Get A Name
A query is best described as a cover letter for a prospective job. You want to sell yourself and your book in this one page letter so it pays to do the research. Literary Agents are smart and can spot a generic copy and pasted form letter from a mile away. Addressing your query letter to “Agent” or worse “To Whom it May Concern” won’t get the agent to read any further. Find out who is going to be reading this letter and use their name directly. Sometimes this is easily done by looking at the “About Us” page on the website, other times it’s a little more difficult. Most Literary Agencies will clearly have their contact information listed. This will help you to better format your query letter to appeal to the desired agent and make it look more professional.
Find Your Hook
Agents are busy people. They decide whether to read the query any further after the first paragraph. Sometimes their attention span does not even last that long. You need to hook them good and you need to do it fast. “Let me introduce you to …” sounds a little boring. Try one of these:
1. Ask a question – Make the agent inch to the edge of their seat as they read the query in search of the answer and let them know the only way to get it is by reading your manuscript.
2. A quote – A really good quote from your book that you’re proud of and will beg the agent to read more.
3. A short passage from your book – something to build excitement and anticipation to read your manuscript.
4. Lead with something about yourself – is there something about your life story that might help sell a book? Lead with that.
You can try any one of those four ways and more. The aim of your first sentence should be to make the agent want to read more of your query and hopefully your manuscript.
You should always be working to build your platform as an author any way possible. The Internet has been both a blessing and a curse for writers. It offers you more avenues to reach people but it also makes agents and publishers less likely to accept a client without a ready made fanbase behind them. There are some agents out there who look at how many followers an author has on Twitter more than they do a manuscript. Take the time to build yourself up through social networking, you’ll be glad you did it in the end because it will make your book that much easier to sell when it comes time to market the dang thing.
Summarize Your Book
It should not take more than a paragraph to summarize your book for the query. You’ll have more of a chance to talk about your book in the synopsis. For the query, you just want to touch upon the things that are really going to entice people to buy your book. You need a hook, rising action, and climax. That’s all the room you have for bragging about your book. One page goes fast, don’t waste room.
Leave Them Wanting More
This is essentially the whole purpose you are trying to accomplish with your query. The point is to get an agent or publisher to love the idea of your book so much they want to see a manuscript. Building anticipation for the agent to want nothing more than to see your finished manuscript will help you get published so much quicker. Agents are the ones who are going to be selling your book to prospective publishers and the goal should always be to impress them enough to work as hard as they can to sell it.
Follow the Directions
A lot of literary agencies have very specific guidelines they want you to follow in submitting your query and other files pertaining to your book. These range from requests for the first five or ten pages, the first chapter, the first three chapters, a detailed synopsis, and everything else you could possibly imagine. If they don’t accept e-mail queries, don’t e-mail them. If they don’t represent your genre, don’t contact them. Not adhering to the submission rules doesn’t make you inventive, it makes your look like an amateur who doesn’t listen. Nothing will do more to ruin your professional life than not properly formatting your submission files.