I received a question from a fellow aspiring writer, it was about query letters. As you may know I hardly consider myself an expert on the subject, but as I began to think about it I realized that I know a whole lot more now than I did when I first began. My nature of over-studying and trying to ask more questions than I think I need to ask has taught me a lot about writing a query letter, and the delivery of that query letter.
First off my advice to newer writers is study!! Read books on how to write query letters, on what to do and what not to do. Then find your prospect agents or publishers and then you need to study more!! I know right about now you would say that being told to study is not what you want to hear, you want me to tell you exactly what you need to do, well unfortunately every genre requires a different approach, fiction, non-fiction; what level you’re writing, child, middle school, young adult, adult and it’s sub category, college level, average intelligence, or a specific field. Which is why there are so many reference books on the subject, and the rules keep changing every year. What I tell you now may be different by the time you read this. So what am I blogging about? Well, I’m going to tell you how I get ready to write a query letter, I am not saying this is the only way to go about it, or even if this is the best way to do it, this is just what I do.
Let me set up the situation. Let’s say that I have a story called “Understandable” (I have no such book, this is just for an example) it’s an urban fantasy (aka. a fantasy story that takes place in our world as to opposed a fantasy that take place in its own world, like Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings”) The main character is…a dwarf named…White, (hey, I’m making this up as I go, so stop snickering.) White works in the mines when he returns home to see a lovely lady dressed as a traveling apple sales woman, (wait for it) she’s a powerful sorceress in disguise, and she has come to the dwarf for shelter. This is an unusual occurrence as you may expect, but White lets her in, and that night she explains that she just caught wind of a plot to kill the queen, so she was on her way to stop them, hence the disguise. White offers his help as a….guide (I guess), she says thanks but no thanks, the sorceress refuses the food White offers her, saying she can only eat the apples she has with her, for they are the key to her strength. The next morning however, White and the sorceress find the basket with the fruit has been stolen, and the sorceress will die if they are not found, and the day for the planned murder of the queen is drawing near, and they need to do all of this while keeping themselves hidden from the other people of this world: the Ordinaries (that’s us)….White goes to his seven cousins for help and together they save the sorceress.
So what do I do first after the story is written and edited?
I go and find agents and publishers that might be interested in this kind of thing. I write out an index card for each company or agent with all their important information.
(1)White (2)great other project okay
(3) 1.16.10 11.12.07 (4) NO
(5) Fantasy Agency
(8) Fantasy Agency
212 I Make It Up St.
New York, MY 99999
(1) I list the books I am currently searching for agent for; usually I am looking for more than one book at a time.
(2) I make a note at how well I think my project fits the agency or publishing house in question.
(3) I note the date that I sent the agency the query letter.
(4) I write down “NO” when I get a refusal or no response so that I can avoid sending a query to the same place twice.
(5) Next I list the agency name.
(6) I list the name of the person I wish to contact; there may be more than one noted person in the company, if possible I narrow it down so that I send it directly to my desired agent or publisher.
(7) I write down the company email and/or the specific email of the person I wish to contact.
(8) The final thing on this page is usually the physical address of the agency or publishing house.
(1) Picture books, fantasy, Short Stories
(2) Q letter Snail Mail with 1st 5 pages & synopsis along with SASE.
(3) Q letter with QUERY & work title in email subject with 1st 5 pgs and synopsis of work NO attachments. WILL REPLY, if none, email again.
(1) I list the preferred genres of the company, or specific person I’m going to be sending the query to, in some cases, they list only what they don’t want sent to them in which case I list those instead with NO at the beginning of the list.
(2) I note how they wish the query letter to be sent by mail. Since I am pressed for space I use a mix of my own shorthand, and the generally accepted slang of the writing world. Q letter, meaning they want a standard query letter, which is only one page long. Snail mail, which is regular mail; a lot of agencies will not accept UPS, or other deliveries and will not even let it in through the door. Some will ask for the first few pages from your work, it can be anywhere from the first five to the first fifty pages of the work, depending on the genre. They could also ask for a synopsis, which is basically a summary of the entire book condensed to around three pages for a “Short Synopsis” or around ten pages a “Long Synopsis” they may or may not specify what kind of synopsis they want and you’re left to guess. A SASE is a Self Addressed Stamped Envelope, a lot of companies will not pay for postage to send you a rejection or an acceptance, so you need to send an envelope addressed to yourself with a stamp, even then some do not guarantee a response.
(3) This is where I note the recommended mode of sending the query by email. Most agencies and publishing companies get a lot of spam, so even if they don’t require it, it’s best to put QUERY in the subject line of your email, with your book title. Most of them are paranoid of viruses, and do not open attachments, so anything that they ask you to send along with the query you should paste to the email, they will most often request it but even if they don’t, you should do it anyways. Some will guarantee a response and will ask you to email another query after a given period of time, because if you didn’t get a response, they accidentally deleted it, or it got lost. Most are not so kind. Most of them will give you a time span of days to expect a reply, and then if they exceed it, you are to assume it to be a refusal.
So, this is how I start my query letter adventure, I think this post is long enough for one day, I’ll be posting more on this subject another time.