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Reality Check Attitude in Agent Query Letters

#1
Never mind all that doom and gloom about the market. Let's face it, we're all on this site because we want to get ahead, not because we want to invest in a daily dose of gloom, and there's enough of that on the internet if you go looking for it. Never mind about whether you aren't photogenic, don't have a disability, or are too old. Keep positive. You need to write good, dynamic fiction, but also inject that individual writing Voice into your query letter. People are often talking about the problems in getting an agent interested in their work, but writing a query/submission letter is an art almost as specific as writing a novel.

I always get a few friends to read my novels to pick up continuity and typos, but recently I read an article about writing a submission query, and got a writing buddy to help with the query letter. Between the two of us we have achieved a better product. I did the traditional (probably boring) submission letter over and over, thinking if only someone would read the book... So, after years of blank rejections, I have, in the last year, had three requests to read the first chapters. There are two things I'm getting out of this, 1) I am probably a better writer now than I was a few years back; and, 2) My query letter is hitting the mark. That book hasn't sold yet, but I believe it will, when the right agent simply likes my work - maybe when I've got that first page right with the help from everyone here ;) .

Apparently you have 8 seconds in which to interest the agent. One agent said, if the submission letter doesn't attract, he suspects the book won't either, and doesn't even read the first page. So, apparently, what should be in the query/submission letter is this:

1) Plot and theme. Get to the point quickly, in a paragraph, with a hook. Excite interest. Don't dwell on a synopsis. They always sound ridiculous.
If the agent requests the work, then is the time to include a traditional synopsis.
2) Genre. Compare it to other published books - who is it closest to in genre, which indicates that you know the market, then add why yours is unique.
3) Write about what makes you special as a writer, experience, jobs, etc.
4) Detail what you will do to help sell your book. Platforms, web sites, author networks you belong to.

Write in third person present tense.
Use standard fonts.
Do not say I would appreciate you reading my book, or I am looking for representation, that's a given, and it's wasting space. Spend your time selling yourself. It's not something we're brought up to do, but being passive is as much a dampener in a letter as it is in the sentences in your fiction.
Finish with a simple, thank you for your consideration. Also, it's fine to send out in batches, to say that you have done so, and if you don't hear within two weeks, you will assume lack of interest, and send out another batch. Take control. Don't pussy-foot. If an agent chooses to be picky about your positive attitude (as long as it's reasonable), I'd be very surprised. They're all looking for the next best thing, and a proactive author is a better sell than a meek one.
 
#2
Good advice, Chris—you have exactly the right attitude.

I came across an article on successful query letter writing in a recent newsletter from Writer's Digest. The example shown is confidently worded, direct and to the point, and the literary agent who liked it reveals why:

http://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/guide-to-literary-agents/successful-queries/successful-query-letter-examples-gia-cribbs?

In my chosen writing genre of crime, there are many authors around with professional expertise of the dark side of life, including ex-coppers and private investigators, solicitors, probation officers and even a few criminals who served their time in prison. As a 'civilian', I've sometimes wondered how I should justify my interest in writing crime stories...do I have deep-seated knowledge, any expertise? Perhaps it would help, if I declared a secret and successful career as a serial killer: "I know what I'm writing about—honest—and I buried the bodies myself!" :eek:
 
#3
When I used to write erotica, I'd get the nudge, nudge, wink, wink from friends of my husband - bet you enjoyed the research! I use to say, Yes and I write about murder, too. I wanted to add, research, my arse, but it would have been inappropriate. A bit Royle - for those who watched the English soap. :)

I don't think you so much choose the genre you write in, as it chooses you. Simply, I like writing books that have more adventure than real life. Never mind that I've tried to write for kids, teens and adults, my books all have that alement of straying away from the mundanity of real life. I did't choose to write like that, it just slipped out. And a nasty character, as I've said before, is so much more fun to write and to read - as long as she's in fiction.
 
#5
Never mind all that doom and gloom about the market. Let's face it, we're all on this site because we want to get ahead, not because we want to invest in a daily dose of gloom, and there's enough of that on the internet if you go looking for it. Never mind about whether you aren't photogenic, don't have a disability, or are too old. Keep positive. You need to write good, dynamic fiction, but also inject that individual writing Voice into your query letter. People are often talking about the problems in getting an agent interested in their work, but writing a query/submission letter is an art almost as specific as writing a novel.

I always get a few friends to read my novels to pick up continuity and typos, but recently I read an article about writing a submission query, and got a writing buddy to help with the query letter. Between the two of us we have achieved a better product. I did the traditional (probably boring) submission letter over and over, thinking if only someone would read the book... So, after years of blank rejections, I have, in the last year, had three requests to read the first chapters. There are two things I'm getting out of this, 1) I am probably a better writer now than I was a few years back; and, 2) My query letter is hitting the mark. That book hasn't sold yet, but I believe it will, when the right agent simply likes my work - maybe when I've got that first page right with the help from everyone here ;) .

Apparently you have 8 seconds in which to interest the agent. One agent said, if the submission letter doesn't attract, he suspects the book won't either, and doesn't even read the first page. So, apparently, what should be in the query/submission letter is this:

1) Plot and theme. Get to the point quickly, in a paragraph, with a hook. Excite interest. Don't dwell on a synopsis. They always sound ridiculous.
If the agent requests the work, then is the time to include a traditional synopsis.
2) Genre. Compare it to other published books - who is it closest to in genre, which indicates that you know the market, then add why yours is unique.
3) Write about what makes you special as a writer, experience, jobs, etc.
4) Detail what you will do to help sell your book. Platforms, web sites, author networks you belong to.

Write in third person present tense.
Use standard fonts.
Do not say I would appreciate you reading my book, or I am looking for representation, that's a given, and it's wasting space. Spend your time selling yourself. It's not something we're brought up to do, but being passive is as much a dampener in a letter as it is in the sentences in your fiction.
Finish with a simple, thank you for your consideration. Also, it's fine to send out in batches, to say that you have done so, and if you don't hear within two weeks, you will assume lack of interest, and send out another batch. Take control. Don't pussy-foot. If an agent chooses to be picky about your positive attitude (as long as it's reasonable), I'd be very surprised. They're all looking for the next best thing, and a proactive author is a better sell than a meek one.

Chris - thanks for this. Totally inspired by your post, I shredded my old query letter (30 queries, realising just one m/s request and two personalised, positive rejections) and recast it in this format. Reading my new letter back to myself now, even I'm excited about my book, and that hasn't previously been true for about the last year! :) Onwards and upwards...
 
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