Writing a Successful Query Letter

Since announcing my publication news, a lot of people have asked, “How did you find your publisher?” When I give credit to my agent, Barbara Braun, they inevitably ask, “So, how did you get your agent?”

Since I have worked in the entertainment industry for over a decade, a lot of people assume that I got my agent through some big, celebrity contact.

That’s not true.

I had never met Barbara nor did we have some friend in common.

I landed my first choice agent off of a blind query letter.

Now, if you follow my advice, I can’t promise that you, too, will get your first choice agent, but I can promise that you will write a better query letter… And increase your odds of getting someone to read your manuscript.

Here are my Top 5 Query Tips:

  1. TAKE YOUR TIME. I started writing my query letter before I started writing my first draft. That’s not a joke. Then, throughout the writing process, I returned to it—cutting sentences, shifting the focus, tweaking a line… By the time I was ready to send it out, that query letter was a refined document that had grown right alongside my manuscript.
  •  Okay, okay. I hear you. You’ve already written your manuscript and can’t go back and write the query from the beginning. What do you do? Still, TAKE YOUR TIME. Write a long version (maybe three pages). Put it aside. Return to it days or weeks later. Cut it down. Work it like you would work a poem or a short story. Work it until you love it as much as you love your book.
  1. KEEP IT SHORT. The goal of a query letter is NOT TO SELL YOUR BOOK. It is to get the recipient to want to read more. You don’t do that by telling them everything. You do that by hooking them in and then holding back. (Think of crafting a query like writing the end of a good chapter. You want the reader to turn the page.) The first time I wrote down my ideas for my query, it was seven pages long. By the time I sent it out, it was less than a page.
  1. THINK LIKE A MOVIE TRAILER. I don’t JUST mean, “Keep it exciting and quick.” A movie trailer gives you an idea of the story, tone, and main characters, but it also tells you how it will make you FEEL. Will this story make you laugh, cry, or scream? Is it a heroic epic or a gritty indie? Will it inspire you to act or change your perspective on the world? A movie trailer sells the experience you will have in the theater—a query should sell the experience you will have as a reader.
  1. DESIGN YOUR BIO. I feel like many people focus only on the description of the plot or characters, but the truth is, a publisher isn’t just going to sell your book; a publisher is going to sell YOU. You may not be comfortable selling yourself, but you must craft a short biography that highlights your marketability. Don’t give a dry description of your life from birth to now. Highlight the tidbits that make you unique. Figure out why the Today Show or 60 Minutes would do a story on you–and include it.
  1. DO YOUR RESEARCH!!! If you ignore every other piece of advice, follow this one. Do not blindly send out dozens of queries to every agent you find. Target the person who is right for you and your work. There are lots of ways to approach such research, but personally, I looked at every book that was similar to mine—AND THAT I LOVED. Then, I used QueryTracker.net (there are other sites like this, it’s just the one I used) to figure out who represented those authors. Then, I looked at those agents’ websites, the other authors they represented (and their publishing companies), and anything else they had written. My list narrowed to 3 different agents who were right for me.
  • OH and don’t forget to mention your personal reason for reaching out to that agent in the query. Mention the specific book or client that drew you to them or their blog post that inspired you… Don’t just say why you are the right person for them, but say why they are the right person for you.

There are many things that I didn’t mention in this little post. I have much more to say on the topic, but please, in the comments below, leave your favorite piece of query advice! I’d love to hear them!

(For information on workshops or private coaching for writing a successful query, send me a note via my contact page)

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