Jumping right in here…
My query letters stink. Yeah, I know. How *did* I ever get published? But I’ve learned from the best, and the very best I’ve ever known at writing queries is Craig Faris, a mermber of my previous writers’ group, award-winning short story writer, novelist -in-progress.
Direct from Craig Faris’ PC, here’s a sample of what you might say in a query letter to an agent: (Pardon his tongue-in-cheek)
Miss Anita Break
3000 Mental Ailment Court
Columbia, South Carolina 29204
June 15, 2000
Mr. Pat Hugh Onhead (spell the agent’s name correctly)
Onhead Literary Agency Inc.
1234 18th Street
San Pedro, CA 90732
Dear Mr. Onhead; (spelled-correctly)
I am a published author of short fiction and I have completed a 90,000-word stand-alone dark urban fantasy manuscript entitled, Tossing the Cat. It is the story of an inner city family’s struggle to hide the fact that they roam the city at night as cat burglars. Written in the vein of Drowning the Agent, by your client Hannibal Lecter, Tossing the Cat appeals to readers you are already well familiar with. I would love to have you represent me in selling this and the many books I plan to write on this subject in the future.
Prior to beginning my writing carrier, I spent ten years as a professional cat burglar in the northeast. Since my incarceration, and subsequent rehabilitation, I have interviewed countless burglars and have studied under Dr. Lecter extensively. Both your client Hannibal Lecter and Warden Chilton recommend you highly, and from what I’ve seen, I believe you are the perfect agent to represent my genre.
I would like to send the complete manuscript or sample chapters for your review. I would be interested in your evaluation of its commercial potential and would welcome any recommendations on how to improve the manuscript further.
I’ve included a single page synopsis of Tossing the Cat and a SASE for your convenience.
Thank you for your time and I eagerly await your response.
Cute, yes? But now let’s break it down and see why it works:
In the first paragraph the author explains that she has some experience in writing, that she has completed the manuscript and identified the genre. She then gives the agent a one-line description or teaser and compares it to a previously published work that the agent is familiar with. She also hints that she is already thinking about the next couple of books.
The second paragraph explains her qualifications to write the book. She refers to a recommendation from a published author and complements the agent’s work. This seldom hurts.
The third paragraph requests permission to send further material and shows a willingness to accept recommendations and changes.
The author then refers to the attached material and thanks the agent for his time.
Remember one thing, literary agents are real people, who have the toughest job in the world, selling your manuscript. A fellow author and writing coach, Chris Roerden, once told me a little story about rejection letters. “I’m short,” she said, “and weigh only about 100 pounds. So when I go into a store to buy a new suit, it takes awhile. If I pick one or two suits off of the rack, am I not rejecting every other suit on the rack? It’s not that there is anything wrong with the other suits; I was just looking for the right fit. If someone rejects your manuscript, keep that in mind.”
Oh, so what happened to the above query letter? Unfortunately before the agent could respond, Ms. Break’s body was found in Dr. Lecter’s cell, facedown in a bowl of fava bean soup. Which just goes to show that not all recommendations will prove to be fruitful. Give your agent too big a bowl, without any meat, and you just might end up drowning her.