Query Letter Instruction & Example Links
If you thought writing and editing your novel was the hardest thing you’ve ever done -bad news- 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 and more importantly -modelling what skillful inclusion of them can look like.
My favourite set of query letter instructions, complete with (fictional) sample query letter is Patrick Bohan’s Mad Libs Formula Blog Post. For me, his use of humour in this fictional pitch accentuates everything your query letter pitch needs to get right.
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 them over years. Bad news -yes you have to browse by date. She recommends reading them all, but if for example, like me you write fantasy and most of the queries aren’t fantasy and have different weaknesses to yours -I’d start reading just her comments after the first 10-20 letters or skimming for queries of your genre.
Part of your successful query will be choosing appropriate comparison titles which show literary agents that there is an existing readership and market for you book. This article explains comparison titles and has advice on finding them.
Query Support & 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 you have read into YOUR query? One way to asses this unhindered by author bias of knowing your novel and your past query drafts too well (its amazing how our subconscious fills gaps in what your query actually says) is getting feedback from other writers. You can so this by tweeting in the #WritingCommunity offering to trade it (also for synopsis) like I did here, then by setting up a DM group to trade emails and documents. The best time to do this is before or soon after Pitmad, when many writers of all genres will be preparing to query.
If you trade feedback with multiple writers and they’re ready to query and you’re not happy with your letter -pair up with more writers! (I’ve set up two groups and traded with both). As with novel editing, judging when your query is ready to submit to literary agents can be very difficult -especially if its your first query (I’ve had many ‘final’ queries 😉.) Don’t stop seeking feedback and query polishing until your gut and brain agree that its as good as you can make it. And every time you make moderate to large revisions -get feedback again! As you focus on weak points, you might lose sight of strengths and revise issues into your pitch. If in doubt -get one more writer to read over it again/ or one new writer to tell you that final draft really is clear and enticing.
Workshops I haven’t had the opportunity to attend a pitch crafting workshop, but I have seen the difference it makes to other writers query letters (its no coincidence that two such writers just 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 these. The only link I feel comfortable sharing here is QueryShark’s.
Query Motivation -Pitmad If you need a deadline/ pressure to make you knuckle down -participate in Pitmad. With 4 pitch parties a year open to all genres (in March, June, September and December) that gives you 4 regular deadlines to have your pitch (and final MS polish if you struggle with that) polished to perfection. And its another chance to tweet offering to trade feedback. I’ve done this for several Pitmads and my understanding of how to write a great pitch has deepened a lot as I gave feedback on estimated +50 pitches over the last 3 pitch parties I participated in. The quality of my pitches also approved a lot through receiving feedback from other writers. If you’d like some inspiration on tweeting for pitch feedback trades, my latest tweet is here.
Submitting: Literary Agent Databases
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 Writer’s of America.
For the basics Eg. ‘why do you need a literary agent?’ ‘how do I submit?’ etc see AgentQuery. For advice on where and how to find literary agents see Eric Smith’s A Beginner’s Guide to Looking Up Literary Agents.
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 which allows you to record agents you wish to submit to or not to submit to, and what stage your query has progressed to with any particular agent -submitted query/ partial request/ full request, etc. It’s a great way to avoid accidentally submitting to the same agent twice, and lets you record whom you think its inappropriate to submit to, so you don’t waste time reading about them again if you search the database multiple times.
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 worth joining (and free). The website also says they offer pitch and chapter critiques, which I haven’t checked out, but you may want to look at.
If you do use databases, blogs or lists to find literary agents -CHECK THE AGENT WEBSITE for up-to-date SUBMISSION GUIDELINES and that they ARE CURRENTLY OPEN to unsolicited submissions -you don’t want to be rejected for acting on out of date/ incorrect information.
When You Get An Offer You might be tempted after all that hard work and waiting to hear back from agents to sign a contract a.s.a.p., but here’s an article of things to consider while deciding if you’ve found the right agent for you and your book.
Publishing & Marketing Resources
As with agents, you could google publishing agencies. If you do, be wary of vanity presses masquerading as traditional publishers, charging you for printing and doing 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 to good to be true -its 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? Its worth finding out before you consider signing anything.
Publishing and Other Forms of Insanity has a comprehensive list of publishers accepting unsolicited submissions (in multiple countries), 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, and 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 and other useful advice around submitting to agents, publishers and writing in general.
Self Publishing The best resource I know of for this is the Facebook Group 20 Writers to 50k. Their All Star Thread is packed with marketing tips for self published authors.