What surprised me was when an agent would dispense a piece of advice (you know, from their oodles of business experience where they slog through hundreds of queries each week) and a few people would get downright fussy. They’d shoot their arm in the air and say, “but hey, so-and-so agent just said that they don’t like to have information about where I found them,” or point out some other such minor differing opinion.
The agent would often say something about this being an example of personal preference or style. They’d nicely remind the attendees that every agent has his or her submission guidelines on their website, and they probably blog a lot, or are on Twitter, and with a little surfing you can learn their style.
However, the questioner might sigh or huff about how hard it is to figure out what agents want when they all want different things. So I thought I’d collect a list of similar things that agents do say about queries.
Perhaps if we focus on the consistencies, we can learn 80% of the tricks, and stop feeling so lousy about the other 20% seeming like a big mystery.
Here are things both Janet and Scott said in their sessions:
- A query letter is a business letter. It’s not the time to be creative. It’s the time to be professional. Your manuscript is where you get creative. Janet even said, “Formality is never out of place.”
- A query letter must tell the agent what the book is about. This is the story’s premise, i.e., “A great white shark haunts a sleepy New England beach town.” Be specific.
- Query letters should never ever be longer than a page. Janet said about 250 words.
- When writing a query via email, you don’t need to include everyone's mailing address up top. But darn it, don’t forget to put your contact information at the bottom! And have a professional email that identifies you by name, not snookypants49@yahoo or awesomewriter@gmail.
- Include the word count and title.
- The query must sell them instantly. Scott gives about twenty seconds.
- Best quote from Janet: “You can query too soon. You can never query too late.”
- Best quote from Scott: “Your resume is your manuscript.”
Writing a query takes a lot of work. It might feel like it takes just as much effort as writing the manuscript. But there are tons of great resources on honing your query letter. If you haven’t yet, check out Query Shark, The Public Query Slushpile, the QueryTracker forum, and from Curtis Brown agent Nathan Bransford, this post and this series. Enjoy!