How to write a query letter-
or the Haskin Query Formula
See the query letter as many things. It is the hook to woo your potential partner in the publishing business, it is partly that blurb that you need to have memorized when someone asks you what your book is about, it is also the first and sometimes only chance to communicate with an agent/publisher. Is it important? Yes. How do you write one? Keep reading.
Query letters have a formula. They can be divided into three parts: the intro, the info, and the bio. In the intro, you will state how you know the agent and how you know they’ll like what you’ve written. This is your formal addressing. You’re going to have researched your potential agent on www.manuscriptwishlist.com, www.mswishlist.com, or www.querytracker.net www.agentquery.com, where you can see what agents are looking for. Hopefully it’s exactly what you’re writing (the most current wish lists are on Twitter at #MSWL). You are going to say, “Dear Mr./Ms. Smith, I noticed from your profile on _________, that you acquire steamy romances with a dash of horror (quote something from their wish list). As such, I thought you might enjoy my 86,000- word romantic thriller titled GUNS AND ROSES (Make sure you capitalize your title. And round your word count to the nearest thousand.).” Feel free to embellish this paragraph a little, but make sure that all this information is there: title, genre, word count, and why you chose this agent.
Next is the “info.” This is the section where you will summarize your novel. Don’t use more than two, possibly three if they’re small, paragraphs explaining the main concept of your plot. *Do not include the ending.* This is your opportunity to hook the agent and make them want to read your synopsis (where you will give the entire scene by scene description of your story, including the ending). Make the book really shine here, if it’s mysterious, show us; if it’s humorous, make us laugh. Showcase your work briefly. I generally read the query letter to see if I like the book’s concept, the synopsis tells me if you can write a whole story, with rising action, a climax, and resolution. Then, your sample pages tell me if you can pull off that story in your synopsis by your writing style.
Make sense? So, each part of your query arsenal is important for a different reason. Also make sure to capitalize any character’s name when they are introduced in your query. Capitalizing too many names? Then there are too many characters in your query. Limit introductions to the three or so main characters.
Do not underestimate the importance of this paragraph. Yes, it needs to have creative writing, yes, it needs to be concise, but most of all it has to be engaging. If it is not, the agent will have a hard time believing your book is. Make your plot shine. Tell us who your MCs are, what they are facing (the stakes), and what will happen if they fail their mission.
The final paragraph of your query is going to be your bio. I wrote a separate blog post on this subject that will post next week. In just one paragraph, we want to know anything that has to do with your writing experience. Did you write for the school paper in high school and it began your love of prose? Were you a Young Author Award winner? Do you publish poetry in your spare time? Do you write songs for your church? I do not need to know the names of all three of your show cats plus what you like to eat for breakfast when it snows, and yes, that does happen. Your five kids’ names and favorite sports do not go here, leave that for your bio in the back of your book. Make sense? That is not to say you can’t make it personal and tell me you like writing journal after journal by firelight in your mountain cabin, that you share with your family, or that the scenery inspires you to create your colorful fiction about living in the 1800s, but make sure you are letting me know about you and how you got to be writing this query. Make your bio relevant to the query. That’s what your agent is interested in. Make sure to follow up with a “thank you for your time and consideration,” then Sincerely, and your name. All this should fit onto one sheet of paper. Single spaced, with paragraph indentions. With the advent of email queries, if your query letter is a LITTLE over one page long, the agent will not be able to tell when you copy and paste it into an email. However, if it is two pages, or so dry that it drags on and on, the agent will lose interest and that is not to your benefit.
Don’t forget to check your formats and follow submission guidelines exactly. Some agents want your items attached, and others want your entire submission inside one email with no attachments. This issue is serious enough to get your query deleted, if done wrong. Many companies have virus caution and never allow attachments. So double check the submission guidelines for the agent, and the company. Most often they are the same, but if not, go with the request of the agent in question.
And finally, please do not ever query more than one agent in an agency at the same time. You will shoot yourself in the foot. Let me explain, if two agents like a manuscript, they ask to see the “full.” If one agent is interested and makes an offer, the author has the responsibility to contact the other agents they have submitted to and inform them that an offer has been made. If the other agent(s) also like the manuscript enough to put in an offer, they are now in competition with one another. Agents are friends, but business is business. No two agents at the same company want to be put into this position. It is awkward and, for the most part, against company policy. You risk not being taken by either. They are not going to draw straws for you or anything, but it’s a limbo that you don’t want your manuscript in. If it is a company where agents share, your query will get passed around anyway, or the agent you queried may pass it to someone at their agency if they think it’s a better fit. If I see that you have already queried every other agent in my company and they have all rejected you, it doesn’t scream “I’m for you!” at my face. Honestly, I think, wow, no one I work with liked this manuscript, it must not be very good, or I would have heard about it. If your writing is good, it will speak for itself. Let it.
I hope that answers a few questions. As always, if you have more questions about queries, or publishing in general, let me know. Do you have query disaster stories? Have you been part of a “shark tank” before? I’d love to hear your stories in the comments below. I need to hear from the readers of my blog! If you join my mailing list, I send out prizes and author swag once a month to a lucky winner.
**Also as a gift to my blog followers, if you would like me to critique your query, I will accept them for the following week (March 4th through March 11th , 2018). Email me at: Jenn@corvisieroagency.com with “Blog query critique” in the subject line.