My queries rock. I am the Queen of Queries. Between the great agent search ’06 and its cousin in ’07, I’ve worked out a formula that I guarantee will receive a request for pages if the actual writing is good. I can’t cure bad writing (not that my smart, wonderful readers suffer from it) but there are those folks that my query formula simply cannot assist. Here’s the letter I used recently:
Dear Ms. (Name),
I’m looking for a new agent, and I know your agency is highly effective, so I’m offering you a look at my hot new science-fiction romance, FALLING. I haven’t queried it widely yet, as the thirty day notice with my former agent completed not too long ago, but two agents are looking at the full at this time. They requested it just a few hours after reading the query and first chapter, available here. This manuscript is complete at 86K words.
RITA-winning author Linnea Sinclair stayed up until 2:30 a.m. to finish this book and said: “FALLING is a top notch SF/SFR winner that Anne Groell of Bantam would love.” Linnea also offered to blurb me when it sells and ask Mary Jo Putney, Susan Grant, and Robin Owens whether they have time to read and blurb as well.
Currently I live in Mexico City with my husband and two children. I hold a degree in English Literature with a minor in Humanities. I’ve been writing for years, and my writing was nominated in 2002 for the RT Best Small Press Romance Award. I have a novel coming out with Loose Id in May and a proposal for a paranormal series under consideration at Juno Books. Now let me tempt you with a little information about this project.
Sirantha Jax is a spoiled nav star, a J-gene carrier. She can hear the beacons calling, and they let her navigate in grim space. As a result, she can have anything she wants from the Corp, and she usually receives it. With the man she loves at her side, her life is golden. Until the disaster on the Sargasso. She’s the sole survivor, and she can’t give her bosses the answers they need (or want?) regarding what went wrong. Maybe she’s paranoid, but when they start whispering she should confess, she takes the first ride off station, though it means giving up the only life she’s ever known. Rescue comes in an unlikely form, a brusque, hard-faced man named March with secrets of his own. She doesn’t want a pilot bond with him, but amid laser fire and pursuing Gray squads, she has little choice. So they jump for Lachion, a waystation along the Star Road, where she finds out what these unlikely allies want with her. Maybe she was better off in her cell…
The truly unique thing about the manuscript is the juxtaposed roles and an anti-heroine who still manages to be endearing. I hope you’re interested in reading more. Thanks for your time, and I look forward to hearing from you.
Now that you can see what I did, I’ll break it down for you. First paragraph should include genre, word count, and hook. (That’s the essence of your book, boiled down to 200 characters or less). Another workshop covered being able to pare your hook down like that. Alternatively, if you have some demand for your work establish it, as I did in place of the hook. This makes the agent sit up and say, “Someone else is reading this. It might be better than average” and it pushes your query a little further along the queue. If you have the first chapter on your site, that’s also good. An agent is likely to follow a link. Maybe they’ll even rummage around your site if they’re bored or on hold, so make sure it looks good. If they like what they see, they may skip asking for a partial and request the full manuscript. (And that’s how I do it.) I know some authors caution against putting a link in a query, but I don’t see there’s a downside, provided your website is ready to be viewed professionally. Taken realistically, if they aren’t interested enough in your material to click a link, how likely are they to ask for pages? Just ensure the excerpt on site is error free and polished to a high sheen. (Sidenote — the agent who asked for a full this week also wrote, “And may I say, that you have just about the coolest website I have ever seen. I totally love the look of it.” So big props to Deena for making me look good.) Doing this, you can often cut through the partial requests and head straight for fulls, and I’m all for efficiency.
Next, the second paragraph should tell what’s special about your novel, any prizes or awards it’s won or author endorsements you have. If none, then move straight into your biographical info. It should be short and sweet, related to writing credentials. No padding. If you don’t have a lot on your writing resume, do not pad it by talking about your kids and your collection of stuffed armadillos (unless you’ve written a book about collecting same).
The next paragraph should be the “back cover copy” of the novel. For each book I query, I write a blurb, 250 words or less. This is quite different from a complete synopsis, and this is where most authors go wrong. The agent doesn’t need to know the whole story in the query letter. The trick is making her want to read on.
The last paragraph states what’s unique about your book, expresses hope for future contact, thanks the agent for his / her time and closes. That’s it.
Using this formula, I guarantee you will get some requests for pages. My average is 50%. Final thought, keep the letter lean. 500-600 words is ample. Agents want to know you can self-edit; it gives them hope that your novel will be tight as well. I always e-query, so I go by words. 600 is max. Just checked that query — it will fit on one page and it’s 439 words.
And there you have it. Plug your specifics into this letter and it will work for you. If it doesn’t, I’ll take a look at your version and fix it. That’s a promise.