Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Querying 101

If you’re here, you’ve probably done one of two things: written a book or are in the process of writing one. Congratulations! You’ve accomplished a big feat. Not many people can finish a book.

But I know you're wondering what happens after you finish the book.

First, you need to make sure your manuscript is in tip-top shape. Have fellow writers or readers review your work. Make any necessary changes. Then you can select a genre for your writing. Fiction or nonfiction? Fantasy? Science Fiction? Mystery? Does it fit into the category of Middle Grade, Young Adult or Adult? Figuring out these first steps will help you find an agent who specializes in that specific genre.

Now that you've finished and selected a genre, you get to shake hands with The Query Letter. 

A query letter is classified as a short synopsis (three paragraphs and nothing longer than 250 words) summarizing your book. In your query, there needs to be a hook (something that snags the agent from the get-go), the problem(s) your MC (main character) faces, and the solution to the problem(s). It’s not easy condensing your novel into three paragraphs. Believe me. Don’t get overwhelmed, though.

But how do I create a query letter? What’s the right format? Well, for example purposes, I’ll post the format of a query letter below.

Telephone Number

Dear Mr. / Ms. [Agent's Last Name]:

Your hook goes here; it’s the one line that captures the agent’s interest and keeps them reading. Remember—don’t begin your query with a rhetorical question. In Query Land, rhetorical questions at the beginning of a query (or any part of a query, for that matter) = marked for death.

This paragraph should be dedicated to whatever problems your MC is up against, whether it’s a clan of ogres out for revenge, the government covering something else up, or aliens on newly discovered planets that are really close to our solar system. Problems, problems, and more problems.

The last paragraph is to summarize your work. Make it count. What does your MC do to deal with the problems? How will it end? Although you need to be straightforward (not so many cliffhangers), you don’t have to reveal everything. Most of the time, that’s what makes the agent want to read more. They’ll want to know how it ends.

This line should state something about your book title, word count (always round up to the nearest thousand), genre, and if you have any writing credentials (i.e. – prior publications).

For example: Complete at 35,000 words, BLINKY AND THE AMAZING CAMERA is a Middle Grade fantasy novel. My short fiction appears in Who Writes Poems? and I Need a Life, copies of which are available upon request. (Note: you do not have to have prior publications to query an agent. As long as your work is good, they'll still read.)


Your Name

Now that you have completed a query letter, you’re ready to make contact with the publishing celebs! (Agents, I mean.) But first you need to do your research.

One of the best agent-seeking tools out there is Agent Query. If you haven't visited this site, you're missing out. Side note: make sure you always check the agent's website for submission guidelines, as the information on AQ isn't always updated.

There’s also the part about submitting either by email or snail mail. Take note of what the agent specifically asks for in their guidelines. Some accept both. Some are going green and want only paperless communication.

See! It’s that simple. I know. I know. Sounds tough. But writing a book wasn’t easy, either, was it? Just follow these tips. If you've already made it this far, what's stopping you?


  1. Great post. I'm in queryland right now!

  2. I'm sure we all would love to just pay someone to write ours for us. Mine usually go through about fifteen iterations before I feel it's ready to go out. I post on in share your work and on before I send it out.

  3. Thanks for the great tips. I'm in the process of writing a book right now but I'm kind of lost on what to do once I get to the next step so I found your post really helpful.

  4. awesome tips! thanks for sharing :D


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