Writing a Great Query Letter

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

When I was at the Ocean State Summer Writing Conference this past Friday, I noticed that there were a lot of questions from attendees about how to attract a literary agent/write a great query letter .  Although there is no sure-fire formula for getting an agent's attention or for crafting a perfect query, I figured it might be helpful for me to talk about what appeals to me when I am reading my submissions.


First of all--and I know this is not helpful--there is a certain je ne sais quoi when it comes to query letters.  Several people at the conference asked what kind of topics we wanted to see within a certain genre.  I can't say with certainty what kind of books I'm interested in seeing, although I do have general preferences, i.e. narrative non-fiction, YA, etc.  However, a lot of what intrigues me to a particular submission is the creativity of or approach to the topic. 

On my Prospect Agency bio, it says that I would love to see a book about Lady Dracula or a high school teacher who finds herself falling for one of her students.  You have NO IDEA how many query letters I've received about those topics and not one of them has caught my imagination.  Usually what makes me sit up and take notice is when I read about an idea for a story that I never would have thought of, or for one that approaches a topic from a completely new angle.  Then, regardless of whether or not it has been listed as one of my previous interests, I'm hooked.  For instance, I'm not a big science fiction/fantasy person, but I would have LOVED to represent Seth Grahame-Smith, who wrote PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES and ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER, because his ideas are sooo incredibly unique and interesting.  When you hear the titles of his stories, you go, "Wait, what?  That's awesome!  I want to read that!"


 
Soooo cool.

So, when writing your query letter, highlight what it is that makes your novel unique and why it stands out from others in its genre.  It is also important that the writing in your letter reflects the voice and style of your actual manuscript.  I'm not saying to be gimmicky and pretend that the main character is writing the letter or anything like that; you just want the writing in your query to be as engaging as the writing in your book.  Tell me who/what your story is about and draw me into the plot with captivating description.  Do not summarize the entire story, but give me a couple short paragraphs to draw me in and make me want to know more.

Give your query letter as much consideration as you do your manuscript; don't just write it  in 10 minutes and send it without taking time to reflect and revise.  Have other people look it over for you and tell you what they think.  Your query letter is just as important as your manuscript.  Many agents will reject you and not bother to read any of your sample chapters (and I admit, I am one of them!) 
if you don't impress them with your query .


Make sure to include any relevant information about yourself, especially if you are a non-fiction author.  Platform is INCREDIBLY important for non-fiction queries.  Even if you have the best idea in the world for a non-fiction book, I will be hesitant to take you on if you have no related qualifications for writing it.  I received a query letter from someone for a proposal for a non-fiction book on Razia Sultan, the first female ruler of India.  The letter was well-written and I liked the idea, but the author had no background in Indian history or history at all.  I can't remember, but I think he was a math professor.

As you can probably tell, to my mind, a lot of what makes your query great is your story.  You have to have something captivating, unique, and well-written.  Something that will stay with the agent (and the reader) long after they have finished reading.  My favorite books are my favorites because of the impact they made on me and the connection I had with the story or with the characters.

Hoorayyyyy

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

I am extremely happy to report that my client, Jessica Arnold, has received a multi-book deal for her debut work, THE LOOKING GLASS!  The novel is a young adult mystery, set in Maine, and is about the paranormal happening surrounding a fourteen-year-old girl, named Alice, who is has an accident in a swimming pool that leaves her in a coma.

When Alice wakes up in the lobby of the B&B where she has been vacationing with her family, she notices that everything looks different.  The cheap desk lights have been replaced with gas lamps, and the linoleum tiled floor with hardwood and rich Oriental carpeting. The most disturbing difference though is the artwork.  As Alice goes through the hotel, she sees that the paintings on the walls are all of the same woman: Elizabeth Blackwell, the insane actress (and rumored witch) who killed herself in the hotel in the 1880s.

Trapped in the 19th century version of the hotel, Alice must figure out a way to break Elizabeth's curse (with the help of Elizabeth's old diary and Tony, the son of a ghost hunter who is investigating the haunted B&B) before she becomes the inn's next victim. 

I’m so excited for Jessica and am looking forward to seeing her manuscript become an actual book!

The lovely Jessica Arnold!

The editor at Random House who was considering THIEVES WHO CHANGED HISTORY, the non-fiction project of one of my other clients, Brianna, unfortunately decided to pass on it, but getting an offer for Jessica has only revved up my enthusiasm for Brianna’s proposal and all of my other clients’ manuscripts.  I only take on projects that I truly believe in, so I know that I will eventually be able to give them all the happy news that I was able to give Jessica this past week!

Keep rooting for me!  I’m on a roll!

P.S.  I’m off to Rhode Island this Friday for the Ocean State Summer Writing Conference.  If you’re going to be there, make sure to introduce yourself to me.  When I was at Backspace, a couple writers came up to say hello and mentioned that they had been reading my blog, which made me feel great!

Merry Christmas!

Monday, June 11, 2012

BEA (Book Expo America) is one of my favorite events of the year.  It is the largest annual book trade fair in US and every publisher imaginable has booths where they exhibit ARCs of upcoming titles and current books.  It reminds me of Christmas for bookworms, mixed with that old TV show where shoppers had 10 minutes to run like crazy through a store and grab everything they could—does anyone know what I’m talking about?  I’m pretty sure it was called Supermarket Sweep

The maze that is BEA!

This past Thursday, I got to go to the Javits Center and walk around two huge floors filled with stalls of books.  It’s a maze and as you walk around, vendors handed you canvas bags so that you could stuff them full of all the amazing books you saw as you wandered.  I met with some great editors from different houses while I was there, including Alli Brydon from Sterling.  The two of us had an interesting talk about the kind of books we are interested in and also what life is like being a literary agent versus being an editor.

I ended up texting her after our meeting, because I snatched an ARC from St. Martin’s stall for a book by Matthew Dicks: MEMOIRS OF AN IMAGINARY FRIEND.  It is the story of the imaginary friend (named Budo) of a nine-year-old boy called Max.  Max, who has some sort developmental disorder like autism or Asperger’s, is kidnapped by a paraprofessional at his school, and Budo must struggle with his own mortality and integrity to save his friend.


I went to Connecticut to celebrate my father’s 65th birthday after BEA, and finished the entire book during the train ride.  This is one of the best books I’ve read in a long time; I was tearing up while I was pulling into New Haven.  I told Alli she had to make sure she got a copy!  I even ended up sending the editor of the book an email raving about it…hopefully she will be as understanding as Wes Miller and realize that I am not a crazy stalker.  Just an enthusiast.

Summer, Summer, Summertimeeee

Monday, June 4, 2012

The restaurant has changed over to its summer menu and d├ęcor, and now all I want to do is eat everything that the chef makes.  There is something about summery food—yummy salads, fried clams, corn-on-the-cob, ice cream—that makes my stomach holler for joy.  There is a similar experience for fall foods, like pumpkin bisque, but then it’s more like a warm, contented grumble.

Your mouth is watering, right?

Ever since I moved to New York, I’ve have been saying that I ought to cook more.  In Connecticut, I used to cook and bake all the time.  I love doing it; it is very calming and enjoyable, and then at the end of it, I get a smug feeling of success when what I made looks just like the picture in the cookbook and tastes delicious. 

But I have the ugliest kitchen in New York.  And living with three guys does NOT help the situation.  How can I feel like the Barefoot Contessa or Rachel Ray when I am staring at (miniscule) countertops with various layers of grease and beer stains?  I once made my boyfriend a chicken pot pie (he ate the entire thing) but every two minutes, I had to stop what I was doing to attack something with Lysol.  Now that we are renewing our lease, I am thinking of becoming a kitchen Nazi, with a chore chart and surveillance cameras.  All of my roommates are on board, because there is a very real chance that there is a messy kitchen elf sneaking into our apartment at night...
 
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