What’s The Deal With Queries?! And What You Need To Know About What To Do and Not Do When Writing One

Now Brewing: Starbucks Iced Pumpkin Spice Latte. It’s baaaaaack and better than ever. I finally bit the bullet this year and registered myself for a Starbucks gift card so I could reap the rewards (okay mainly the free in-store refills). I could not be happier that I chose to do this during my favorite Starbs season of the year: PUMPKIN SPICE SEASON. Not to mention that it’s the Tenth Anniversary of this wonderful time of year so the baristas are dedicated to making this year a great one.

I have begun the process of agent hunting this weekend.

It looks as weird in writing as it felt on my tongue as I told my roommate, “I need an agent.”

I have known that writing query letters and searching for the right agent is my next step for Second Shots but I have been hesitant.

When I am asked to describe myself and my goals I always start with the phrase: “I love to write.” This honestly could not describe me any better; it is what comes next that’s troubling.

Usually I follow up with “I wanted to publish a novel but..” (Fill in a turner phrase excuse like I needed to pay bills or get a day job here). Even as I say it I can hear my high school English teacher saying, “SO?” as she did many times when I needed to elaborate or dig deeper on a thought.

I want(ed) to publish a novel for as long as I can physically remember. I still do. Yet there are a million SO WHAT phrases that hold me back.

  • I am still in college
  • I am only 21 years old
  • I do not have the funds to get the agent, the editor, the publicist that I think I need
  • The novel could be better
  • The novel could be longer
  • The novel could be shorter

I could go on but SO WHAT? I have had this dream forever and I am tired of the SO WHAT factors holding me back. Yes, I am still finishing my degree. Yes, I am 21 years old. Yes, I am ridiculously low on disposable income. Yes, the novel will get better. Yes, I will add to it. Yes, I will cut it down.

A fact in life is that chasing dreams is not supposed to be easy. It is not as simple as finding the prize in a cereal box or sending your work to one person and BAM! You’re published.

It takes work, sometimes years of it. I have come to a point in my writing career that I need to decide whether I want to put in the necessary effort into chasing this dream and I do.

After that mini quarter life crisis I decided not to prolong the process any longer and got to work on my first batch of query letters for Second Shots.

Here’s my take on the Typical Dos and Don’ts of Query Letters that I adhered to when I wrote my first queries this week: 

DO:

  • Address the Agent by Name. It goes without saying but the point of query letters is to form a connection with the agent so that they feel compelled to represent you and your work—it’s hard to form a meaningful connection with anyone if you do not address them by name. Even if you send the exact same query to sixteen agents, change the address line to address them by name and not just “To Whom It May Concern” which is basically saying: “Whoever Feels Like Giving Me The Time of Day” which, if you don’t take the time to find a live person to address, will probably be no one. 
  • Brevity Is Key. This really ought to be one of the Writing Ten Commandments. We are all busy people—be brief. Cut to the chase and tell the agent the important stuff about your novel without losing interest.
  • Use a Smart Summary. The summary is what will sell your novel to the agent. If your summary doesn’t hook the agent—it won’t hook readers. As I mentioned in my post, “Hold The Elevator: How To Pitch Your Writing Like a Pro I mention how this can be done by grabbing your listeners’ attention with a simple few sentences that tell them what happens in your book, but leaving enough to question that they will want to read it to find out. The summary sells your writing—so be smart while crafting it so that is represents your novel in the best way possible
  • Personalize. Tell the agent why you chose to contact them. Have you read something by someone they represent? Is their agency close to where your grandparents first met? Is their first name the name of a character in your manuscript? Tell them. Do whatever you can to force that connection so that your novel does not end up in the sludge pile.
  • Start With The Basics. All query letters should feature the following statistics near the beginning of the query:
  1. Genre
  2. Target Audience
  3. Word Count
  4. Title

Although this might seem unbelievably redundant—if you by chance forget to mention these items—the agent is probably going to forget about you just as easily.

  • Keep It Short. By short I mean NO MORE THAN ONE PAGE. Again, everyone is busy. Agents do not have the time to read queries that span beyond one page and they should not have to. The meat and potatoes should fit onto one page easily. 

And the DO NOTS:

  • No Bribes. It may pay to give your cabbie a bit extra to get your through the city faster, but paying off an agent along with your query is not going to win you any favors, in fact, it will come across as arrogant and imply that you believe everything can be bought—which is not how you want to look, right?
  • No Selling Yourself Short. Don’t apologize for lack of experience or prior publishing credit. You want the agent to see your potential and show them that it is worth their time to help you build that repertoire—don’t make their job easier by giving them reasons not to believe in you.
  • No Leaving Off Your Contact Information. Again, self-explanatory but if you write a great query, hopefully the agent will WANT to get in touch with you and they cannot do that if you don’t leave them any avenues of communication to reach you by.

While writing my query I consulted a ton of sample letters, including queries that have been successful. Sometimes seeing what has worked for others can really help you form your own so I have included a few samples here:

And now, we wait.

Kathryn E. Weast

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