Q – Query Letter

Editorial Director, Kara Leigh Miller is back today and she’s talking about the dreaded query letter…

Q

What exactly is a query letter? It’s a lot like a cover letter you’d write to attach to your resume when applying for a job. For authors, it’s your tool to introduce yourself and your book. It’s your first impression! And as the old saying goes: You never get a second chance to make a great first impression. Needless to say, this letter is very important.

What types of things should should be included in a query letter? There are 5 key elements that every query must contain:

  • Greeting & Introduction: Who are you? What’s your name? Do you use a pen name? Why are you querying this specific agent / editor? (Hint: Don’t ever start with Dear Agent Lady, or Dear Editorial Person. Be sure to personalize each and every query you send.)
  • Pitch: What’s your book about?
  • Book Stats: What’s the genre? Age category? Word Count? What other books out there are like yours? (These are known as comp titles?) Who is your target audience?
  • Credentials: What makes you qualified to write this book? What are your prior publications? What awards have you won? What professional organizations do you belong to–ACFW, RWA, SCWBI, etc.?
  • Contact Information: Phone number, email, snail mail…We need a way to reach out should we want to proceed with your book.

There is a lot of debate online about how to organize your query letter. Some say you should start with an introduction and a bit of personalization to build a rapport with the agent / editor. Others say you should open with a bang and start with the pitch. But honestly, there’s no magic formula for writing a query letter that will guarantee an offer, and the argument can be made that there really is no wrong way to write one… But let’s face it, there is. And that’s what I’m going to focus on today: The types of queries that leave me scratching my head, saying, “What were they thinking?!”

Here are my top 5 types of cringe-worthy queries…

(1) The Fantastic Pitch & Nothing Else Query

The book pitch is hands-down the most important part of the entire letter. If you can’t pique an agent or editors interest, then you have no hopes of getting them to read your book. However, giving said agent or editor some identifying information is equally important. Why? Because we like to know what genre the book is, how long it is, who you are, what credentials you have, how to contact you, etc.

Dear Editor,

Tallulah would do anything to land her dream internship — including playing babysitter to the boss’s obnoxious tween son, Furbrow. But when Furbrow sneaks out of the house to go visit a girl who convinces him to sneak into a movie, Tallulah must figure out a way to get Furbrow home and tucked safely into bed before his parents return. That’s a lot easier said than done though — especially when Tallulah is faced with an impossible decision: tell the truth about Furbrow and possibly lose her internship, or keep it a secret even though she knows that’s not the right thing to do. Is she willing to risk her personal morals for a shot at a life-changing opportunity?
Thank you for your consideration.
Sincerely,
Amy Author

As you can see, there is no information in this type of query. We have no idea what genre this book falls into — YA? NA? MG? — it’s anyone’s guess. Is it 50,000 words or 150,000 words? Has Amy Author ever been published before? If so, where? What type of book?

Please, please, I beg you, take the extra paragraph and give us some information! It really will help you in the end, I promise.

(2) The “I Can’t Follow Rules” Query

Every single agent and publisher will outline their submission guidelines on their website or blog. Most of them are easy to find and even easier to follow. Before you send a query letter to anyone, be sure to find these guidelines and follow them!

Dear Editor,
Brazen Blueblood is the last of her kind, and she’s fighting to stay alive. The world wants her dead because she saw something she wasn’t supposed to see. With the help of a kind, homeless stranger, a stray dog, and her trusty blue metal sword, Brazen will face her demons and hopefully she’ll come out alive.
BRAZEN BLEEDS is a young adult fantasy complete at 90,000 words.
I currently haven’t had anything published, but I’m a contributor to a successful young adult blog. I’m active on social media and have built a strong following on Twitter.
Your guidelines ask for the first three chapters pasted into the email. I’ve taken the liberty of attaching my full manuscript because there is no way you can get a feel for my characters in three short chapters.
Thank you for you consideration.
Sincerely,
Amy Author

Seriously folks, those guidelines are there for a reason. If you don’t follow them, you’re asking for a rejection. This type of query tells me two very important things: (1) you can’t follow simple rules, and (2) you’re going to do whatever you want and will probably be very difficult to work with.

(3) The No Query at all Query

I know, it’s hard to believe, but it’s true. There have been queries just like this one:

Dear Editor,
My book and query letter are attached for your review. Thank you. I look forward to hearing from you soon.
Sincerely,
Amy Author

Anyone want to take a guess as to what’s wrong with this one? Remember those submission guidelines I mentioned up above? Yeah, that applies here, too.

(4) The Arrogant Query

Authors have to have two things: (1) confidence and unfaltering belief in the book they’ve written, and (2) the ability to take rejection. However, when you have the first item in excess, it leads to queries like this:

Dear Editor,
Have I got a book for you. GLUCOSE INTOLERANT VAMPIRES & THE HUMAN WOMEN THEY LOVE is going to be bigger than Twilight, The Hunger Games, and The Vampire Diaries combined. I’d also like to point out that I’m a much better writer than all those authors combined, so the book is publication ready, which means you don’t have to invest the time or money into professional editing. You’re welcome 🙂 I’m so excited for this book and cannot wait for you to share in my joy. And it’s your lucky day, too! I’ve queried forty-seven agents and publishers alike. Once the bidding war is over, I will choose the best possible person to represent my book. Please note that I have already picked the cast for the movie adaptation.
Sincerely,
Amy Author

Okay, so this might be a bit of an exaggeration, but I have seen queries where an author will talk about selling all their subsidiary rights when they haven’t even sold the actual book yet. We get that you’re excited about your book and all the possibilities, but the ratio of books in publication compared to books in publication that are turned into movies is skewed very heavily against you. I’m not saying it won’t happen, but be realistic when you query. Sell the book first. Everything else will come later.

(5) The TMI  (Too Much Information) Query

I have read queries that told me the author’s entire life story and absolutely nothing about the book. Granted, I like to get to know the authors I will be working with, but moderation is key. And getting to know each other should never come at the expense of the book pitch.

Dear Editor,
When I lost my husband to cancer last year, I knew I had to find something to help me cope. I turned to the written word and have healed through my writing. If it weren’t for the journey I took with the characters in this book, I would’ve been reunited with my husband in Heaven much sooner than I should’ve been.
Upon deciding to write this book, I quit my job as a teacher and focused on this new, exciting career path. Prior to teaching, I was a marketing executive and before that a sales clerk at a major department store. As you can see, I bring a variety of life experience to the table and will use my knowledge to help sell my book.
My children are grown and out of the house. Having not blessed me with grandchildren, I am fully devoted to working on this book and the sixteen other books I have planned and outlined. I am at your complete disposal.
Thank you for your consideration.
Sincerely,
Amy Author

I’m sorry for your loss and for your lack of grandchildren, but could you maybe tell me something about your book?

So, there you have it–the types of queries that are almost guaranteed to fail. Tell us, how do you organize your query letter? Are there other elements you include that I didn’t mention?

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