Monday, November 12, 2007

Literary Agent Reveals Secrets of Great Queries

By Michele Glance Rooney
Literary Agent

As a literary agent, I receive dozens of query letters each day. They flood my in box, vying for my attention. Some writers use clever subject lines to try to capture my attention. Other writers compare themselves to famous authors or mention a connection to a current client.

With the competition to capture the attention of top literary agents and book publishers mounting every day, how can a writer create an effective query letter that will stand out from the crowd?

These ten insider secrets to writing compelling query letters that will help you sell more of your work.

Secret No. 1: Don't pitch your book until you're truly ready to do so. Literary agents are looking for writers who are truly committed to their work. Nothing is a bigger turn-off to a literary agent than statements like "I'm thinking of writing a book about..." or "I had this creative brainstorm to write a book and thought I'd run it by you..." By the time you're ready to pitch your book project in a query letter, you should be confident about the title of your book, the direction it will take and the category it will fall into. For non-fiction projects, you should have already invested a substantial amount of time researching your book project. Literary agents want to see that non-fiction writers are experts in their fields. They also want to see that fiction writers have researched the setting and time period of their novel. Writers who are truly invested in their work always look more inviting to literary agents.

Secret No. 2: The Personal Touch Still Scores Points with Literary Agents. One of the worst things a writer can do is to blindly blast a query letter to the more than 1,100 literary agents in the United States today and cross their fingers and hope for a great response. The more personal and custom-tailored your query letter is to each literary agency, the more likely you are to find a literary agent you "click" with who likes you and loves your work. Take the time to research literary agencies who specialize in your type of book.

Secret No. 3: Show the Literary Agent that you're an outstanding writer. The writing in your query letter should be so beautiful that it seems to sing. Every word should be carefully chosen, your sentence length should vary and the letter should have an entertaining, interesting tone. While your query letter serves a functional purpose, it is also your first opportunity to showcase your writing style. Make sure that you make good first impression.

Secret No. 4: Use the title of your book in your query letter at least 3 times. It's absolutely vital that you include the title of your book in your query letter. Showing that you already have a title for your book makes it seem like a real, concrete project in the mind of the literary agent. This has an important psychological effect. The more you weave the book title into your query letter, the more real your book project seems.

Secret No. 5: Don't forget the beef! Too many writers today create queries with lots of stylistic writing and not enough factual information about the book. It's like making a hamburger with a big bun, lots of condiments and leaving out the beef. Your query letter needs to contain this basic information about your book: the category it falls into, the length of your book (word count) and your writer's bio.

Secret No. 6: Toot your horn but don't be haughty. Every query letter should include a writer's bio -- a sparkling description of your writing successes to date. Every writer should have a basic bio that can be customized for various projects. For example, if you're writing a book about camping your travel writing articles and outdoor travel experiences are very relevant and should be played up. These credits might be less important when you're writing a query for a novel. At the same time, don't boast that you're "the best writer in the world" or say that you feel certain you're going to be next Danielle Steele.