Ask the Agent: Query Letters
I’m taking the month of April to do “ask the agent” — your chance as a writer to ask a longtime literary agent anything you want. Today’s question: “Can you give me some agenty advice on query letters? I think mine is good, but I’ve had eight rejection letters!”
Happy to chat about query letters. First, think very hard about what the goal of the query letter is. Sometimes I’ll see a letter that is all over the map, talking about the story, the characters, the platform, the author’s bio, etc. Your query letter really has only one goal: To get the agent or editor to read your proposal. So with everything you do in a query, keep that in mind.
Second, address it to someone specific. I don’t even read the “dear agent” letters that come in. And I want to know that the person writing to me has spent a bit of time researching me and my agency.
Third, keep the introduction short and clear. Often your query letter will open with one sentence – “I’m writing because you represented Susan Meissner’s Secrets of a Charmed Life and I think my work is similar” or “I’m writing because your client, Davis Bunn, introduced us.” It’s always nice if you can make some sort of connection to the person in your opening.
Fourth, your query letter is going to have a couple of paragraphs that offer a short description of your book, and a short description of yourself. So if you’re writing a novel, give me the basic storyline and don’t lard it up with all the subplots and minor character names. Maybe tell me something about the writing you’ve done. If you’re writing a nonfiction book, explain to me what the problem is that you’re speaking to, and what the solution is that you’re offering — and by all means, explain briefly why you are the person who is writing this nonfiction book.
Fifth, give me something memorable. If you’ve won a writing award, you might mention it. If your book is a mashup of 50 Shades of Grey and The Cat in the Hat, that’s an interesting mix. If your book is similar to something else I represented, mentioning that title will make your query more memorable.
Sixth, go back and check it. Make sure it’s clear, interesting, and correct. Ask a friend to proof it and give you a a response. Be sure you’ve included the basic information an agent or editor will want to have — it’s always nice to know the genre and title of your book, the word count, as well as the fact that it’s completed or will be soon. And it’s important that you have your contact information on the page somewhere. But in your final evaluation, ask yourself the question, “Does this make the agent want to read my writing?” Because that’s the key to success.
Does that help? What tips would you have for someone crafting a query letter?
Chip MacGregor is president of MacGregor Literary Inc. A longtime editor and author, and formerly a publisher with Time-Warner, he has been agenting since 1998.
Thanks, Chip. I feel like I’ve been doing all those things, except for maybe the “something memorable.” I have a few scientific publications from my time in research and working in a crime lab. That’s memorable, but doesn’t really relate to writing middle-grade and YA fantasy. Throw it in anyway?
Any chance you’d read my letter and tell me what you think? You could even critique it on your blog if you like. LMK
Sure, Lisa. Email it to me in a Word doc.