Query Letter (&Synopsis) Advice
If you thought writing and editing your novel was the hardest thing you’ve ever done -bad news- its not. Writing a query letter which clearly introduces your main character, conflict and stakes isn’t easy. Doing so concisely is harder still. Crafting a query which invites industry professionals to connect with your character and care about their conflict which overall entices them, may seem impossible, at first. Great query crafting is an art (different to novel writing unfortunately) and requires honing a specific skill set. Luckily, there are many great resources listing the ingredients you need. More importantly, there are resources which model what skilful inclusion of pitch ingredients can look like. This post is a collection of querying help links to help you through query craft, communicating with literary agents and publishing.
Query Craft Links
My tip -don’t use emotionally distancing statements like, ‘it is revealed that.’ Keep your pitch in your MC’s pov with ‘She discovers that…’
Querying Your First Novel. This is my outline of the query letter writing, critiquing, editing and readiness process. It includes having realistic expectations around rejections and networking with fellow querying writers for much needed support in the trenches.
My favourite query letter instructions, in which humour illustrates nailing pitch components, is Patrick Bohan’s Mad Libs Formula Blog Post. It features a fictional pitch involving Bob the Builder and his Deathray.
For a detailed outline of query letter & pitch structure, literary agent preferences and specifics like “how do I personalise?” see my post on Query Letter Specifics.
A good successful, annotated query example is Susan Dennard’s. (She also has great articles covering writing, revising, agents and publishers.)
For 600+ Successful Query Letters (cataloged by genre, with links to the letters) see this brilliant spreadsheet by Carissa Taylor. It will help you with everything you can do right in a query letter.
For examples of everything you could possibly do wrong in a query letter (and occasional excellent queries) -read QueryShark’s Blog. She’s a literary agent, and the right hand archives list query letters and her critiques of over years. Bad news -yes you have to browse by date. She recommends reading them all. But if for example, you write fantasy and most queries aren’t fantasy and have different weaknesses to yours, I’d read just her comments after the first 10-20 letters or skim for queries of your genre.
Then, moving beyond querying introductions, Advanced Querying Tips -by Sylvia Liu include many tid bits you won’t know not know if you haven’t talked much with querying writers. (Courtesy of @GenevievePuttay.)
When your query is ready, you may like to pitch your novel to Indie Publishers and literary agents in Twitter’s Pitch Parties. Here’s a pitch party list (with their website links), and a post on Crafting Tweet Pitches to help you with that.
Part of your successful query will be choosing appropriate comparison titles. These show literary agents there is an existing market for you book and that you know what it is. They can also indicate a lot about style, themes and overall novel features. This article explains comparison titles and has advice on finding them. I recommend googling ‘top 20 (insert genre & age) books of 2020/ the 4 previous years. You could also tell your local librarian a bit about your novel and see what comparison titles they can suggest. Then there are sites like whichbook.net (courtesy of @storiesbysusan), which let you enter criteria for characters and plot, to hunt comp titles on.
When you think your letter is ready, here’s a handy graphic to help you check.
There’s varying advice on how to write a synopsis. I’ve heard “write one sentence per chapter,” but every chapter won’t always be a story beat. Some chapters just allow the reader to take a break from story beats and develop characters subtly -so they don’t need mentioning in the synopsis. I recommend writing only the main beats eg. a line for character/ world introduction, a line for the inciting event etc. A great resource for that is this article by Susan Dennard.
For more synopsis advice and tips on how your synopsis differs from your query letter, see this article by the
How to Write a Query Letter site. For advice on synopsis content, voice and more, see this article by literary agent Kaitlyn Johnson.
Query Motivation -#Pitmad If you need a deadline/ pressure to make you knuckle down -participate in #Pitmad. With four pitch parties a year open to all genres (in March, June, September and December) that gives you four regular deadlines to have your pitch (and final MS polish if you struggle with that) polished to perfection.
Query Letter (&Synopsis) Feedback
Knowing When Your Query Is Finished
Writing a query is HARD. Reading guides, tips and especially successful queries is helpful. But how do you know that you HAVE successfully applied most of the advice to your query? One way to assess this unhindered by author bias (knowing the novel and query too well) is getting feedback.
Free Query & Synopsis Feedback
You can tweet in the #WritingCommunity offering to trade feedback (like I did here). Then setting up a DM group to trade emails and documents. The best time to do so is before or soon after #Pitmad, when many writers of all genres will be preparing to query. Some Discord Servers may have a channel for seeking query letter and synopsis feedback (like mine).
Workshops I haven’t had the opportunity to attend a pitch crafting workshop. But I’ve seen the difference it makes to other writers query letters (it’s no coincidence two such writers got agent likes in #Pitmad). If you get the chance to attend one -I’d take it!
Professional Critiques: I’ve heard mixed reviews about the effectiveness of these. So I would ask for recommendations from other writers before paying for one. QueryShark will critique for free if you agree to the critique being displayed on her blog for others to learn from. Manuscript Academy offers paid critiques and paid consultations with literary agents.
Querying & Literary Agents
Literary Agents Introduction
The first thing I stumbled across about literary agents was warnings against disreputable agents and frauds. If you haven’t read up on this, there’s good general information and tips on what to be wary of on Science Fiction Writers of America.
The Basics Eg. ‘why do you need a literary agent?’ ‘how do I submit?’ etc see AgentQuery.
Where and How to Find Literary Agents? See Eric Smith’s A Beginner’s Guide to Looking Up Literary Agents.
Wondering whether to query a new literary agent? Here’s an advice blog on pro’s and con’s.
Youtube Channels with Great Query and Literary Agent Info & Advice include former literary agent Meg Latorre’s Query Tips and Agent Information on her iwriterly channel (which has other great advice). And Alexa Donne’s Getting an Agent videos from her author channel (which is also packed advice).
I’ve listed four databases for finding literary agents below. You can also (if you write an AMAZING pitch, find them in twitter pitch parties. More info in this post).
Literary Agent Databases
Manuscript Wishlist is searchable by genre and gives up-to-date and sometimes more detailed than literary agency profile information on what specific literary agents are seeking. I used it to compile my agents to potentially query long list. You can also search #MSWL on twitter for what literary agents are tweeting they want right now, but they may not have tweeted recently so this can be hit and miss. (Don’t tweet on this hashtag -its only for agents and publishers to tweet on).
Agentquery has a database of literary agents.
QueryTracker is an agent database. It allows you to record agents you wish to query to or not query, and what stage your query has progressed to with particular agents -submitted query/ partial request/ full request, etc. It’s a great way to avoid accidentally submitting to the same agent twice. It also lets you record whom you think it’s inappropriate to submit to, so you don’t waste time reading about them again if you search the database multiple times. Premium ($25 a year) lets you see where your query is in any one agent’s queue and has other features.
I like this database because it has extensive lists of individual agents, agencies and genres they accept by country, including the UK, US, Canada, Australia and some European countries. You have to be a member to view lists, but it’s free to join.
If you use databases, blogs or lists to find literary agents -CHECK THE AGENT WEBSITE for up-to-date SUBMISSION GUIDELINES. Also check they ARE CURRENTLY OPEN to unsolicited submissions, to avoid being rejected or ignored for acting on out of date or incorrect information.
Communicating With Literary Agents
For Cheat Sheets/ Templates to contact literary agents for a range of reasons, see this excellent post by @themoosef.
FAQS about Agents Offering Representation, from agent phone calls to contracts are answered thoroughly by Agent Query in this article.
When You Get The Call, here are some questions to ask the literary agent offering representation, by Bookends Literary Agency. And some questions a literary agent may ask you, by former literary agent Mary Kole.
When You Get An Offer here’s an article of things to consider while deciding if you’ve found the right agent for you and your book, by a writer who said “no” to an agent.
Publishing & Marketing Resources
As with agents, you could google publishing agencies. If you do, be wary of vanity presses masquerading as traditional publishers. These will charge you for printing and do very little to promote sales of your book (Austin Macauley tops that list). In general, if they find you or anyone offers you a deal that seems too good to be true -it’s probably a lie. Also be wary of hybrid or ebook publishers claiming to be ‘traditional publishers’ -if they may expect you to cover some costs, they aren’t traditional publishers. And if they only sell ebooks -whats the difference in their profits compared to a publisher who also sells hard copy? It’s worth finding out before you consider signing anything.
Types of Publishers/ Publishing & Choosing One by Joanna Maciejewska (c.o. @cr_burman).
Publishing and Other Forms of Insanity has a comprehensive list of publishers accepting unsolicited submissions (in multiple countries). It also has a long list of articles about self-publishing and other useful resources such as contests, and where to get reviews.
Author’s Publish is a mailing list. One of the emails they send regularly is a comprehensive, free ebook guide to publishing. Their emails also contain reviews and lists of publishers and magazines accepting unsolicited submissions.
Profit and Loss –How Publishers Decide What to Publish, by Jane Friedman.
3 Unique Research Methods for Identifying Small Publishers by Jane Friedman.
If you publish directly with a publisher, The Society of Authors and Authors Guild both offer legal advice on publishing contracts to their members (c.o. @GenevievePuttay).
For a list of Twitter pitch parties to pitch your novel in, see this post.
For advice on crafting query letter or tweet pitches, see this one.
This has been so informative especially for someone like myself who is new to the publishing world
Thanks for the mention!!
You’re welcome Jamie.