Good news, boys and girls! Jabberwocky is temporarily open to recieving queries. So if you’re an author in search of an agent, brush up your query letter and hope for the best!
What is a query letter?
Simply, a query letter introduces you and your book to a prospective agent.
Don’t just slap something like “Hey! I wrote this great book and I think you should be my agent!” on a piece of paper (or email) and send it off. Queries have a pretty standard format that agents like to see. It lets them know they’re dealing with a serious author. And that’s what you are, right?
ANATOMY OF A QUERY
1) The opening line.
This is where you hook or lose them, so make it good. Write 1-3 sentences (at MOST) to grab the agent’s attention. Don’t get cutesy and don’t ramble. If you’ve met (or seen) the agent at a convention or workshop, tell them that. “I was excited to see you speak at the Oregon writer’s workshop for women, and and even more thrilled to share my 300 page book ‘How to Herd Cats and win friends’ with you.”
Or, if you’ve read about them online, say that. “I read your blog @(addy here) and am excited to share my 400 page novel ‘It Was a Dark and Stormy Night’ with you.”
If you’re approaching them cold (haven’t seen, met, or read them), keep it about your book. But remember, this is NOT where you give your synopsis. That follows. This is just the introduction where you try to grab their interest. For example:
Imagine being whisked away by a twister over the rainbow to a strange, colorful land full of wonders, and having to find the one person that can help you get home again.
What if you were trapped in a spaceship with a horrible alien that has killed all of your crew mates and is now after you? How will you survive?
Now that you’ve got their attention, give them a brief description of your book. Emphasis on brief. This whole letter fits on one page, remember.
Dorothy Gale, a sweet young girl from Kansas, finds herself swept away by a twister to the magical land of Oz. There, she makes friends like Glinda, the beautiful Witch of the North, who gives Dorothy a pair of ruby slippers. There’s also an animated scarecrow, rusty Tin Man, and Cowardly Lion who help her find her way to meet the Wizard of Oz. He’s great and powerful, they say, and can help her get home again. She also battles the Wicked Witch of the West, who will stop at nothing to thwart Dorothy and reclaim the ruby slippers. Dorothy meets the Wizard, but discovers that he can’t send her home, after all. The power to do that, she finds, is within herself.
You get the idea. Keep it brief, describe the story, and don’t get cute.
And do include the ending. Don’t leave ’em hanging. It won’t leave them wanting more. It’ll probably piss ’em off. And you don’t want to lose them if they’ve come this far in your query, do you?
Also, add the essentials. Title, page length, and genre. *Book title* is a 325 page is a YA novel. I suggest not saying that it’s a fiction novel. That’s repetitive. If it’s a novel, of course it’s fiction.
3) Your introduction.
Tell the agent about yourself. Again, keep it brief. They want a bio, not your life history. If you won a contest or award that’s related to your project, include it. If you won the 4H blue ribbon for your sweet apple pie, they don’t want to hear about it. Unless your book is about how to bake a sweet apple pie, of course.
4) Wrap it up.
Express your appreciation for the agent’s time and let them know you’re looking forward to hearing from them. And that’s probably how you should word it. Don’t gush, and don’t beg. Be professional.
Do not include phrases like “If you liked Harry Potter, you’ll LOVE my book!” They’re literary agents. They’ll decide for themselves if they love it.
Do not tell them how many of your friends and family read the book and love it. Not to be rude, but they don’t care.
Do not add a bunch of cutesy pictures.
Do not use a hard-to-read font. Courrier New, or Times Roman 12 are your best bets. Using cutesy pictures, font or, if you’re snail-mailing, cutesy stationery is the quickest way to get your query dumped in the trash. There are industry standards for a reason. These people are professionals, and they want to deal with authors that are professional and serious about getting published. They see literally hundreds of query letters a day. The cute pink paper isn’t going to make yours stick out from the bunch in a good way. It’s likely the first that will get plucked out and tossed. Let your story and your pitch stand out for you. If it’s a good one, it will get noticed. If not by one agent, then maybe by the next.
DON’T berate yourself. Don’t approach them with lines like “Well, this book isn’t the best, but…” or “I know you’ve worked with better authors than me, but…” or “You probably won’t represent me, but…” If you don’t have confidence in yourself or your project, why the hell should they? Don’t come off like you’re the greatest thing ever, but don’t put yourself down, either. Just come off as a confident professional. That’s what they want to see. That’s who they want to deal with.
Also, don’t query more than one book at a time. If you’ve got a bunch, that’s great. But you only query one book at a time. If you MUST mention that you have other works available, mention that in your bio. “I also have several other titles I look forward to talking with you about.” That’s it. That lets them know that you’re not a one-time splash in the pan, and that’s fine. But don’t lose sight of the fact that you’re querying ONE project, here. Let the others fall in line.
DON’T send your whole book. Look at the website and find out what they want you to send, and send exactly that. Nothing more, and nothing less. If they want to see more, they’ll ask you for it.
The final DON’T is this: Don’t get discouraged if you don’t get picked up on sight by the first agent you query. Stephen King didn’t. Nobody does. Keep at it. The right agent for you is out there. Hopefully, it’s this one. If not, keep plugging away.
There are some great articles about how to write a query HERE, and HERE. And HERE‘s a pretty nifty list of sample letters that were successful in getting their authors represented (by various agencies. Not necessarily Jabberwocky). Don’t copy them word for word, but learn from them.
Be sure to read the BIO pages of Jabberwocky’s agents to make sure that you’re contacting the one that best represents what you’re selling. You don’t want to send a cook book query to the guy that does Sci-fi.
Good luck, kids.