At last, I’d done it. I’d finished my manuscript, and was ready to start querying editors and agents. Hooray! But with no clue how to actually approach the gatekeepers to the publishing realm, I realized I needed some guidance. Your Novel Proposal: From Creation to Contract was a little dated when I got my hands on it (about 10 years old now), but the information on the craft of query letters turned it into my favorite (and only!) how-to book. Here are a few nuggets from its wealth of golden advice:
1) Target your search. Be clear about why you’re approaching them and not some other agency/editor. This will require you to research agents, what titles they have sold, what authors they represent. For editors, let them know which books they’ve published that led you to believe they would be right for your book. Generic queries don’t generally cut it, so customize your letter for each agent/editor.
2) There is more than one correct query letter start. I prefer to include the above information in my opening paragraph. I believe it immediately shows them I have done my research, and stops me from beginning with a hypothetical question or boring stats. However, there are other ways to kick off your letter, too, like getting right into the meat of your hook, or simply talking about your book’s title, genre, and word-count. Trust your instincts—and stay away from hypothetical questions!
3) Don’t forget the “Handle.” Meaning, give some kind of context to your book. How is your book something different from what’s already out there? How is your book going to appeal? Give the editor or agent something to “hold onto” whether it be market research, how it fills a gap in what’s currently available on bookshelves—how it fits into the market.
4) Ditch the Blitz Approach. I sheepishly admit this was something I initially planned to do—send out dozens of queries to all the agents and editors on my list. Why not? Because should I get rejected across the board, and I decide to do a rewrite based on whatever comments I do receive, I’ve got nowhere left to go with the new version of my book. The best approach is to choose up to five prospects at a time, and simply parcel out queries.
5) Close with brevity. Less is more when it comes to the closing paragraph. There really is no need to thank them for their time, how you’ll wait for their reply anxiously, or that you hope to hear from them soon, etc. You could choose the closing paragraph to include the reason why the book would be a great fit for them, or why you are contacting them specifically, or a place to insert a referral. Or, just be brief and ask them if you can send them your manuscript.