Your language when writing query letters must be smooth, flowing, and persuasive, without telling the agent what to think, or engaging in hyperbole.
Four Steps to Writing Query Letters
This paragraph introduces your project with a one line description of the book, using the title and genre. This is your “soundbite”. It is the KEY! The agent will remember this the most! It’s your “elevator pitch”. The term is based on the idea that writers should be able to summarize their books in one arresting, unforgettable line that will capture the attention of a producer or agent in the time it takes to take an elevator ride. Make it Good! The best approach is to pretend you’re tweeting about the book – no more than 140 characters.
Here’s are two examples from my book, Destiny –
“Destiny is about following your dreams. It’s about forging a destiny and a legacy of hope and a bright future for the generations to come.”
“In a time of post-apocalyptic wastelands and dystopian futures, Destiny brings you hope and dreams fulfilled.”
You should also specify the number of words in your manuscript. Be clear that this is a completed, polished (NO TYPO’S and EDITED) book. You might consider carefully comparing the book to a work the agent would recognize. Instead of announcing that “My book is just like A Song of Ice and Fire,” use language such as, “In the tradition of A Song of Ice and Fire,” or “Should appeal to readers of A Song of Ice and Fire.”
This is where your creativity comes in and where you need to showcase your best skills when writing query letters. In this paragraph you “paint the picture” of your book in the form of a “sound bite.”
The whole POINT of a sound bite is that you never forget it. It sticks in your head, like a tune from some old 80’s TV show that your friend hummed and now you can’t forget. It is NOT a synopsis. It’s a “verbal snapshot” of your book’s story line. No more than a few lines that are so vivid, so enticing, that an agent will immediately want to read the entire book.
An example of from Destiny:
“Kip Hamilton is a dreamer. At night, when his parents were away at work, Kip would lie out on the roof outside his bedroom window under the enormous sky and look up at the moon and stars dreaming of walking among them. He ran the old movies of the moon landings back in the 20th century through his mind again and again. He would always imagine that it was he who was taking that small step and that giant leap – bouncing through the regolith, leaping and jumping higher than any man could on earth. His heart would race at the thought! How will I ever get there? He would wonder. ”
That’s a sound bite. It captures the heart and soul and “essence” of the novel. It’s not a synopsis or a summary. It’s a verbal picture that you paint to intrigue and spark interest in reading. The language you use should be vivid, specific, and dynamic. When that agent puts down your query letter, that sound bite should run through their mind.
When writing query letters, this paragraph you should summarize your credentials for writing the book. If you don’t have any, then please DON’T try to manufacture them. Just leave them out. As I said in 7 Mistakes to Avoid When Writing a Query Letter, a good agent won’t turn up their nose at a good query just because the writer doesn’t have a publishing history.
Your credentials will fall into three categories:
- The Best writing credentials. Writing credentials mean you’ve sold your writing. That means you received money for the right to publish it. Cite the venue, giving the title of the article, short story, or book. If you didn’t receive any payment for the writing, chances are you shouldn’t mention it. Things like letters to the editor published in your local paper don’t count. A recipe in a parish cookbook doesn’t count. Self-published books–and even small press books, if the agent isn’t likely to have heard of the press–don’t count unless they sold really well (on the order of thousands of copies). Any vanity-published book definitely doesn’t count.
- The other two categories of “credentials” you can mention would belifetime experience, and/or academic degrees – providing they relate to the subject of your book.
DO NOT send the agent pictures of yourself, gifts, cash, or anything except what the agent asked for.
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.
Then write “Sincerely,” (I prefer “Cordially”) and sign your name. If you are paper-querying (do they still do that?), don’t forget your business-letter-sized SASE.
I’d love to hear your thoughts. You can leave leave a comment here…