You’ve finished writing your novel. Congratulations! Writing a book may be the first step, but it’s not an easy one. Celebrate the accomplishment, and get to work on the next steps. Collect feedback from CPs and beta readers. Revise and edit. Then, once you’ve gone over every word, polishing all of them to a bright shine, you’re ready to enter the query trenches.
Crafting a compelling query letter takes time, research, and practice. You’ll also need patience and a strong sense of self-worth once you start sending out those letters. When you’re running low on those, make sure you have supportive, uplifting writing buddies to be your cheerleaders when the form rejections get you down.
There’s a lot of information out there about writing a query letter, so I’ll distill everything I learned down to 5 pairs of basic dos and don’ts.
DON’T query agents or editors who don’t represent your genre. It’s a waste of your time and theirs.
DO research the agent you’re planning to query. Read the agent’s info and submission guidelines provided on their agency’s website, and seek out blog interviews for more personalized details. Only query one agent at the agency at a time, and note which agencies have a “no from one means no from all” policy. Bonus: DO spell the agent’s name correctly in the query letter!
DON’T address the query with “Dear Agent” and send it to everyone on your list in a mass email. Personalize the greeting and make sure you are following the submission guidelines for each individual agent. Many agencies have different requirements. For example, some agencies require emailed queries, others have a form on their website. Some specify a three-paragraph query and certain words in the email subject line, while others are more flexible. Check and double check before you click send.
DO follow proper query structure. Make sure to include a blurb, bio, and a pitch. The pitch includes an enticing hook and your manuscript’s title, genre, and word count. (When crafting your hook, think of the 1-2 sentence descriptions the cable TV guide lists for movies.) It’s okay to keep the bio brief if you don’t have publishing credits. The blurb should resemble the copy on the back of a book–do not give away the ending (save that for the synopsis), and make the agent want to read more.
DON’T use crazy fonts or colors that make your query difficult to read. It won’t help you stand out, and it will make it look like you can’t follow instructions.
DO adhere to correct query format. 12 pt font, something readable like Times New Roman or Helvetica, double-spaced, with requested materials pasted into the body of the email unless otherwise specified. Most agents will not open attachments unless they specifically ask for them.
DON’T overpraise your own book (“This is the best book you’ll ever read!”) or compare yourself to mega hits like Harry Potter, Twilight, The Hunger Games, or 50 Shades of Grey. Choose comp titles that show you have a sense of the market and know where your book would be shelved.
DO practice writing your query from multiple angles and get feedback from critique partners. Bonus: DO proofread! You don’t want a stray comma or misspelling to make you look unprofessional.
DON’T diss anyone in the query—yourself, other authors, the industry, whatever. Be nice. Agents talk to each other.
DO read successful queries to learn best practices. There are plenty of them available online, on blogs or Writer’s Digest, and many of them include notes from agents about what works and what doesn’t. Just the fact that you’ve done your research and followed instructions will make your query letter stand out.
Be concise and professional. Do your research. Follow instructions.
By following these dos and don’ts, you’ll put yourself ahead of the crowd. The rest—writing a good book and crafting a compelling pitch—are up to you. Best of luck!
Alexis Daria is a romance writer and artist living in NYC. She’s a member of the New York City chapter of Romance Writers of America (RWA) and co-host of #RWchat, a weekly Twitter chat for romance writers on Sundays at 7pm EST. Find her on Twitter at @alexisdaria, or visit her website, Creativestaycation.com.