’t get it?
- Don’t forget you’re selling your novel. I’ve seen queries where the author writes about themselves and the inspiration for their novel more than the novel itself. Yes, you should write a brief bio at the end with relevant credentials, but the focus of the query should still be on the story.
- My final tip comes back to research again. There are so many articles on writing query letters, and a lot of people share their successful ones. Read them – you’ll thank yourself later.
Of course there are exceptions to every rule 🙂
Lastly, a few people asked about the critique giveaway I did in June, so I decided to do another one. I’ll be picking winners on Monday, just because I want them to have the chance to revise for Pitch Wars 🙂 You can find details here.