In a recent post, Winterwolf Press suggested formatting your ‘Call for Submissions’ query letter in the style of an editor query letter. Which, if you’re submitting to us (high-five!), then make no mistake, you’re sitting pretty with all of that information under your belt. However, you might have other publications on your radar, including trying to acquire an agent to represent you before you can even think about submitting.
Which begs the question: How do you get an agent, anyway?
Why, with a good query letter, of course!
As we’ve discussed before, there are only really two types of people that you’ll be writing a query letter for — agents, and editors.
This post will be focused solely on writing query letters for agents.
The main difference you should always keep in mind between agents and editors is money. As Writer’s Relief wrote, “Literary agents are generally paid a 15 percent commission on the sale of a book; in a sense, a literary agent works for his/her clients.” This is very different from editors who are paid by their publishing houses to work 9-5 and pick the best books to send along down the assembly line.
This puts the pressure on you because suddenly your query letter needs to not only leave an agent feeling assured that you know your stuff, but also confident that they can make a reasonable amount of money with you as a client. As Writer’s Digest wrote, “When your submission materials arrive in an agent’s inbox, they land among hundreds of others. At that point, one of two things will happen. Either the agent will like the submission and request more materials, or they will reply with a rejection.”
“For queries,” Lindsay Edgecombe was quoted saying in this article, “Here’s a secret: Any agent will read a well-researched, personal query.” And you can take that to the bank because she’s an agent herself.
But what does she mean, “well-researched?” And, “personal?” Can’t you just send some info on your book and be done with it?
Wrong! You’re thinking of a query letter to an editor, not an agent. Remember, to properly persuade an agent to take you on as a client, you need to simultaneously dress yourself up along with your novel. For example, maybe you’ve got the perfect elevator pitch for a non-fiction book on the history of the Girl Scouts. If you’re a forty-two-year-old man whose knowledge rests on the price of their cookies, then an agent probably won’t have much faith in your ability to write a book on the organization as a whole. Yet, if you’re a woman who was a Girl Scout all her life and went on to become a Girl Scout leader as an adult was pitching the novel, the agent would probably snatch that manuscript up in a heartbeat.
Really, you need to convince your potential agent that not only can you write the story you’re pitching, but that you are the only one in the unique position to write it in the first place. Take a look at Megan Mulry’s spectacular agent query letter here to see a shining example of what happens when you do.
Now that you know about literary agents and just what marks your query letter should hit for them, let’s focus on writing one.
Here are some specific topics that you’ll want to cover in this type of query:
- A detailed introduction (a fluffed-up author’s bio)
- Have you been published before? Who has the agent published that you like/write similarly to?
- The manuscript plot, genre, and goal
- Why they’re the best agent to represent you
- Why you are the best writer to write this particular story
Stick to your story, and show your future agent why you’re cut out to be their newest partner in publishing.