A friend of mine, Jessica, is holding a #JustPitchIt Query Workshop on her blog this week (http://www.jessicaschmeidler.com/?p=1058). She invited me to participate and I have to tell you, I have really enjoyed it. Not only is it a terrific way for querying writers to gain some insight into crafting an intriguing query letter, but it reminds me of my personal experience with querying.
A query letter is a cover letter/resume you send out to literary agents and/or editors to sell them your book. It’s your one shot to make a great impression, pitch your book and wow them. The statistics don’t lie and the quote by Nicholas Sparks is accurate. It is a very low percentage of success for a writer and for me, it was a lot like applying for my dream job. I researched those I wanted to apply to and then wrote my query letter. I edited it over 15 times before I sent it to Kara Leigh Miller at Anaiah Press.
The best way to tell you how to write a successful query letter is to show you mine.
1- Make sure it is one page and no more than 400 words. I know, you are shaking your head and thinking to yourself, “She’s crazy! There’s no way I can describe my book and my accomplishments in 400 words!” The truth is you have no choice. You’re a writer so be creative. Be concise. No fluff and no B.S. in the query letter.
2- Your query letter should be 4 paragraphs long. Hook, summary, writing accomplishments and closing.
3- Be professional. Remember, your query letter should reflect you as a serious writer and not some fly by night writer who couldn’t care less.
Let’s go through mine step by step and hopefully you will see what I mean:
Dear Kara Leigh Miller,
Address the letter personally and don’t forget to spell their name right. This is the very first impression of you and nothing is more embarrassing as a writer than to get the name wrong. Go online and make sure of the spelling and you have the right agent/editor.
Destined to be vanquisher of Darkness and champion of Light, Miriam must risk her soul to banish the demons sent to kill her.
This is my hook. A hook is a one sentence pitch that hooks the reader and makes them want to read more. It should grab the person by the lapels and not let go. It should be intriguing and easy to remember. In the publishing industry, this is called the elevator pitch. You have ten seconds to impress someone.
You know your book better than anyone else. Think about what your book is about and who your main character is. What is the conflict of the main character? Read my hook again. Did your breath catch? Did you wonder if Miriam will survive? That is exactly what a hook does!
Miriam receives a visit from the Archangel Ethanial and discovers she is the Princess of the Light. Ethanial reveals her true calling, to restore the Light to all. Simultaneously, she meets and falls in love with Joe. Can she trust him with her true identity or must she keep it a secret?
Miriam’s first assignment is the Walking Man, a homeless man whose soul is filled with darkness and tormented by the demon, Than. Than doesn’t like Miriam interfering in his business and after many unsuccessful attempts, he enlists the help of Lisbeth, his second in command. Lisbeth takes control and wages war on the Light. With every attack, Miriam grows more powerful. Lisbeth is hell-bent on killing her and Miriam knows that the only way to stop Lisbeth is to banish her.
This is my summary or blurb of my book. It describes a little more about the book and reads a lot like the back of a book cover. I don’t list every single character, just the main ones. The blurb must be specific in the conflict and the main plot lines of your book while still being mysterious. You want the agent/editor to be curious enough to read more. It will take several drafts to get the balance just right. Don’t know where to start? Look at some of your favorite books and read the blurb on the back cover. Ask yourself what made you pick up the book? How did they word it?
I also recommend giving your blurb to as many people as you can (who you trust) and ask them their opinion. When working on mine, I asked my beta readers, my writing mentor and a few writing friends. If a sentence seemed out of place or too wordy, they told me the truth. I thanked them for their candor and tweaked my blurb accordingly.
Princess of the Light is complete at 130,049 words and the genre is speculative fiction.
Normally, this is the first sentence of your blurb but I found it didn’t work there so I placed it here, in the middle of the query letter. You need to list the title, word count and the genre. I balked at putting in the word count because I thought it would deter agents/editors from even giving me a shot. But after reading an article about query letters, I decided I needed to do it. You don’t want to shock them. The same with the genre. If your book is a crossover between two genres, please take my advice and pick one. Saying that my book is a crossover speculative fiction and romance makes me look like a waffling writer. If they decide to switch your genre, then leave it up to them. They are the professionals.
I am a professional Twitter marketer for the largest coin dealer in Canada (inserted twitter link) and I have a blog that I started in July 2013 (inserted blog link). I started my blog as a marketing tool for my upcoming book and to let my 1,248 Twitter followers stay up to date on the progress of my book. I have 244 blog followers to date and have received many blog awards. I write an Inspirational Thought of the Day, Writing articles and I have received several positive comments.
Okay, this is where you list your accomplishments and qualifications. If you have won any contests or published before, by all means, include it here. I didn’t have any experience other than my blog and Twitter. I hemmed and hawed about this. I had to put something down. So, I decided to highlight my marketing experience and the beginning of my author platform. I gave two links so that they could research my writing online to see for themselves what I have to offer.
You will notice that I didn’t say I was debut author. I found that stating the obvious would only hurt me in the end. I concentrated on the positives and that made a good impression.
I want to thank you for your time and consideration, Kara. Princess of the Light is distinctive in the speculative genre blending inspiration within an action-packed ass-kicking story and will help to create a new literary sub-genre. It has the potential to be a series and I will begin writing book two starting in January 2014. I have a completed manuscript and it is available to you upon request. I look forward to hearing from you and have a great evening!
This is my closing paragraph. I thanked her and used her name again. I mentioned the title of my book and gave a reason why she should sign me. I wasn’t cocky saying that it was going to be a best seller. I remained humble but still focused on the positive. I also mentioned that it had the potential to be a series. I left it with saying I have a manuscript ready for her review at any point.
I then signed my name and included my address, phone number and email so she can contact me.
As most of you know, Kara (and Anaiah Press) signed me three weeks later. I asked her this week for some of her insight when she first read my query letter and this is what she had to say:
What caught my eye with your query:
1. It was straightforward. You didn’t waste time with a bunch of unnecessary information. You jumped right into the story and put the stakes on the line.
2. You very clearly identified the title, genre, and word count. (I’m amazed at how often that information is missing from queries.)
3. The idea was unique to me — meaning I hadn’t read anything like this before. Although I know similar plot devices and tropes have been used,
I was intrigued by the spin you put on it, which was incorporating a homeless man.
For me a good query makes me ask questions. Questions I need answers to and therefore *have* to read your book. The ones that popped into my
head when I read your query:
Why was Miriam chosen?
What’s so special about her?
Who is Joe?
What kind of romantic relationship will develop between these two characters?
What bigger part does he play in Miriam’s mission?
Who is the Walking Man?
Why is he homeless?
Why is he important enough for God to choose a Princess to save him?
Why do Than and Lisbeth care about the Walking Man?
Thanks Kara, for your insight! :-)
I hope that by showing you my successful query letter, you will find it useful. Querying can be scary but the best piece of advice I can give you is to take your time and craft the best possible query letter. The time and effort you take now will pay off later when your query letter lands you a contract. :-)
If you have any questions or would like some tips on querying, please ask me in the comments below. If you know someone who would find this information useful, please share using the social media buttons below.
Until next time,
MRS N, the Author :-)