The Query Letter


Hi all!
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.

Anita Break
Halfway House
Hardtime Prison

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.

That’s Craig Faris’ letter and tie-up. Kudos toCraig!
Faith Hunter


5 comments to The Query Letter

  • A question. I was once told that publishers/agents/etc, don’t really care one whit about whether you’ve been published by an RPG company and not even to bother adding that to your query/resume. However, that’s all I’ve been published to, due to the fact that I’ve never really sent my short stories anywhere to get ’em published. Is that still something that gets the upturned nose or is pretty much any published writing something that should be mentioned. I mean, I get that if you’re published in a number of technical writing sources and you’re writing fiction it might not be so useful to mention that you’re a technical writer swimming into fictional waters. However, writing RPG material is a big balancing act between technical writing and fiction and is actually a bit more difficult to write than straight fiction, IMO. Not only do you have the fiction end of writing it, but you have the rules side that has to not only mesh with other rules in the book, but also other books in the line.

    How much does mentioning previous writing cred help in getting picked up?

  • Sorry I am late getting to this Daniel. I had a family member with a total knee replacement today and spent it in the waiting room. Ick. All is good with the stepdad’s new knee, BTW.

    The previous writing experience won’t push you to the head of the pack unless you have previous published novels. However, it does show that you can work with editors, deal with deadlines and understand the biz. I’d alwayd mention it with the comment added, “Though there is little in common with the fiction market, I have had extensive experience in…blagh blagh blagh…and I work well with editors and publishers…”

    That says a lot about you, the author.

  • Cool. No prob on the wait time. Family comes first. 🙂 I was spending my time doing script rewrites anyhoo. 🙂

  • Thanks. I am the worse self-seller in the world. That’s why I need an agent, among other reasons. But it is nice to see an acknowledge good letter, with why it works. Now if I could just whittle another 25k off my WIP, and get it down to 100k I’ll be ready for “The Great Agent/editor Hunt.”