ABOUT THOSE QUERY LETTERS
This is a letter used to get an editor or agent interested in the work you'd like to send them. In short, it's a sales pitch. Think of it like a title in the table of contents of a magazine. It has to instantly grab the reader's attention and make them want to see what the article says. In this case however, instead of a magazine article title, it's a ONE PAGE letter which is intended to generate the same response. Make the agent want to read what it is that you've written. You're going to get exactly one shot at this, so you'll want to get it right the first time.
DO YOUR HOMEWORK
The very first thing you'll need to do is some serious homework. You need to make sure your sales pitch goes to (1) The right literary agency, and to (2) The right agent. For example, you wouldn't want to send a cookbook query letter to an agent who represents only horror fiction writers.
These days most agents will accept emailed query letters, but there are still a few who require snail-mailed letters. Both versions still need to be professionally presented. If you're currently using something less than professional or overly cutesy for your email address like HotStudMuffin69 or PussyCatGrandma (at) wherever dot com, immediately sign up for a free grown-up email address at gmail or yahoo or aol etc. for this particular exercise. Formulate the letter properly, including the date, the agent's name and title, the agency name and address, and close with your name and contact information (address, phone, fax, and e-mail). If you're using snail-mail, use Times New Roman font and 12 point type on white paper with black ink. Remember to personally sign a snail-mailed letter and do keep a copy for your file.
Create a grid for your own records so you don't double-mail the same agent. Your column headings should include Date sent, To whom mailed, Date response received, Outcome: Declined or Manuscript requested, Date Manuscript Mailed, Accepted/Declined, and any Comments Received from Agent
It often takes a REALLY long time to hear back from a literary agent. Even if they ask you to send them your manuscript it might take them a REALLY long time to get around to reading it. If they like it, it might take a REALLY long time for them to find the right publisher who they think might be looking to buy that type of book. Don't be discouraged. Be patient. Keep writing while you're waiting.
Here's a fact of life for new authors: Like clothing manufacturers, where fashion styles change from season to season, publishers also go through story popularity cycles. Publishers might be looking for zombie stories at the moment you've submitted a terrific romance or comedy or adventure. Typically the agent will gracefully decline your submission. But if the agent you've queried REALLY likes your book, the agent might tuck it away in a drawer (or digital drawer) until the market is right for your book. When that happens the agent might pull your submission back out, evaluate it again and then decide (assuming your book is still available) whether they might have exactly the right buyer for it.
Here's another fact of life for new authors: If you've already self-published, 99% of the time literary agents and publishers will avoid it like the plague. Nobody wants to spend the money to publish something that's already available elsewhere. This often presents a dilemma for new authors. Should you opt for the self-publishing route or should you stick it out and try for the brass ring? Depending upon the book, I generally suggest going the query letter route first. You can always change your mind later and opt to self-publish, but you can't do it the other way around.
Literary Agent Name
City, State, Zip
Re: Your book title
Dear Mr/Ms Literary Agent
I'm currently seeking representation for my _____ word (number of words) _______ (insert book category), ___________ (repeat book title)
WHAT SHOULD GO INTO YOUR QUERY
Title, word count, one sentence summary of the story, and the book category (Mystery, Romance, etc.) Next you will want to use a couple hundred words or less to relate a bit about the setting (where/when it takes place) and if it's fiction, introduce the protagonist of the story, perhaps discussing a conflict or goal the protagonist faces. Spoiler alert: Do NOT give away the ending. You can also tell the agent a little bit about yourself. Make it short and sweet. In closing, politely thank the agent for reviewing your letter and let them know you're prepared to send additional materials at their request. Include your contact info beneath your name.
Thank you for your kind attention. Additional information is available upon request, and I look forward to hearing from you.
Very truly yours,
Your telephone number
Your email address
IDENTIFYING WITH YOUR PROTAGONIST: A word to the wise; When writing FICTION, authors often identify with their protagonist. This is normal.So unless it's a straight-out biography, you probably don't want to advertise the fact that you've personally experienced all those odd, possibly illegal, or flat out scary passages that you've incorporated into your story. Many literary agents tend to find that somewhat off-putting.
Literary agents are looking for an interesting story, not an episode of "True Confessions". Naturally if you wish you could mention in your query letter the fact that you lived during the same time period, and perhaps you witnessed some of the adventures or experiences you included in your book first hand which is what allows you to write so convincingly. Perhaps you could say that hearing other people's memories sparked your imagination and prompted you to create a work of fiction, which is a better way of saying, yes, maybe I was there, without actually saying, yes, I was really there, yes, I actually did all that stuff, and yes, this actually happened to me. Let the reader wonder, let the reader use his or her imagination. It's better for the author's mystique.
PLAY BY THE RULES
Literary agents will each have different query letter submission instructions. Read each agent's requirements carefully to comply with their requests. Some may ask that you include the first 25 pages of your manuscript with your letter. Some may want the first three chapters. Some may not want anything but the query letter itself.
WHERE TO BEGIN?
I will recommend starting with the Writers Market website for a list of Literary Agents, but I also suggest doing your own homework, because not all of the good agents are listed on that site. Avoid scam artists. There are a lot of them out there. The Literary Agencies listed on Writers Market have already been vetted. Read every word on other agents websites carefully, then research feedback about that agency.
Here's your starting point, they're now charging $5.99 a month or $39.99 for an annual suhbscription. It's worth it. http://www.writersmarket.com/cms/open/agent
READY TO SEND YOUR QUERY LETTER
VIA EMAIL? HERE'S HOW
Your QUERY LETTER is pasted into the BODY of the email.
The requested SAMPLE (first chapter, or whatever the agent requests) will be the attachment.