Submitting Query Letters to Literary Agents

My experience with sending query letters has not been too exciting. In fact, I’ve just received my first rejection letter. Though,I’m certain that the process that I’ve implemented would be useful to others. I created a free account on www.querytracker.net which is an incredibly useful tool for authors. It even has easy video tutorials to learn how to navigate and use their features. What I’ve used this website for is to purely track when I’ve sent a query letter, and to whom, and then set reminders for myself to do some sort of follow up if I haven’t heard from them in the expected response time.

However, I do not recommend using Query Tracker for the purpose of acquiring contact information of Agents. Their database is good, but not reliable. I have seen agents post on Twitter that querytracker does not always have the most up-to-date contact information, and that authors should always check the Agency’s website for submission instructions. Matter of fact, I was at one agency website with a page outlining their general submission guidelines, and when I was browsing the agent bio’s, I noticed that the agent I wanted to submit to had drastically different submission instructions listed in her bio… so keep an eye out.

So I’ve submitted to 3 agents thus far. Why did I stop there you ask? Despite all of my research into drafting a query letter (as seen in my previous blog post), I stopped at 3 because I am uncertain at the quality of my query. This is only because I have not recieved any professional feedback on it yet (I sure hope Query Shark posts my submission to her).

So I do understand that query’s should be tailored to the agent you are sending it to, and in fact, you should only submit to agents that you’ve done research on and believe that they are the right fit for you. However, on the other hand, what if the agent doesn’t feel the magical connection through your poorly crafted query letter that hasn’t undergone any feedback?

I’ve noticed that agents claim up-front that they will not provide you feedback on why they declined your query, if they turn you down. But a simple answer of “No” from an agent is enough to know that something in your query letter needs to be changed. That is why I stopped at 3… to allow myself to adjust and adapt to their responses (or lack thereof) before I continue my quest to find representation.

For example, now that I’ve received my first “No”, I am going to rewrite the bio in my query.

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Thoughts on a Query Letter

The thing that I have come to love about this industry is how helpful everyone is (and look, now I’m doing it too!). There are numerous free resources out there, and you should gobble them up. Not everyone’s thoughts and opinions are in sync on the matter, but the wisdom and insight gained from the perspective of how literary agents view query letters is immensely valuable itself.

The main resources I used to guide me when drafting my query letter were Query Shark’s blog and Noah Lukeman’s free ebook on Kindle: “How to Write a Great Query Letter”. I highly recommend reading through both, as writing a query letter is a skill, and unfortunately, this letter is what authors get judged on. Not your novel. No, no. You get judged on a single piece of paper, and if they like that 1 page, then (and only then) may you be judged on your work, if they request it of you. So here is my summation of everything that I’ve gleaned from the two:

Bottom line up front, your query letter should be no more than three paragraphs. Make it succinct, word economy is key. Also, follow the rules. Some people might want to make their query stand out by using different font, special colored paper, or even provide quotes from their novel, but those are just red flags in an agent’s eyes.

  1. First paragraph, you must grab the agents attention. You could appeal to the agent personally by naming an author they represent and how you believe that your novel is similar, which is why you chose them, etc (which requires lots of research). Be sure to mention that your novel is completed, mention the word count, its TITLE, and the genre.
  2. Second paragraph, try to sum up your entire novel into 2 or 3 sentences. This can be incredibly difficult to do, so focus on the main plot and drop all the sub plots. Agents don’t need to hear about the sub plots at this point yet.
  3. Third paragraph, your bio, written in first person. Only provide major publication credits (if you have them). If you don’t, (or are a new author like me), join a writing organization or a writers critique group. Beware, most of these cost money, and sometimes require that you have been published before you can join, so options may be limited. However, do not ever include any NON-relevant information. Anything that is not DIRECTLY related to being a writer should not be included. The only exception to that is if your personal life experiences are what helped you write your novel (e.g. You lived through Desert Storm and now you’re writing a book about it).

As a last word of advice, there are places out there where you can view successful query letters, such as: http://bit.ly/ISki7u. I highly recommend reading over those as well since this is more of an art than a science.