The traditional path to publication involves a number of written essentials. First, of course, is your book. Then, to attract an agent’s attention, you need a query letter and a synopsis. Today we’re going to focus on querying your novel, and on the available query resources to help you with your task. There are more sites out there than I can refer to in this post, so I’ve picked a few of my personal favorites to share.
What is a Query Letter?
A query letter is a sales tool, an introduction, and did I mention a sales tool? The point of the query letter is not to describe your book in its entirety. It’s to introduce the main characters and their conflict. Not to be confused with a synopsis, which is a point-by-point recap of your entire story, the query letter is something you want to use to grab an agent or editor’s interest to the point where they ask to see more of your work. It’s also a place to introduce yourself and show off your writing credentials, if you have any under your belt.
Think of the query letter as your knock at the door to an agent or editor. It’s your way of stopping in, saying hello, giving them a brief idea of what you’re trying to sell, and leaving a calling card—all virtually, of course.
Finding and Researching Agents
Before you can send query letters, you need to know where to send them. There are many sites listing agents and agencies, or discussing what agents want and how they work. The ones I’ve found most useful follow.
Query Tracker (QT) is free to use (if you buy a paid account, you can keep track of multiple projects at once). Why QT? It’s a comprehensive and vetted list of agents, editors, and publishers. The site maintainer keeps track of when these agents are open to queries, what genres they represent, and their response times. There’s also an active community of querying authors in the forums there.
Agent Query (AQ) is also free to use. It’s another searchable database of agents with a different set of search tools from Query Tracker. This one seems more cut-and-dried to me. In researching agents, I’ll often check both sites. Sometimes information is updated on one but not the other.
Maintained by agent Jessica Sinsheimer from the Sarah Jane Freyman agency, Manuscript Wishlist (MSWL) is different in that you can search by specific keywords. Have a book about a lovelorn werewolf allergic to tacos? You can key that in and see if any agents are looking for a book like that. You can also search by agency or agent name. When you want to know what a specific agent is looking for right now, this is a great place to go.
Absolute Write Water Cooler
The Absolute Write Water Cooler is another site I always check. There, authors discuss their experiences with agents and agencies in bluntly honest terms. If a search on an agent turns up a thread on Absolute Write, I always make sure to read it, taking into account the date on the thread.
Writing Query Letters
The art of writing query letters is something you’re either good at, or something you work hard to become good at. The best way is to read other query letters and ask yourself if they’d make you want to ask for more pages.
Agent Janet Reid is probably the Advice Queen when it comes to query letters. Her blog is the repository for years’ worth of query letter advice. The whole thing is worth reading.
Query Letter Fail
All too often, it’s easy to put the wrong information in a query letter. There are several basics about what you should avoid.
- Avoid giving too much information about yourself. Keep it professional. This is not the place to wax poetic about your family, your pets, or your favorite color unless those snippets are relevant to your story.
- Be careful not to misspell the agent’s name or to refer to them by the wrong gender. You also don’t want to be too casual. Remember, this is a business letter.
- Don’t query an agent who doesn’t represent your genre.
- Keep in mind that the target length for a query letter is 250-350 words. Anything longer is an outlier.
- Never demand that the agent respond.
- Don’t claim to be the next best-seller. That’s not for us to determine as authors, but for the market to define.
- Finally, don’t forget to thank the agent for their time and attention.
There! You’re ready to go forward and query. If you’ve got favorite query resources on the web that I haven’t mentioned, please point me to them in comments. As a querying author myself, I’ll take all the help I can get.