#13: Love me, love me; say that you love me!

If you are going to approach an agent or editor, you’re going to have to learn how to write a query letter. This is the letter that convinces an agent or editor to love you and your book.

So what’s the difference between the two?

Agents represent your work, submit it to publishers, negotiate your contract with your interests in mind, and take 15% of your money. They are very good things to have! And they don’t make a cent if they don’t sell your book. They are your cheering section and can get your manuscript to people and places that you cannot get to alone.

Editors work for, and buy books for, publishers. Then they help you get your work ready for publication. Many editors/publishers will require you to have an agent, but not always. If an editor wants you, finding an agent afterwards is easy.

Full disclosure: editors can – and probably will – change the name of your book. They will ask for round after round of edits. They can even give you a pen name. (If you start making a name for yourself now, they probably won’t… How to do that will be in future blog posts about marketing.)

Remember, it’s critical to choose wisely and research before you submit to anyone! Yet another reason to be part of a genre-specific writer group is to get agent and editor recommendations. And warnings. Check industry reputations on the indispensible “Predators and Editors” list at:

http://www.anotherealm.com/prededitors/

It goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: do not query any agents or editors until you have completed your book. If they ask to see the full manuscript, you better be ready to produce a polished one!

Okay, now for the letter itself. Format as follows:

  • Single spaced using default margins (1.25″ on sides; 1″ top & bottom).
  • One side only; be brief.
  • Use language that is professional and business-like. With perfect grammar.
  • Your letterhead MUST include ALL of your contact info.
  • Your letterhead can include your picture.
  • Do address your query by name to a specific agent or editor.

I choose to include my photo in my heading. Many of my contacts are made at conferences and I believe that the visual reminder of who I am is helpful. If you decide to do the same, have a professional photo taken. This is your work! (Are you owning that yet?)

A query letter has three parts: a hook, a mini-synopsis, and your writer’s biography. That’s it. Don’t try to include more than that or no one will read it!

The Hook is two or three sentences that encapsulates the conflict of your book.

  • Your first sentence should tell the timeframe of your story and its location: “Ben had everything any man could want… if any man wanted to live in a FEMA trailer in the swamps outside Baton Rouge.”
  • It should set up your main character: “Grier MacInnes buried three fiancés in the plague and, at the ripe old age of twenty-six, was resigned to spinsterhood.”
  • It can use variations on the “when” formula: “After years of abuse at the hands of her alcoholic stepmother, Sally shot her at close range with an AK-47.”

The Mini-Synopsis is where you explain your entire novel in one succinct paragraph. Good luck with that. You can’t possibly delineate all the ins and outs of the plot, and forget sub-plots! So what is the bottom line?

I was at a conference when one speaker asked this question: what is the non-fiction subject of your fictional story? Ooh – that was good!

Blah Lablah is a story of redemption. Two people whose lives were destroyed by circumstance (defined), thrust together by accident (explained), find a second chance that neither one was looking for.” Done.

Your Writer’s Bio – another succinct paragraph – is harder to write because you’re just starting out. So what expertise do you bring to your writing? What (writer or subject-relevant) organizations are you part of? Have you ever received any sort of acknowledgement for anything you’ve written? Feel free to make yourself sound fascinating. If you don’t, nobody else will.

The Closing is quick: “Thank you for your time. I am querying several agents in search of a good fit and I look forward to hearing from you.”

Because you should query several agents at a time. Because some responses will be brutally quick, and some will be excruciatingly slow. Set your goal now to hit 100 rejections. Hopefully you won’t have to, but many currently best-selling authors have!

(Ego – closet – chocolate – blanket… Remember? That was serious advice.)

My Opinion About Choosing To Whom I Would Submit: I decided in 2009 not to submit to anyone who requested a paper submission. The world is going electronic. I needed an agent who operates under current (green) technology. You are free to do what you want. I’m just saying.

There is plenty of online help for writing a query letter, and classes offered through writer groups. For more in-depth advice and examples, go to: http://www.agentquery.com/writer_hq.aspx

Good luck! 🙂

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