Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Q is for...


When you look at that word, does it make your heart pound faster? It does mine.

A query letter is something we're all going to have to write at some point in time if we want to get published. More importantly, we're going to have to write a query letter WELL if we're to be published.

I thought I'd pass along some tips from Kristin Nelson, at the Nelson Literary Agency in Denver, CO. These were tips she gave in a workshop at last year's Pikes Peak Writer's Conference.

First, a query letter should be a one-page letter that introduces yourself and your work. If it's longer than a page, trim it. Their slush piles are as tall as the kitchen counter, and they don't have time to read your memoir (unless, of course, you're submitting a memoir, but you get the point).

Don't do anything special to your letter, like do a cursive font, format it funky or make your words pink. Make it an easy-to-read font on white paper (or white background for email).

Query one agent at a time, and only one manuscript per query.

Kristin Nelson outlined four elements of a query letter: an introductory paragraph, a query pitch paragraph, a bio/background paragraph and a closing paragraph.

Start with the agent's name, not "To Whom It May Concern." Do your research. Look at their website and/or blog. Research them on www.agentquery.com. Find out who it is you're writing the query to and what they like. Speak to this in the first paragraph by detailing why you thought they would appreciate your manuscript. If you've met them in person or read their blog regularly, now is the time to mention it.

Also in the first paragraph: word count, title, genre. (If your novel encompasses multiple genres, choose the main one. Don't spew out five billion word genre titles).

A great tip from Kristin on the query pitch paragraph was to study the backs of similar books for the blurbs. Your query pitch should read like the back of your book would. Practice this. Your pitch paragraph should be no more than nine or ten sentences, and should include the major catalyst in your book.

In your bio paragraph, either list prior publications or say this is your debut novel. This is also a good place to mention writer's groups you may belong to, mentors, or any professional organization related to your writing that you happen to participate in.

For your closing paragraph, be polite and keep it simple. Thank them for their time.

Your query needs to be formal. Even if you've met them, keep it professional.

If you're querying and not getting requests for the first page, your query needs work. Double check that you were properly polite and formal, and really polish your query pitch. One thing I've heard from other authors is that they've had a critique partner write their pitch or a synopsis, because they have a different eye toward your work. You know every minute detail of your manuscript, and it is easy to let that cloud what you're trying to say. There are details you think are important, but that the reader may not see as such. You can trade pitches/synopses with a fellow writer in a critique group, or even just ask one of your beta readers to summarize the story for you. It may be easier to edit what they summarize, rather than summarizing it yourself.

Kristin has a blog authors I know swear by. You can go to the Nelson Literary Agency website and click on "Kristin's Blog" to check it out. It doesn't hurt to peruse the rest of the site, either.

Do you have any query tips I missed or know of a good online reference?

Happy Writing!


  1. Very informative! Thank you for this! Query letters give me nightmares!


  2. Lots of great information. I hate writing query letters oh so much.

  3. I'm nowhere near the query stage, but I should probably start practicing already. It is intimidating.

  4. Lydia, you're not the only one!

    M.J., I haven't quite gotten to the query letter portion, yet I already hate it. Ha!

    Shelli, good luck with your writing! I hope by this time next year (or sooner) you're at the query stage.