Literary agent query
got to have one of these, so you might as well get it right.
A query letter is a "sell".
It's your foot in the door of the agent's office. He or she
is busy and doesn't need another manuscript. There are 500 sitting
in the "slush pile" waiting to be read and rejected, so you'd
better make an impact - and you'd got about 15 seconds.
You'd better start with the
right name of the right agent. Get the title right. Mr. Ms.
Mrs. Whatever. Tell them what you're selling and why you're
approaching them. If you don't know why, go back to the internet
or your copy of Writers' & Artists' Yearbook and do your homework.
The more pertinent your reason
for targeting a given agent, the better. It's not enough to
say that "you have a good reputation" - although I've said this
once or twice in my time (a little flattery doesn't hurt). You
need to show that agent you've been paying attention. You need
to tell them that you know that they're specially interested
in alien abduction, or medieval whodunnits or political satires.
You can tell them that you're familiar with their authors and
feel that your novel might be suitable for their lists.
Don't insist that you're
the right client for them. Just suggest it. Agents, remember,
know what they want (sometimes, anyway) and don't appreciate
being second-guessed. If they want what you've got, they'll
tell you quickly enough.
Next, describe your project
succinctly and tell the agent who the target reader is. The
more you know about that readership, within reason, the better.
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Meanwhile, here are
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Hope you enjoy them.
Mr Edit. Let's talk about dialogue
Mr Edit. Pitching fiction to a literary
Mr Edit. 5 Minute Fiction Fix.
Mr Edit. Let's talk about tautology.
Links for writers
& Editors. Here's where you can check out the credentials
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Plotting a novel
Finding a literary agent
Choosing a literary agent
Agent query letters
Inspiration for writers
5 minute fiction fix
How to get published
Active & passive voice
top UK literary
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publishing and success
Charlie Fox series of books
New York literary agent,
Crème de la Crime:
managing editor of a smaller—but
Always send a stamped, self-addressed envelope with your query
letter. Or send a stamped, self-addressed postcard if you prefer.
A postcard saves time for the agent (and resources, for everyone).
Have your manuscript ready to go the moment you hook an agent.
If interest has been shown, keep that interest on the boil.
At the very least, respond by mail and give a rough delivery
date for the full document - and keep to that date. Professional
writers are reliable writers. Be both.
Edit, edit, edit
Polish your letter until it squeaks. This can't be said enough.
Cut every wasted word. Question every sentence. Make it flow.
make it easy to read (try it aloud). Make it count. Never do
what I have done many times and simply scrawl a few words inviting
an agent to make his or her own mind up. They'll only do exactly
that, and probably not to your advantage. Query letters are
as important as the manuscript. Without a good example of the
former, agents may never want to read the latter.
Change your approach if your query letters aren't getting you
any feedback at all. I've got a number of replies in which an
agent has commented on "a good query". You should be able to
collect some too. If not, ask some searching questions.
Bad language, etc
You're sending out queries like machine gun fire and no one
is sending you anything other than standardised rejection letters.
What do you do? You get expert advice. Try a writer friend.
Check your query for bad language or anything that isn't politically
correct. People are very sensitive these days (and perhaps unnaturally
so). So check for anything that might offend. And keep your
language as clean as possible.
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