One of the nice things about self-publishing your book is that querying is not even a part of the picture. You have to do a lot of other things, like formatting your book, hiring a cover artist or designing one yourself, distribution and marketing. When you self-publish however, the one thing you don’t have to do is write and send a query letter to agents or publishers for representation.
What is a query letter, anyway?
Glad you asked. Essentially, it is a one page synopsis of your book (no longer than one page, because apparently that is the kiss of death if you want to be taken seriously), and a short description of who you are.
While you can send a query letter to agents or straight to the publishers themselves, many high-end publishers (think the Big Five: Hachette, Penguin Random House, Simon & Schuster, etc.) won’t even look at a manuscript unless it is agented. Thus, I will focus this post on how to query agents, though I’m sure it’s a similar process to send the letter straight to a publisher (and straight into the slush pile…don’t say I didn’t warn you).
There are three paragraphs that comprise the query letter:
1) Hook: A one-sentence paragraph of your book that introduces your main character (MC) and the conflict of the plot. This should be concise yet detailed (a lot of times the age, profession, description of the MC is included), and intriguing, so as to “hook” the agent into requesting to see a partial or full manuscript.
Side note: A “partial” request is when an agent is interested in your book and requests to see a number of chapters from it. Many times, agents who request a partial ask that you do not send anything to other agents while they are considering whether to represent you. This can be frustrating, in that it may take several months or more to hear from the agent, with it many times being a rejection. Be sure to notify or specify with an agent what their guidelines are when sending them your partial or full manuscript, so as not to burn any bridges if you are continuing to query. There may be nothing more aggravating to an agent than finding a book they believe in and want to represent, to find out it’s been scooped up by someone else.
2) Synopsis: this is a short paragraph to describe your book in a bit more detail. Who are the major cast of characters, where does the book take place, and what trials do the characters have to face? Follow the same rules as before when writing this: concise, intriguing, sans any extraneous details that do not enrich the description. The website listed above recommends looking at the jackets of some of your favorite books for ideas, making note of which ones draw your attention and which do not.
3) A short bio about yourself. This should only include your education, day job, etc. if it pertains to your book or expertise, such as a non-fiction book on plants being written by a botanist. Otherwise, it is recommended to list any accolades received for your writing, other places you’ve been published, and your experience in the field. If you don’t have much “professional experience,” be sure to include your social media outlets, websites, etc. In this current technological age, I think that new agents are looking not only for those who have been published or received prestigious awards, but for writers who can say, “My Wattpad story has over 300,000 views and votes.” Showcasing that you already have a strong author platform and readership builds clout for your work.
Three more important things to keep in mind with your letter:
- Mention the title and word count as early on as possible, preferably in the first sentence.
- Address the agent with a professional manner, and the correct spelling of their name.
- Keep your letter professional, but infuse it with your personality. You want to sell your writing, after all. Make sure it represents who you are and evokes the genre of the manuscript you are querying. For example, if you are writing a dystopian young adult fantasy, consider short, action-packed sentences with an edge of danger.
For some examples of successful query letters, check out these resources:
http://www.writersdigest.com/online-editor/successful-query-letters (and the entire Writer’s Digest series on this)
Next time I will discuss more in-depth the do’s and don’ts of querying agents, as well as where to find the right agent for you