Wednesday, May 20, 2009

How to Write a Kick-Ass Query Letter

Over the weekend, I attended the Pennwriters conference and had an awesome time attending workshops, meeting new people, and re-connecting with writer friends. One of the workshops I attended was called The Career Novelist, presented by Paige Wheeler, co-founder of Folio Literary Management, LLC. As part of her workshop, she included a handout on How To Write a Kick-Ass Query letter, which she has kindly given me permission to share here with you.

How to Write a Kick-Ass Query Letter

By Paige Wheeler, Folio Literary Management


Write What You Know/Know What You Write:

The first step to writing a terrific query letter is to know what it is you’re writing. Are you writing fiction or nonfiction? If you’re writing fiction, what genre and/or subgenre (historical romance; cozy mystery; epic fantasy).

Size Does Matter:

How long is your manuscript? If you are writing fiction, you have probably finished the manuscript and you’re now looking for an agent (or editor), so you know the approximate length (word count) of your material. You should have checked the industry standards of various genres--cozy mysteries, for example, between 60,000 and 85,000 words; thrillers are closer to 100,000 words; contemporary romances (not category) are 95,000 – 100,000; fantasy novels are 90,000 – 140,000.

Complete or Not Complete, That is the Question:

Have you finished your manuscript? Most agents/editors only want to see material if it has been completed. There are some instances in which this is not the case, but it’s generally accepted that you should only query if your material is complete.

What I Like About You:

Now is the time to wow us with your fantastic credentials. Have you published with major publishers in 10 languages and sold over 10 million copies? That’s what we want to know! Okay, maybe you haven’t had such luck. However, have you sold at all? Won any contests? Earned your MFA in Creative Writing? Studied with a major author? Member of any professional organizations? (RWA, MWA, Sisters in Crime, etc.)

Name, Date and Serial Number, Please:

Okay, maybe we don’t need your serial number, but please, PLEASE be sure to give us your details. We need your name, address, phone number and email address. Also, please don’t forget to date your letter. If your material has been in our office for a while, we need to know, so we look to the date on the cover letter.

It’s Like, You Know:

Like or As. Similes. Comparisons. A helpful tool is to compare your work to others of a similar nature. Of course I’m sure yours is much better, but humor that New York Times bestselling author and compare her book to yours.

What’s it All About, Alfie?

Don’t let the agent/editor guess the story line. Put it down in a couple of sentences. This should be a short paragraph that summarizes the whole book. If you have your elevator pitch, this is where you put it. If you don’t know what an elevator pitch is, ask someone. You should be able to boil your story down to just a few lines. However, with those few lines, you need to capture the agent/editor’s attention. So make sure you mention what makes the story SPECIAL.

Let it Flow, Let it Flow, Let it Flow:

Now you need to combine all of these elements together into a cohesive, coherent one page pitch. Pay attention to spelling and grammar. Make sure the letter “reads well” and doesn’t sound disjointed and fragmented. This is where the agent/editor will be checking out your writing style.


3-2-1 Contact:

First, do your homework. Find out how each agent likes to be contacted—some prefer email queries while others loathe them. Then STICK TO THEIR REQUESTED WAY OF CONTACT. Don’t forget a SASE and/or email address. If you love overseas, you can be forgiven the SASE and we will email you, but some agencies still require an international postal coupon. Some agents get picky if you misspell their name, so make sure you get it right.

Paige Wheeler is a founding partner of Folio Literary Management, LLC. Prior to forming Folio Literary Management, Ms. Wheeler founded Creative Media Agency (CMA) in 1997 and served as its President for nine years until she merged the company into Folio in 2006.

Paige has been reading queries for over 15 years, looking for all types of fiction and nonfiction. Her specific interests are listed below:

Fiction: All commercial fiction and upscale (think book club) fiction, as well as women’s fiction, romance (all types), mystery, thrillers, psychological suspense, and some young adult.

Nonfiction: I’m looking for both narrative nonfiction and prescriptive nonfiction. I’m looking for books where the author has a huge platform and something new to say in a particular area. Some of the areas that I like are lifestyle, relationship, business (!), pop culture, popular/trendy reference projects and women’s issues.


Sarah Simas said...

Hi, Liana!

Wonderful post! *heehee* I took a couple of notes! Thanks for sharing! I sure appreciated the info.


Grapeshot/Odette said...

Great advice. Page is a fun person as well as a great agent.

Hywela Lyn said...

Thanks for sharing this Liana. As someone who is unable to get to these conferences it's always interesting and useful to learn a little of the vast amount of information that seems to be imparted there.

Ashley Ludwig said...

Linda, you're amazing. Thank you so much for sharing this with us.

She's got a wealth of information here - best that we all take it to heart!

What are the odds I could post this to a local reader's group? with all due respect back to Paige & Folio, of course! Let me know...


Rebecca J. Clark said...

Thanks so much for sharing this. Some great information.


Unknown said...

great reference post. :)Thanks!

Margaret Tanner said...

Hi Liana,
Thank you for sharing this information. Very informative.

Maggie Toussaint said...

I enjoyed reading this, Liana. Thanks for sharing your notes. One thing which I frequently have forgotten to do is to compare myself to best selling authors. Fortunately my new agent didn't forget so I'm keeping my fingers crossed on this round of subs.

Mona Risk said...

Thanks for sharing this Liana.

Diane Craver said...

Thanks, Liana, for sharing this!

Have a great weekend!