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Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Submissions for Traditional Publishers: The Query Letter

A query letter is sent to the editor(s) or agent(s) of interest. You might write to the person cold, after a recommendation (say from a client of the agent's), or an invitation (say from a writer's conference). The first step is to research on the web to determine what, exactly, the editor or agent wants to receive. Some want to receive just a query. Some want to receive a query as well as a short synopsis and/or a few pages of the manuscript. Some want an email query, others snail mail, or they might not care. DO WHAT THEY TELL YOU TO. It's tempting to think gee, my book is SO good I just have to let them know more. No, you don't. Believe me, these people are overwhelmed with submissions, and won't thank you for adding to their work or recycle bin. (If all they want is a query, you probably need some rocket fuel recommendations, experience, and/or platform for them to consider you, although it doesn't hurt to try). If guidelines are unclear, I'd include a one page synopsis and possibly the first chapter of the manuscript.

Don't forget also to make it easy for the agent/editor to respond to you if they want more. Include your email, snail mail, and telephone numbers. If you're mailing by snail mail, include a self-addressed stamped envelope so they just have to scribble *yes* on your query and pop it in the mail. If you emailed your query, make sure that hitting reply won't cause the email to bounce, or cause the agent/editor to go through machinations (prove that they're a real person) in order for the email to reach you. DON'T call the agent/editor to pitch a story. They don't appreciate being interrupted.

The purpose of the query letter is to hook the interest of your prospect. The temptation is to put in a lot of information, but you should instead make your query short and intriguing.

Think of it this way: suppose you've just met someone and need to chit-chat for a few minutes. Do you want the other person to start telling you his life's story? Or is it more interesting for you if that person throws out an interesting tidbit and waits for you to ask a question (or not).

Query letters have four general parts:

1. introduction -- why are you writing to this particular person? Target your reason.

2. intrigue -- tell a little about the story, enough to raise curiosity without killing it.

3. justify -- what is your background that makes you qualified to write AND SELL this story?

4. close -- state specifically the action the person can take if he is interested.

The query should be only one page, period.

There is a terrific free resource entitled How to Write a Great Query Letter by literary agent Noah Lukeman HERE that you should download and study. Also, again, there is much information about how and where to send queries -- there is a nice series every year in the Writer's Digest Market HERE.

Needless to say, make sure this query is as polished as you can make it. The competition is fierce. You may have to send out 30 or more queries before you get a nibble, so put on your emotional armor before you start the process. This is the biz.

Here is an example of a query I just wrote Lever, for whatever my effort might be worth (a chuckle, anyway).


Dear Mr. Agent:

I'm writing to you because you represent so-and-so writer, whose work I love and feel is similar to mine. I was impressed to learn that you'd sold his latest work, Running Down the Drainpipe, to Bigshot Publishers. I like to think of my own novel as The Case for Christ meets The DaVinci Code. A Lever Long Enough is an adventure with a touch of science fiction, and is 92,000 words. It is suitable for ages 14 through adult.

The story: A Lever Long Enough is about a small military team that travels back in time to film the theft of Jesus' body from the tomb. I've enclosed a one page synopsis.

I am a scientist and skeptic who came to faith through study of the historic circumstances surrounding the death of Jesus. This is my first novel. Currently I am writing the prequel, entitled Nest Among the Stars, that follows a shock-and-awe space station disaster and involves the time machine in an unexpected way, and I also plan a sequel. Randy Ingermanson (City of God trilogy) and Wayne Batson (The Door Within trilogy) have both written an endorsement for this book. I have a blog with a following of approximately X hits per week, and a speaking platform where I present The Story Template, an algorithm I've developed for story construction. I am willing to work hard to market my works.

While the emphasis is on the story, Lever fairly presents the arguments for and against the resurrection, and demonstrates (without the use of any fictional miracles) that the case for the resurrection is remarkable. It is highly Messianic, a targeted marketing group. The synopsis and/or complete manuscript are available upon request. I have enclosed a one page synopsis and SASE for your convenience; email is also fine. I look forward to hearing from you.



The one page synopsis would include the following text:

In the near future, the Israeli military has developed a prototypic time machine. When believers in Yeshua (Jesus) create a politically explosive situation that threatens the balance of peace between Israel and nearby countries, the Israelis must send a team of four elite soldiers back to film the theft of Jesus’ body from the tomb and thus disprove Christianity. The team, consisting of a Special Forces soldier as leader, an ex-American astronaut as engineering specialist, an archaeologist, and a linguist, has exactly seventy-two hours to collect the video evidence. Drawn into a web of first century deception and death, the only way to escape is for the team to change the past. In the present, a traitor attempts to sabotage the mission and seize control of the military complex. The Special Forces leader operating in the past is the only one who can reveal him, but he is trapped two thousand years away. Even with a time machine, time is running out...

I would probably paste in Randy's and Wayne's endorsements as well:

“Who wouldn’t want to time-travel back to first century Jerusalem to see if the Resurrection really happened? Amy Deardon has given me the next best thing with her novel bringing old Jerusalem to life. I raced through the book at lighspeed and enjoyed it immensely. Strong characters and an unpredictable plot made this a book I’ll want to read again.”

—Randy Ingermanson, Christy Award-Winning Author of Transgression and Oxygen

“If you could go back to Christ’s crucifixion, would you do it? What if the only way you could was by time-traveling with skeptics bent on proving Christianity is based on a lie? Author Amy Deardon tackles these provocative questions in her phenomenal debut novel: A Lever Long Enough. Readers will find themselves enveloped in the scope and import of this adventurous tale where love, loyalty, and faith will be tested in the crucible of first century Jerusalem.”
—Wayne Thomas Batson, Bestselling author of The Door Within trilogy, Isle Of Swords, and Isle Of Fire


NOTE: my first attempt at this letter has way too much information in it! It needs a lot of work.

Here is a sample query from Preditors and Editors:

What if the President of the United States committed a murder in front of you? What if you were a member of his Secret Service protection? Would you arrest him? Would you report the crime? Or would you cover up the crime to protect the nation because of an international crisis?

These are the questions Shari Nichols must resolve in my novel, All Fall Down. At the moment of the murder she professes allegiance to President Halverson, but she questions whether she has made the right choice. A quick promotion puts her into a job that consumes her attention and seems to support the President's action of murder. But within weeks a series of events makes Shari wonder if the President is as honorable as he seems. Shari Nichols digs for the truth and unearths secrets woven deeply within the infrastructure of the government. Secrets that touch even her family, but she may be digging her own grave.

The completed manuscript is available upon request. A SASE is included for your convenience. Thank you for your generous time. I look forward to hearing from you soon.



Queries are tougher than they look! Make sure you make yours shine.


Billy Coffey said...

Wordiness is my problem when it comes to query letters. Shrinking down an entire book that you've spend years writing into just a few paragraphs? Ugh.

So thanks for the samples. They were much needed.

Anonymous said...

Ditto that, Billy! I'm wordy too. Those are hard to write. As is the, to sum up 75,000+ words in's a challenge.

A challenge I'm up to, though. I'm learning more and more about them.

Thanks for this, Amy.

Andra M. said...

Ditto to Billy. I love words, and have a tendency to add way more than is necessary . . .


Again, thank you for the information!

Avily Jerome said...

Great pointers, thanks Amy!

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