WRITING A QUERY LETTER FOR FICTION
By Anita Diggs
Before you put pen to paper, you have some preliminary work to do. Make a list of at least 20 agents who might be interested in your work and why. To find them, check the Acknowledgements page of similar books, where authors usually thank their reps.
You can also ask other writers, and seek out agents in the pages of writing- and publishing-industry magazines. Once you have your list of 20 or more, it’s time to go online and check out their websites. What type of material are they seeking? What titles have they handled in the past?
Use your list to write a query letter to each one, addressing the agent by name. “Dear Agent” simply will not do. As someone who once sat on that side of the desk, I found this kind of shortcut lazy and insulting.
If you’re writing a novel, your first paragraph to your potential agent should provide the title, word count and genre; tell who the main character is; what the character wants; and what/who is stopping your protagonist from getting it. It also should say why you think this particular agent would be a good match.
The second paragraph describes the main character’s journey, and tells how it ends.
Include a brief paragraph about you. If you have won writing awards or your work has appeared elsewhere, mention a few particulars. If your characters are ace tennis players, and you’ve won every regional tennis championship in your area for a number of years, say so. If you have an MFA, mention it. If this is your first book, but you’re a bonafide star in another arena—for example, you wrote the screenplay for Thelma & Louise—mention that, too.
Now for the don’ts: Don’t tell the agent how hard or long you labored on your manuscript. Don’t mention what you have in common with one of your fictional characters, e.g. you both dig strawberries. Don’t tell the agent how long you’ve been shopping your manuscript. Don’t grouse about who in the publishing industry has done you wrong. Don’t say that your book is going to sell a gazillion copies. And whatever you do, don’t caution the agent that if she turns you down, she will regret it someday when your name is in lights. (Although success is the best revenge!)
Remember that the purpose of your query letter is to get an agent to ask for your whole manuscript. If you get a rejection, simply approach the next person on your list. Try not to take any negative comments personally. There is a literary agent out there who’s just waiting for you to come along, so keep submitting your work.
Conversely, if you’ve sent your book out say, 10 times, and met with repeated rejection, you might consider other avenues to publishing—self, digital, on demand, etc., which puts the power in your hands.
Anita Diggs critiques manuscripts and writes book proposals. A former senior editor at Random House, she’s the author of A Mighty Love; A Meeting in the Ladies Room; and The Other Side of the Game. She has an extensive network of literary agents, and holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Hunter College. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org
Image courtesy the author; bekindrewrite.com