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Telling too much about themselves and their lives. Everything in the query letter, including the credentials section if there is one, MUST relate to your book and your unique ability to write it. Telling the agent how much their friends and family members loved their book. Or about the published authors who loved the book. But resist! Telling the agent what to think. The same goes for recipes in your parish cookbook or a letter printed in the Washington Post or a story posted on a website no one has heard of or a win in a contest conducted by a tiny webzine. What counts is writing you were PAID to do, or writing for a venue the agent will recognize.
What if you have no writing credentials? This reeks of obsession, and agents will make the sign of the cross and back away. If you plan on writing followups, or have other manuscripts available, mention this at the end of the query — but query for one book at a time. There are two kinds of effective query letters. The first type is a good, workmanlike business letter, and it does the job. Remember, letter-perfect! First paragraph: introduce your project in a one line description of the book, giving the title and genre. In this paragraph you also should specify the length of the manuscript in number of words, not number of pages.
Make it clear that this is a completed, polished book. Sometimes it can work well to quickly compare the book to another work the agent would recognize. Your language in writing a query letter is very important.
It must be smooth, flowing, and persuasive, without telling the agent what to think, or engaging in hyperbole. That one-line description of the work is often a make-or-break. An example of a one-line description that actually sold a book to an editor occurred to me while I was waiting in line to get into a restaurant at a World S.
Convention in Los Angeles in She put it under contract. Together, they solve murders. I repeat, it is NOT a synopsis. Spock discovers he sired offspring with Zarabeth back on ice age Sarpeidon. Grimly determined to do the right thing, he travels through time using the Guardian of Forever to retrieve the boy. But instead of a child, he encounters a young man, Zar, who has grown up with dreams of the father who would someday rescue him…and love him.
When these two must work together to stop a Romulan takeover of the Guardian of Forever, conflict is inevitable — and far from logical. Not a synopsis, not a summary. The language you use should be vivid, specific, and dynamic. When that agent puts down your query letter and goes off in search of more coffee, that sound bite should run through his or her mind.
- Looking for other ways to read this?.
- American Military History?
- You Cant Save Them All.
Third paragraph: this paragraph should contain a summary of your credentials for writing the book. Just leave them out. That means you received money for the right to publish it. Cite the venue, giving the title of the article, short story, or book. The same goes for lifetime experience. Corollary: do NOT send the agent pictures of yourself, gifts, cash, or anything except what the agent asked for.
Nude photos were the least of it! And then make sure that statement is true. Fourth paragraph : this last paragraph is simply a polite conclusion to your business letter. Thank the agent for considering your query. Tell them you hope to hear from them at their earliest convenience.
9.2 Documenting Source Material
Remember to read up on their guidelines. Then, send them what they ask to see. And so forth.
If you do send those first five pages, make sure they are terrific. Agents were slow to warm to electronic querying, but these days most accept—and many prefer—e-queries. Paste your accompanying materials synopsis, first five pages, etc. Never send attached files unless asked to do so.
Try sending out queries in batches. If you send five or ten per week, then you can take a couple of weeks off to work on your next book. What does this tell you? When you DO get rejection letters, be aware that they are likely to be form letters. And never write the agent back and to ask for an explanation — or to inform them how wrong they are. Agents have long memories. Take it from me. Publishing, and trying to get published, can be a frustrating endeavor. I think the waiting is probably the hardest thing.
Compared to glaciers, an alarming number of publishers are quite leisurely in how fast they move to acquire books, publish them, and especially issue checks. I used to think writers had short fingernails because they typed all the time. How long is it going to take? And how many will reply? Worst case scenario…a long time, and not many.
Also, some agents, not to mention editors, are incredibly S-L-O-W. Multiple queries are not the same thing as multiple submissions, and nobody expects you to send in one query, then wait until the recipient replies before sending in another.
Second Chances: A Small Town Short Story
That means you agree to send the manuscript only to that person exclusively for a given period of time. If an agent asks for an exclusive, 30 to 60 days is pretty typical. Never send work out as an open-ended exclusive. Agents may take shameful advantage of your inexperience and take six months or more to send you a form rejection.
Or you may never hear back at all. If you get no reply, then go back to querying, and chalk it up as a rejection. Go back to querying. Write some short stories and get them published, so you can include those credentials in your query letters. Start a new novel. If one agent rejects after a read, this means little. Agents sign very few writers. The nature of their job requires that they be selective. Two agents, same deal. Three, probably still means nothing. I know that will be an unpopular suggestion.
If multiple agents reject the book and DO give a reason — the SAME reason — then you probably need to take another look at that particular aspect of your book. My viewpoint is a bit different. If I get a couple of comments from beta readers that indicate that my pacing is dragging in a couple of chapters, I know my story has a problem, and I go and fix it. Of course, I am selective about whom I choose as a beta reader. Querying literary agents can be a protracted, frustrating, time-consuming task, even for writers who have written a good, publishable manuscript.
Rejection after rejection can lead to anger, bitterness, and desperation.
Keep this in mind, okay?