As a literary agent, I love seeing stacks of queries in my inbox. Like the other agents at Books & Such, I enjoy discovering unique book ideas, moving memoirs and fresh new voices. However, all literary agents must balance limited time with an abundance of queries to review.
Here are four best-practices if you want to make sure that your desired literary agent reviews your entire query once it lands in his or her inbox:
1. Check prospective agent’s current client list
In addition to double-checking that your prospective agent represents your genre, you should scout the agent’s social media page to make sure that they don’t have a client that has recently released a project similar to yours.
Even though I’ve identified what I represent, I still receive a large number of queries for projects that I don’t represent. It’s a bummer to send a pass letter to someone that should have never queried me in the first place.
ACTION STEP: Check out the literary agent’s professional social media pages. Many will post announcements of their clients’ recent releases.
2. Be mindful of your query length
Think of your query like your job resume. Like a basic resume, a query should be one page long. Long queries do not guarantee an increase in a literary agent’s interest. In fact, the opposite often happens.
If I’m reviewing a query via email, and I scroll down multiple pages, I’m more likely to put that query letter to the side and move onto other, shorter queries. I’ll get back to that query eventually, but the takeaway here is that shorter increases the chances of quicker consideration.
ACTION STEP: Review your query length. If it is too long, then find or ask your writing group, partner or writing coach for revision assistance.
3. Follow the KISS rule in the first paragraph
Think of your literary agent like a Wild West Cowboy. We’re straight-shooters. So, you don’t need to be fancy. My advice: Follow the KISS Rule: Keep It Simple and Straight-forward.Begin your query with what an agent cares about most. This section should be 3-5 sentences long.
- Title of the project
- Word count
- Hook (fiction)/Unique Selling Feature (non-fiction)
- Where the book will sit on the shelf (list two or three comparable titles)
- Did someone refer you to query me?
Here is an example of a condensed first paragraph that’s about 100 words.
Good morning <First name of agent>,
I attended the Miami Dade Writer’s Conference, and my workshop facilitator <name> recommended that I contact you. I would like to submit the following query for my contemporary women’s novel entitled, Hymns from the Hot Mess Corner. This is a 78,000-word manuscript about Belle Miller-Daniels, a 27-year-old mother of one-year-old twins who hit her head on her honeymoon with her second husband and woke up with amnesia. Though afraid to revisit the grief in her past, Belle braves the future to rediscover her faith, love and laughter again. Readers who enjoy similar books such Jesus Loves Jane, But Not Her Attitude or The Piano Bench Party, might enjoy my new novel as well.
ACTION STEP: Check the format of your first paragraph as well as the word count. Consider the hook of your project to make sure that it is concise and compelling.
4. Use 2nd paragraph to sell your project
I suggest that you begin the second paragraph with “Here is a brief overview of my manuscript or my nonfiction project” and then provide an expanded hook and plot summary or overview of the nonfiction book with its unique selling features or benefits to the reader.
In this case, it is my opinion that less is more. It’s always a good thing when an agent writes to ask you to send more.
ACTION STEP: Look at the explanation paragraph of your query and consider whether the plot summary or nonfiction overview will inspire the agent to ask to see more of your work.
5. Tell me about you
In the final paragraph of the query share information about you. Exception: If you’ve won huge writing awards, made best-seller lists, or you are the #1 speaker on TEDX, then that kind of information belongs at the beginning of your query.
Here’s what I’m looking for in that final paragraph about you:
- Your traditional or self-publishing experience (include book sales, if remarkable)
- Writing awards
- Speaking experience or remarkable platform experience (nonfiction)
- Whether you are currently represented by another agency
- Updated website and social media information including current profile picture
In conclusion, publishing is a people business. Even though the query process begins on one computer screen and transmits to another, a query is a connecting bridge from one person to another. I hope that these tips inspire you to create a query that connects you to an agent you want to work with in the future.
I’D LOVE TO HEAR FROM YOU: What’s your best advice to share with others about writing a query? What part of the query process is the trickiest or most difficult for you to nail down? Which action step do you need to focus on for your current or future queries?