Ah, the dreaded query. Writers hate them. And almost all the agents and editors I know sigh heavily about them as well. Because, well, they don’t want to be ‘wowed.’ Nor do they want to be bored to tears. Humor can help, but only if it’s not forced and most importantly, if such prose holds true in the course of the text.
The point is, one wants to know why you think she might be the right agent or why he’s the right editor at the right publishing house for your book. They want to know what the book is about. They want to know who you are and if you can pull off said book.
Because the only real question in an agent’s mind is: Can I sell this?
A good query is no longer than one page, and has three specific paragraphs:
1). Why are you querying this agent (or sometimes, editor)? Does he represent similar authors? Has she sold books in this genre? Did you meet him at a conference (if so, by all means, remind him of when and where and what was said, especially if work was requested)? Did someone in the business refer you to her? The opening line of such a query might read:
“Susan Malone of Malone Editorial Services suggested I query you about my x, y, z.”
An agent wants to know that you’ve done your homework, know what she represents, and aren’t just querying blind. In this day and age of zillions of submissions and very few slots, everyone’s time is of the essence.
2). The “pitch” of the book. To get here, you go backward:
- Take your long synopsis, and cut it in half.
- Cut this down to two paragraphs.
- Then, to one paragraph.
- Pare that down to a couple of sentences.
- Boil all of that down into one, thesis sentence.
- Finally, write another sentence or two around that. This is your “pitch.”
It seems backward, but the exercise really works. It helps you to get clear on what’s important, and what parts to evoke in few words, in order to get that agent’s attention and refuse to let him say no.
3). Who you are and why you are qualified to write this book.
Here, include only that which pertains to you writing this book. They do not want to know that you’re married with two children and live on the coast of Maine with your Golden Retriever—unless, the coast of Maine is a pertinent point in the storyline. Or that the Golden Retriever is the actual narrator. Even then, include only that part.
But if you grew up on the shores of the Mighty Mississippi, hearing the stories of your people from a grandfather who lived it, and your novel travels along the path of a great flood, which destroyed not only the land around it but the people as well, then that’s a different story! Include that for sure.
Include any publications you might have had. That is a big plus.
Writers are often stymied by this, especially if this is a first novel, nothing else they’ve written has been published, etc. But don’t be daunted by this. If you’re writing a detective novel and you’re a detective, that lends credence to your ability to know and write about your subject. If your novel revolves around an environmental mystery, and you’ve worked for the EPA or have been a Sierra Club activist, the same holds true.
If you’ve belonged to a writer’s workshop, etc., add that in—it shows that you’ve been honing your craft. If you’ve worked with a well-known editor, the same holds true. If nothing you’ve written has been published but you’ve won awards, include that. But do not say that all your friends and family have loved the book—that’s amateurish.
And, the point is, we want you to look like a professional, even if this is your first writing endeavor.
So: Why you’re contacting him. What the book’s about. And who you are in relation to this book.
Simple formula. Of course, simple is rarely easy. But this outline will get you there.