When it comes to writing, there are certain tasks an author dreads: writing back cover book blurbs, composing a short or long synopsis of their WIP, writing a catchy elevator pitch to summarize their stories into one line, or writing a query letter to agents or traditional publishers in hopes of getting their novels published. Some or all of these steps may be necessary to attempt during an author’s career, and although dreaded, they are well worth the effort.
I’m in the middle of going through this process as I prepare to pitch my latest novel, Code of Reanimation, to search for representation as I go the traditional publishing route. This isn’t my first rodeo… I have done this once before, back when I first started writing and hadn’t a clue what I was doing. Back then, I had read that most traditional publishers don’t accept unsolicited manuscripts, only accepting ones they requested or that were presented by an agent. So, I thought getting an agent was in my best interest. I took my barely edited manuscript for Father of Contention, and pitched it to several agents through my query letter and synopsis. What I received back were a slew of rejections, but thankfully a few kindhearted agents offered feedback as to what I was lacking. It was an eye opener, let me tell you. So, if you’re an author hoping to get traditionally published in this highly competitive industry, here’s a list of what an agent is looking for, besides an amazing story.
Crafting the Ideal Query Letter
A query letter is one page in length with three distinct sections. Section one is your introduction, section two is the book blurb, and section three is your author bio. Here’s a list of the major points to include in your query:
- ensure your letter is polished, professional, and free of typos
- a proper introduction of your book (title, genre, length)
- connecting with the agent on a personal level (explain how you found them, and why you’d be a great fit to work together)
- a unique, concise, catchy book blurb to hook the agent’s interest in your story (3-10 sentences)
- list previous publications if you have any (short stories, magazine articles, online columns, poems, self-published books)
- describe your author platform, including website and blog
- social media tags (try to gain at least 500 followers on some or all of the following sites – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Goodreads)
- mention any literary contest wins (short stories, poems, self-published books)
- include the names of writing communities you are a member of
- be courteous when thanking them and offer to send a partial or full manuscript at their request
During my first querying stint, I didn’t have an author platform or anything published. I wasn’t anywhere on social media, didn’t belong to any writing communities, and had never won a writing contest. It took me several years to start checking those items off, until I felt ready to query again. And now, here I am. A little better off, but there’s still more to consider.
Next, comes the research portion. Looking for an agent that would best suit me and my work takes a little bit of digging through online and book listings. It’s important to find an agent that represents the genre you are writing, matches your personality, perhaps has published a book you love that’s similar to your writing or topic, and then you must ensure they are actually accepting submissions. You can find this information in book and online listings, but if you have the chance to attend a writing conference, you can meet with agents in person. Once you find the perfect agent for you, or a list of agents, you can start sending them your query letters, along with a synopsis of your book.
Think of all the submissions an agent receives day after day. To avoid getting lost in the slush pile, your letter must grab their attention, draw them in, and compel them to request your partial or full manuscript. If your letter is your first and only impression, you have to make it count! Hopefully this post helps you in your journey, but for a broader discussion on the topic, and for a list of potential agents to query, I recommend the Guide to Literary Agents, 30th Edition by Writer’s Digest Books.
💋 Lanie Mores