I’ve been hearing a lot about query letters lately. Writers’ Digest had an article recently, and even had a contest of sorts to have your query letter read and critiqued. Is that really necessary?
I know writers who spend months on a query letter; I know some who spend a week, at least. I think I wrote mine in about 20 minutes and spent another ten or so checking it over. Of course, I didn’t get any agent nibbles, but neither did those who focused so intently for such a long period – actually, one or two did get requests for a few pages. I suppose I can’t compare mine to that because all the agents I queried asked for 10 pages or the first five chapters from the start.
So what’s in a query letter? Is it worth agonizing over?
The short answer is “no.”
A query letter’s purpose is to pique interest in your book, to pitch your story to an agent. It should, of course, include a brief synopsis of your book, a proper greeting and a signature, and a call to action, i.e., what you want the agent to do which, of course, is represent you.
Remember learning how to write letters, formal ones? Do that. Start with “Dear So-and-So:” and then close with “Yours Truly,” or something similar. Simple. The body of the letter should start with an introduction, be fleshed out with your synopsis, and end with a request. Beginning, middle, end, get it?
Many authors have trouble with the synopsis, but it’s not that difficult. To type it out. It can be very, very, very difficult to actually write it but hey – you just wrote an 80K+ word novel, come on, how hard can a synopsis be? Pretend you’re writing the blurb for the back of your novel. You’ll likely need one anyway, so just get it done now. Just a few paragraphs. YOU CAN DO IT!
Agents get a lot of mail. A lot. And sure, some read it all, some read until they reach a point where they know your book isn’t a good fit, some have others read queries for them. Sometimes they request a partial or a full ms. Usually they don’t – why? Because they don’t have to, they have plenty of authors from whom to choose to represent. If you’re unknown, you’re more likely to stay that way.
Guess my point is why spend so much time and angst on writing a letter asking someone to represent you and your book? Especially if that person is likely not even going to read the whole letter? Or read it and delete it, without a response at all.
In spite of the query letter, this agent doesn’t know you at all – so it’s not personal. It comes down to whether or not he likes the synopsis of your book; that, too, is not personal, but it IS subjective. Here’s one last thought: it’s also possible that your letter and (your synopsis suck), and it’s full of misspellings and grammatical errors or just plain boring. Delete.
You wrote a book. It took a long time. Sure, the query letter is important, but your book is MORE important. That query letter should NOT take as long to write as the novel itself. Put it in perspective: 300 words versus 80K+.
Now go write the darn thing.