Thursday, November 12, 2009

Tipping the Balance: Writing the Query Letter

For the aspiring writer seeking representation, there's never been a more information-rich environment than now. Blogging agents post exactly what they're looking for, provide examples of query letters, and tweet about their pet peeves. For some writers, this is glorious. For others, overwhelming.

I am not here to provide tips or examples of query letters. Better women than I have done so for you. Sites that I have found particularly helpful include the following: Peruse them, study them, examine them. And, of course, feel free to add more sites or links or advice in the comment section.
  • Kristen Nelson: the rest of the examples are on right-hand side column under Agent Kristin's Queries: An Inside Scoop
  • Lynn Flewelling's query letter on the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America site.
  • Both Janet Reid's blog and her Query Shark site, which includes the following advice.
    • Just so you know: a query MUST contain:
    • 1. Who is the protagonist?
    • 2. What choice does s/he face?
    • 3. What are the consequences of the choice?
  • Charlotte Dillon's website contains samples as well
What I would like to do, however, is pass on some advice I garnered from a talk that Catherine Fowler gave at a conference this past year. Although the Redwood Agency is looking for "for high-quality, nonfiction works created for the general consumer market," literary agent Catherine Fowler provides invaluable advice for any author looking for representation.
  • Do your research: know similar titles and prove that there is a market for your work. If you haven't read anything recently, do an Amazon search, then skedaddle to the nearest library. You really do need to know what's going on out there. Don't forget Donne: No man is an island.
  • Read acknowledgements in similar titles and add to your notes on possible agents or contacts. You might also then reference the book in your query. (Well, unless it's Harry Potter or Twilight or something too obvious.) Agents work hard to get books published, and they don't take on work unless they really believe in it.
  • Reference recent New York Times "hot topic" articles and write, "As evidenced by a recent article..." This lends credence to you and proves you're willing to do the extra work, be informed, and actually care about what's going on in the "real world." Why is this important? Well, as you already know, the writing world is chock full of writing prima donas who insist their novel is "art" and should be taken for what it is: inspiration.
  • Compare & contrast: Yes, you want to prove that there are similar books out there, but you don't want to leave it at that. Twist it around and show what's unique and different. Explain how your Novel Y is like Novel Z, but then elaborate on how it is different.

Best of luck with your query letter writing endeavors. And do let me know if you've been successful. I'm always up for posting Query Letters that Hurdled the Gate!