Simon Publishing LLC
Simon Publishing LLC
In Segment one, you learned how to write your elevator pitch. Now let’s delve into the query letter itself.
A query letter has three concise paragraphs:
If sending in an email: Address the subject line as follow: Query, Title, Genre. Example: in subject line: Query, The Crittenton Girls, Women's Fiction
● Address the agent by name. If her name is Jennifer White, either Ms. White or Jennifer White will do. Never, under any circumstances address the letter to “whom it may concern,” or almost as bad, multiple agents in the same agency.
● Open your first paragraph expressing how you know this agent. Show them you did your homework. If you met her at a writer’s conference, remind her of that, or if you never were introduced but saw her speak at ABC conference, say that. If you have never met the agent, acknowledge her website, “I discovered on your website that you are seeking science fiction and fantasy manuscripts.”
● Second paragraph goes right into into the pitch. You can expand slightly from your elevator pitch, but keep it short and cover the bases. Give the setting, era, or world the story takes place in. It’s important that you convey what the protagonist really wants and where the conflict is. Don’t tell – show who they are. Do not tell the ending in the query. Save that for the synopsis.
● The third paragraph is a summary of the necessary information: genre, target audience, word count. Know the standard accepted word count for your genre. Only share a comp title if it truly fits. But if you do, explain why, “My manuscript, XZ Comes Home is similar in style and theme to Lisa Wingate’s, The Book of Lost Friends, (italics on the book title) because ___________. If you won any awards for this story or other writing achievements, this is the place to brag. Do not include that you are a retired doctor unless the doctor is your main character, and you reference medical jargon in the story. Be sure and include your contact information, name, email, and phone number.
Follow their guidelines to the letter. Many agents are now requesting queries on a form from their website instead of standard email.
Do not send an email if they want you to use their form.
If they are accepting emails, check if they want everything embedded in the email or as attachments. If they request the first fifty pages, double-spaced, do not send them one hundred pages single-spaced, hoping they will read further. They won’t. If they want a three-page synopsis, do not send five. Remember, every agent and agency is different and wants different things.
Send only the requested material in the exact format they state. Do not query until your manuscript is done; meaning edited over and over again.
Spell check, spell check, spell check. Remember that agents receive hundreds of queries a day. The big agencies have entire staffs to read through the initial queries. Find a misspelled word? Gone. Find a poorly executed letter? Gone. Claim to be the next New York bestseller? Gone. They are looking for reasons to reject, not to accept your manuscript. Don't give them one. You must be exceptional to stand out, so it makes it past the gatekeepers and into the actual agent's hands.
Here is a sample query letter that connected with a New York agent and later sold the story to one of the Big Five publishers.
Subject line in email: Query: Grounds to Believe, Suspense w) Romance Elements
Dear Ms. Smith:
(intro/hook) I’ve been a longtime reader of the big, five-hankie romances Contemporary House publishes, especially the recent Mothers in Jeopardy series. I have completed a 100,000-word manuscript entitled Grounds to Believe that I believe will be a good fit for your program.
(pitch) Julia McNeill has grown up in a strict, right-wing religious sect where she has been taught that the world is evil, everyone but her church is deceived, and the only safety is found inside the rigid boundaries of her community. She believes … until the children begin to die. After the third victim is found, local police call in state investigator Ross Malcolm, who works undercover to infiltrate cultic groups to find evidence of crime. Ross targets the unsuspecting Julia as his informant. He must unmask the evil living in this supposedly safe community and stop it before another child becomes a victim—and before his unexpected passion for Julia endangers them both. While Julia is a believer, she is blind to the real meaning of love. Her learning process is entwined with the romance as she comes to love the forbidden outsider who shows her what can be possible if she has the courage.
(book details/yourself ) Grounds to Believe is a suspense novel of with romantic elements. It won the grand prize in the Lagniappe for Literacy national fiction contest, and also took first place in the San Francisco Area Romance Writers of America® “Heart to Heart” contest. I spent eight years working for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, so my “insider knowledge” brings realistic investigative detail to the suspense of the story. I have an M.A. in fiction and am published in short fiction. Enclosed is the first fifty pages per your request and my synopsis. I look forward to hearing from you and hope you will be interested in reading the manuscript.
In Segment Three we will discuss the many ways to find an agent and what to expect once you’ve hit that scary send button.