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Wet Noodle Posse | Blog

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

GET YOUR QUERY LETTER READY by Theresa Ragan

Now that you have fine-tuned and polished your entry for the GH, it’s time to get your query letter written. A query letter is a short letter introducing you and your book. Here are some Do’s and Do not’s:

Do keep the letter professional.
Do try and keep the letter to one page
Do your research and spell the agent/editor’s name correctly
Do spend time making your query letter shine!

Do not use fancy paper or fonts
Do not send your query by Fed Ex or in anything requiring a signature
Do not address the agent/editor as Sir or Ma’am.
Do not draw attention to your negatives (i.e. you’re not published; you’re a new writer; you’re busy with kids; if you don’t like it, I will revise it, etc.)

Within the body of your query:

1) Clearly state the word count and what kind of story you have written, but remember that the tone of the letter should reflect the tone of the book.

2) Include a high-concept hook, a paragraph or two about your book, including the main conflict. This paragraph should grab the agent/editor and make them want to read your book! Spend time on this paragraph.

3) Keep the closing simple and professional: “I’d be happy to send you a partial or full manuscript for your review. Thank you for your time and I look forward to hearing from you. A SASE is enclosed.”

That’s it. Get busy. All questions and comments are welcome.

If you google “writing a query letter” you’ll get all the help you could possibly need on writing queries. So instead of offering an even longer list of Do’s and Do Not’s, I am inviting anyone who needs help with their query to post all or part of their query and the Wet Noodle Posse will give you feedback.

Agentquery.com suggests using three paragraphs in your letter; a one-sentence hook, a mini-synopsis of your book, and a writer’s bio. See http://www.agentquery.com/writer_hq.aspx for details. Lots of great info here.

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31 Comments:

At 11:26 AM, Blogger doglady said...

Thanks, Theresa, for a blog on my second most hated part of writing. My first, of course, the dreaded synopsis. Now this! Am I the only person who would rather write an entire novel than figure out how to write the perfect query letter? This helps a great deal though so I thank you.

 
At 11:50 AM, Blogger Theresa Ragan said...

Doglady, I agree that it's tough if you over analyze the letter. I used to try something different with every query letter. I'm sure a few editors and agents got some laughs. They get so many queries at least I won't have to worry about them remembering my name. Ha!

I really think that the MOST important part of the entire letter is the high concept blurb. If you can condense your book down to a wonderful sentence or two that can hook a reader, then you'll get a request.

Maybe some noodlers will share parts or all of their queries that worked for them?!

 
At 1:27 PM, Blogger Diane Gaston said...

Okay, Theresa, here's one. It was for a partial but I would have done the same thing for a query. It didn't get me representation, though, but she did ask for the full. The book, By Honor Bound became The Improper Wife, my first Warner book

Dear Ms. AGENT:

We were originally introduced by PUBLISHED AUTHOR a couple of years ago at the 2000 RWA conference and we met most recently at Washington Romance Writers 2002 Spring Retreat. I did not have anything to pitch to you then, but have enclosed a partial of my latest Regency Historical (projected length 100,000 words), By Honor Bound.

By Honor Bound tells the story of an embittered cavalry officer who learns that no honorable deed goes unpunished when he returns to England after Waterloo to discover the unwed mother whose baby he delivered is now masquerading as his wife.

I recently sent this partial to Beth de Guzman at Warner, because she’d been very positive about my previous two manuscripts, though she’d passed on them. I figured it would sit on her desk for a few months while I finished writing it. To my surprise, her assistant, Melanie Murray, emailed me two days after they received it, wanting the full manuscript or as much as I had written. I have to believe that they were very interested in what they read, and perhaps other editors will be equally as interested.

By Honor Bound is a re-plotted version of A Lady of Quality, which did very well in contests last year, including winning the Royal Ascot. The first chapter upon which the contests were judged is nearly identical to the first chapter of By Honor Bound.

I am now finishing the sixth chapter. I told Ms. Murray I would have the manuscript completed by end of May, 2003. I would love representation for this work.

I would very much appreciate your taking a look at By Honor Bound and hope that you will be interested in representing it. Enclosed are a synopsis, the first three chapters, and an SASE for your convenience. Thank you very much.

Sincerely,


Diane Perkins

 
At 1:29 PM, Blogger Diane Gaston said...

As you can see by my letter. I tend to try to capitalize on personal contacts. I do not try to be clever or to reflect the tone of the book, because I just can't do it! I do try to be clear.

 
At 1:30 PM, Blogger Esri Rose said...

The best tip I ever got was to include the first page or two of your book with the letter. I can't remember who told me that -- it may have been a Noodler, or it might have been some famous author at conference. I got MANY more requests after I started doing that.

 
At 1:34 PM, Blogger Esri Rose said...

Theresa, when you say "high-concept," are you referring to the movie-equation technique? As a great example of that, Colleen Gleason describes her Gardella Vampire Chronicles as, "Buffy the Vampire Slayer meets Jane Austen," or Buffy the Vampire Slayer meets Pride & Predjudice." I've heard it both ways.

 
At 1:54 PM, Blogger Theresa Ragan said...

Yes, Esri, IMO, the movie equation technique works as high concept--a sentence or two that explains the book.

I love that idea, Esri, to attach a page or two even though they ask for a query only. I think I'll try that. I really don't like NOT attaching any of the book. Thanks!

 
At 1:57 PM, Blogger Theresa Ragan said...

Thanks for sharing your query, Diane!

"By Honor Bound tells the story of an embittered cavalry officer who learns that no honorable deed goes unpunished when he returns to England after Waterloo to discover the unwed mother whose baby he delivered is now masquerading as his wife."

That's a perfect example of what I'm talking about. You don't even mention character's names and yet that one sentence tells us exactly what the story is about. I don't need names and character set up. Wonderful!

 
At 2:04 PM, Blogger Theresa Ragan said...

At scriptforsale.com James Bonnet explains high concept like this:

"Simply put, a high concept is an intriguing idea that can be stated in a few words and is easily understood by all."

1. It is unique.
2. It appeals to a wide audience.
3. It can be said in one sentence and...you instantly see the whole movie/book."

I think Diane's one sentence does all of the above, don't you?

Anybody else have a book that they can tell us about in one or two sentences?

 
At 2:35 PM, Blogger Theresa Ragan said...

Terry McLaughlin, fellow noodler, does workshops on queries and she highly recommends the following website for help on understanding high concept.

http://www.writersstore.com/article.php?articles_id=9


Hey, forget about queries, does anyone know how I make a link in a post? :)

 
At 4:51 PM, Blogger Gillian Layne said...

Hi all--
This is what I've been playing with: I even took an on-line class on high concept, but it's so very difficult. Or my book is too boring (gasp!).

Anyhoo, these are what I'm playing with:

The beau monde debutante his heart rejects . . . becomes the intellectual temptress his body craves.

When reclusive academic Elliot Hardwicke and society bound Clarissa Pattersham find themselves most incompatibly wed, the battle of wills between dreams and desires ignites.

I was going to say "be kind", but life is short, so be brutally honest instead :)
Thanks!

 
At 5:24 PM, Blogger Theresa Ragan said...

Gillian wrote: "When reclusive academic Elliot Hardwicke and society bound Clarissa Pattersham find themselves most incompatibly wed, the battle of wills between dreams and desires ignites."

Ha! Life is too short to beat around the bush. So, I won't. I LOVE THIS! For one thing, it's MY kind of book. I love romances where the hero and heroine are forced to wed. This blurb above makes me want to read the book. Two opposites forced together. I wouldn't change anything at all! Good job!

I agree that the high concept thing is difficult to do, especially trying to make the story sound unique when most stories have been done. I think it's the voice that makes each story unique.

 
At 7:53 PM, Blogger Gillian Layne said...

Thanks, Theresa!

And thanks Diane and Esri for the great hints!

 
At 8:10 PM, Blogger doglady said...

Fabulous, Gillian! Could I persuade you to write mine?? (HUGE GRIN!)

 
At 9:21 PM, Blogger Diane Gaston said...

I like it, too, Gillian! It shows them as opposites. "Battle of wills" shows there will be conflict. "Dreams and desires" shows it will be romantic.
Well done.

 
At 10:52 PM, Blogger Santa said...

Here is my hook. Any feedback would be greatly appreciated!

Love is off the menu for this up and coming chef who, while courted by the networks to star in her own show, comes home to open her own restaurant where she bumps into her high school crush who has returned home to nurse a broken heart and a friend’s betrayal. Their heat cannot be denied and they cook up a searing affair, neither trusting it to be true until they realize that a hardened crust can conceal love’s sweet nectar.

 
At 12:31 AM, Blogger Theresa Ragan said...

Santa, I think you're off to a good start. I like the line, "Love is off the menu for this up and coming chef...."

After that I don't get a feel of what the conflict is between the high school crush and the chef. Does he work at the restaurant? Is he a cook? If so, maybe you could hint at what the conflict will be and why they can't be together right from the start.

 
At 9:14 AM, Blogger Santa said...

Thanks Theresa.

So, there really is not such thing as too much information given in a query or synopsis, for that matter? I struggle with the query's hook being too long and my synopsis being too short!

Here it is again with the adjustments you suggested. Please let me know if you care to continue this off line so I'm not hogging anyone else's time.

Love is off the menu for this up and coming chef who, while courted by the networks to star in her own show, comes home to open her own restaurant where she bumps into her high school crush. He has returned home to his family's artisanal cheese farm to nurse a broken heart and a friend’s betrayal. What starts out as a strict business relationship soon becomes a searing love affair. However, their fragile as spun sugar love is threatened by past betrayals and their own inability to trust that what they are experiencing is true but in the end they come to realize that the hardened crust around their hearts reveal love's sweet nectar.

Now it feels too long!!

 
At 9:41 AM, Blogger Esri Rose said...

Gillian: I'll put on my cruel cap.

The beau monde debutante his heart rejects . . . becomes the intellectual temptress his body craves.

I love the fact that he wants her because she's intellectual, but why his body would crave someone smart is beyond me. I mean, she didn't physically change in her transformation from deb to smarty, so he should have craved her from day one. I would actually substitute the word "mind" for "body."

When reclusive academic Elliot Hardwicke and society bound Clarissa Pattersham find themselves most incompatibly wed, the battle of wills between dreams and desires ignites.

"Society bound" (needs a hyphen, btw) is unclear. Does that mean she's destined for society, or bound up by society's rules? I'd get rid of "most." Incompatible is an absolute and you're wasting words with that unnecessary modifier. "The battle of wills between dreams and desires ignites." Pretty, but it's a phrase that could be applied to any romance. I would try for more concrete information.

Things I'd want to know as an editor.

1) Why did they marry? If it's not a brand-new reason, just keep it short. If it IS a novel reason, lean on it.

2) What triggered her change from a debutante to an intellectual? If she did it for reasons other than to appeal to him, and now he finds he wants to woo someone he used to scorn, STELLAR. That's a yum-yum concept.

Esri

 
At 9:52 AM, Blogger Esri Rose said...

Santa:

Love is off the menu for this up and coming chef who, while courted by the networks to star in her own show, comes home to open her own restaurant where she bumps into her high school crush who has returned home to nurse a broken heart and a friend’s betrayal.

Too long. I was confused by the end. Oh, and "up-and-coming" is a compound modifier. (Could I let just one of those slide? I could not.)

Their heat cannot be denied and they cook up a searing affair, neither trusting it to be true until they realize that a hardened crust can conceal love’s sweet nectar.

I confess that I have a bias toward books with lots of external conflict. In this book, it appears that it's their own quirks that keep them apart. Not a problem if it's done well. But since it's all about the characters and your voice, you need to sell both those things hard, or what's to set this book apart? The cooking thing? Not enough.

I would dump the second part of the blurb (above) in favor of more description of the two principals. This is a blurb that cries out to be broken into his/hers sections. And to showcase your voice, I might give them each a line of opposing dialogue -- something that hints or encapsulates the attitudes that keep them apart.

Esri

 
At 10:48 AM, Blogger Santa said...

See what I mean? I error on the side of caution and don't know when enough is enough.

And that compound modifier has been a thorn in my side all along. Every time I use it I 'know' that I shouldn't be.

Back to the drawing board. Unfortunagely, I'll have to continue this off line and much later in the day as I am off to work.

Thanks for your feedback, Esri. I will take it all under consideration. I'd much rather talk about my book and characters than try to capsulize them!! Sigh. Maybe that's why I may be better at pitching...I think.

 
At 11:13 AM, Blogger Charity said...

This is the query my writing partner and I used that landed us an agent.

What we found when we queried is agents really dug the premise and responded quickly, or we received form rejection letters. (So, if you don't dig the premise, you're not alone, and you won't hurt our feelings. LOL)

We used bullets in the letter to give it some visual impact.

We're working through some line edits, but after that, it goes out to publishers (fingers crossed).

* * *

When self-confessed geek girl Bethany Reynolds accidentally makes the varsity cheerleading squad, she finds out there’s something worse than blending into the lockers. It’s getting noticed, and she’ll need all her brainpower just to survive the season.

Who knew cheerleading was so hard? Not Bethany. At least there’s a manual. Too bad it doesn’t cover:

• Keeping your aspirations covered in an insanely short skirt.
• Navigating the gauntlet, that prime bit of real estate between the girls’ bathroom and the cafeteria--where no geek dares to tread.
• Tossing off snappy comebacks when trapped in the gauntlet by ultra-popular Chantal Simmons.
• Protecting your best friend from the biggest player in the senior class.
• Transforming your best guy friend from dork of the month into a viable candidate for student body president, complete with killer hair.
• Figuring out whether mega-crush and star basketball player Jack Paulson really likes you--or if he just likes those insanely short skirts.

No page in the guide deals with the really important questions. Like what to do when Chantal pours beer on you at your first in-crowd party. Or how to react when your best friend dumps you in front of a packed cafeteria. What’s worse than getting noticed? For Bethany, it’s having her world torn apart and not knowing how to put it back together.

The Geek Girl’s Guide to Cheerleading, a 70,000-word young adult novel, explores what happens when you go against the status quo and discover that, when it comes to life, you need to write the manual yourself.

 
At 11:19 AM, Blogger Esri Rose said...

Santa: I think I have at least 4 significantly different query blurbs for each of my books. Just think of it as an exercise and try a bunch of different approaches. And remember not to give too much weight to any one person's opinion. :)

 
At 11:30 AM, Blogger Esri Rose said...

Charity's query:

Great premise. Really saleable. With my Simon Cowell hat on, I'd have two quibbles:

1) How does one accidentally make the cheerleading squad?

2) "Torn apart" seems like strong language for her situation, and at first I thought there was some plot development you were keeping back. I might use "turned upside down" or "inside out," or make a reference to "strange new world."

But see, none of my quibbles matter, because this is the letter that got an agent. And who is to say that leaving the question of how she accidentally made the squad doesn't make people want to see more? I don't know.

I really like your use of bullets. There's a definite YA feel about lists.

 
At 11:30 AM, Blogger Theresa Ragan said...

Santa, feel free to keep posting on the blog. That’s what we’re here for. We want to help.

I still need to know what the hero (high school crush) does for a living or something more about him to be able to fully help you.

In the first paragraph below, I have comments in parenthesis and in the second paragraph I rewrote your blurb to give your blurb clarity. Right now, in my opinion, your blurb is too vague. You need who, what, where, why?

Love is off the menu for this up and coming chef who, while courted by the networks to star in her own show (although I like this sentence, do we need to know this?), comes home to open her own restaurant where she bumps into her high school crush who has returned home to nurse a broken heart and a friend’s betrayal. (I still feel the need to know what he is? What does he do?) Their heat cannot be denied and they cook up a searing affair, neither trusting it to be true until they realize that a hardened crust can conceal love’s sweet nectar. (this is too vague. When you say they are cooking up a searing affair, I think you need to be clear instead of cute.)

BELOW IS ONLY TO GIVE YOU AN IDEA OF WHAT I MEAN…

Up-and-coming chef, Pamela Jones, returns to LA to open her own restaurant and ends up hiring her high school crush, Dan Smith, to help in the kitchen. Dan has been burned too many times to trust the searing heat that quickly develops between them, but after a fire in the kitchen nearly destroys everything, they realize that beneath a hardened crust is love’s sweet nectar.

The “fire in the kitchen” should be replaced with the conflict. The black moment of your story.

Does any of this make sense?

 
At 11:37 AM, Blogger Theresa Ragan said...

Santa, I agree with Esri...try a few different techniques and feel free to post them when you come up with something! I still think you're on the right track!

Charity, I think that's a really fun way to grab the editor/agent's attention. And AGAIN I agree with Esri in that the bullets seem perfect for a YA query. Thanks so much for sharing!

 
At 11:43 AM, Blogger Gillian Layne said...

Esri--thanks!

Your "cruel cap" (snort!) is really insightful :)

 
At 12:24 PM, Blogger Esri Rose said...

See, Theresa and I are actually the same person, with a Jekyll-and-Hyde-type split. She builds people up while offering constructive criticism, whereas I stalk the night, stabbing people with hyphens.

 
At 1:23 PM, Blogger Theresa Ragan said...

OH, my god, Esri. You just gave me the best laugh and added another week to my life...at least. :)

Thanks to your stabbing everyone on the WNP blog with hyphens, I'm actually starting to use more of them. Thanks!

And I must add, Esri, that I think everyone really appreciates your honest critiques.

 
At 2:11 PM, Blogger Diane Gaston said...

I agree that a great blurb is an asset in selling your work, and we all should try our best to create one, but I also believe that it is okay if the blurb is just "good-enough". If it's clear and if it gives enough information for the editor to decide whether to look at the synopsis or request a partial is all that really is required.

In other words...do the best you can and then don't worry about it!

 
At 8:46 PM, Blogger Santa said...

Thanks so much for your advice Theresa and Esri. I now see what I need to do. You guys and everyone on the Posse have been wonderful!

 

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