Query Letter Clinic

If you don’t have a tight query letter that hooks the reader, you won’t get an agent! Simple as that. Here’s my first query letter that snagged an agent back in 2003:

(start)

Dear ******:

My 71,000-word novel, How To Lose Over 100 Pounds In One Day, is a “Being John Malkovich” exploration of a man’s obsession with his partner’s weight gain. Carl Lovell, a 28-year-old single San Diego native, has been with Shareka Davis for nearly two years. He believes her slightly overweight frame should be as nicely curved as a thong-wearing, MTV video-shaking “backdrop,” so he gives her an ultimatum: either she loses 35 pounds or no marriage proposal. She leaves.

Carl then lands Francesca, a shapely dream up to his Jet magazine centerfold standard. He soon realizes an hourglass figure can never compensate for the love and companionship Shareka had given him. With the same determination originally used to make his Tyra Banks fantasy come true, he does whatever it takes to win Shareka back.

Jennifer Weiner’s novel GOOD IN BED and Van Whitfield’s SOMETHING’S WRONG WITH YOUR SCALE appealed to men and women who have had problems losing weight. I believe 18-to-35-year-old men and women with the same problems will find this candid view of bigotry toward weight gain intriguing and insightful.

I am an active member of the Black Writer’s Alliance, Fiction Folks, and The Writing Workshop. In April 2002, I attended Dr. Rosie Milligen’s seventh annual Black Writers on Tour 2002. My publishing credits include Nuvein Magazine, 3AM Magazine, Circle Magazine, Black Erotica Is, Rundu Bedtime Stories and an upcoming story in The Taj Mahal Review.

My manuscript is complete and available for submission. I am also finishing up a second manuscript. For your convenience, you can also reach me via email at ****@hotmail.com.

Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to your response.

(end)

15 Tips For Agent-Friendly Query Letters

Note: Check out the Guide to Literary Agents! It’s the bible for query letters and agents!

1) Research the agent first. You don’t want to query a questionable agent who requires a “reading fee” (biggest scam ever.) Preditors and Editors is a good resource (http://www.anotherealm.com/prededitors/pubagent.htm).

2) Use quality paper. I love bright white, 20-lb paper. No notebook, color, flimsy or paper with zig-zag, cutesy, third-grader designs. No hand-written letters, either.

3) Use one sheet for your query. Agents get dozens of queries a week. No agent wants to read three pages. Agents want “to-the-pointness.”

4) Know the standard query letter format: 1-inch all around, Times Roman or Courier new, 10-12in font. Double space paragraphs only.

5) Know the submission guidelines. Not all agents accept email queries. Some agents have a word-count requirement. And you’ll feel like a fool if you submit an erotic thriller to an agent who only accepts religious fiction.

6) No “Dear Agent” or “To whom it may concern.” Address the agent by name. If you don’t know it, research it. And definitely spell the name right!
Note: Be careful with gender. A name like Jerry Michaels sounds male, but “Jerry” could be female, too. “Dear Jerry Michaels” would suffice.

7) Cover the main points of a query: opening, description, qualifications (i.e. doctor writing a medical thriller), publication credits (including awards) and closing. Have a good hook!

8) From the gate, get to the point. An opening shouldn’t say, “be prepared to experience the greatest adventure of your life when you partake on a fantastic voyage courtesy of my sure-to-be New York Times bestselling novel entitled…” Say the genre (fantasy, thriller), word-count, title and what the story is about.

9) In the main body, describe your story in two to three paragraphs. Nothing cute, no gimmicks, no fancy words such as “filled with belly-bustin’ humor…” or “it will make you laugh, cry, pissed-off…” The description should be similar to the back of a book.

10) If no qualifications or credits, don’t sweat it. Write about your writer groups or conferences you’ve attended. Or if writing a book about a detective who’s also a mother of three boys, definitely include you’re a Mom of three boys!  And if a well-known writer referred you to the agent with permission, mention that!

11) Research similar books. Describe a book or two like yours, but definitely write what makes your masterpiece stand out.

12) No outlandish reviews from family/friends! Agents don’t want to know how much Mom, Dad and your brothers Moe, Larry and Curly loves your story!

13) Pitch one story at a time in your query. Of course, you can mention a sequel is in the works.

14) State why you solicited that particular agent. Maybe they represent an author you admire? Or their twenty years at Random House convinced you? Think about it: Doesn’t a prospective employer ask, “so, why do you want to work for us?”

15) Know the difference between fiction and non-fiction queries. For non-fiction, the project can be incomplete. For fiction, the novel must be complete and preferably, professionally edited. Never query with an incomplete novel.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Delaney Diamond November 24, 2010 at 6:12 am

Good info. Thanks for sharing.

Reply

Author B. LISA November 24, 2010 at 11:02 pm

Hello Author James W. Lewis,

Thank you for allowing me to take a look at what a professional query letter should look like and sound like. Also, thank you for the fifteen tips. (I wished someone would have told me when I wrote my letters.) Bottom line, thank you for taking the time to share.

I’ve made the fatal mistake of sending out query letters to many publishers only to received many denial letters. I got fed up and decided to self-publish. I’m having little success with being a self-published local author with two published books. I plan to send out query letters in the future and thanks to you I can send them out correctly.

Reply

Christine Pauls January 24, 2011 at 12:23 am

Thank for for sharing that query letter James. I really appreciate it as well as the tips. I’m going to practice on my query letter before sending it out again. I did send one, but I’m sure it wasn’t even looked at since I never heard back. Well back to the drawing board :)

Reply

Leave a Comment

Site Meter