By Jennifer Hudson Taylor
Most agents and editors require authors to approach them with a query letter. A few will accept a partial, which consists of a cover letter, synopsis, and the first three chapters. Query letters and/or cover letters are your first introduction to an agent or editor. It should be professional, informative, compelling and precise. The goal of the query letter is to hook the agent or editor to want to see more.
Research Appropriate Agents/Editors
Before you write a query letter, you must do your research on the appropriate agents and publishing editors you want to target for what you write. It doesn't make sense to query an agent or editor who doesn't handle historical romance, if that is what you've written.
Make sure you address your query letter to someone specific. Typing in "Dear Editor" or "To Whom It May Concern" will not impress them. You want them to know you've taken the time to do your research and that you know who they are and what they acquire. If you are lazy in the way you submit your proposal, they're going to question if you've been just as lazy in doing your research on your story.
Many editors will not accept queries from authors who do not have an agent. Those queries are either returned unopened, ignored, deleted or thrown away. Others will accept a query letter and nothing else. A few will accept a partial proposal (cover letter, synopsis, first three chapters). Agents vary just as much in what their submission requirements are. Some only accept electronic proposals, so pay attention if it is okay to submit the proposal as an attachment or if it must be pasted into the body of the email. Others want proposals postal mailed. Some agents require more in their proposal, such as a marketing plan, author platform, research on competition, a bio with a photo, etc.
The best places to research the submission guidelines for agents and editors are the latest edition of the Christian Writer's Market, Guide to Literary Agents, and the Writer's Market.
Avoid the temptation to get wordy, creative and tell them how they'll love your book. If it's Christian fiction, don't give them the old--"God told me to write this and you have to publish it" routine. If God really told you to write it, then let Him do the work in getting it published, while you do your part in sending it out when it's complete and ready.
Tell them why you're writing the query letter, give the working title of your manuscript, word count, genre of the story and make sure you mention that it is complete. If you are a new author and unpublished, don't send out a query letter to anyone until it is complete. If you met the agent or editor at a writers' workshop and they requested you to send it, make sure you remind them of this in the first paragraph.
This is where you get to tell about the story you've written. Keep it short and to the point. Highlight the goals of the two main characters and the conflict in keeping them from obtaining those goals. End it on a hook to make them want to read more. Don't get into specific details. The summary in a query is very similar to what is on the back cover of a book. Read some of these to get an idea of how to narrow your story down to a similar summary.
The next paragraph should list your credentials. Include your degree, articles that have been published in magazines, newspapers, e-zines, church newsletters, etc. List any awards you've received from your writing or if you've placed or finaled in a writing contest. You you have many awards, don't list each one of them, only highlight the most prestigious awards.
If your profession provides extensive knowledge that qualifies you to write your novel, be sure to mention it in this paragraph. If you are a medical doctor and you've written a medical thriller, or a psychologist and you've written a psychological thriller, or an archaeologist and you've written an historical that includes an archaeological dig, these are all examples of how a profession could be a great resource for a novelist.
If there are attachments, state what you've included in the proposal such as a synopsis and the first three chapters. Thank the agent or editor for taking the time to review your query and/or proposal. The last sentence should be an offer that you would like to send a proposal upon their request, or the full manuscript upon their request if a partial is already included.
If anyone is interested in having me post a sample, please let me know and I'll be happy to do so.
Sunday, March 22, 2009
By Jennifer Hudson Taylor