You’ve got your list of editors/agents who are interested in what you write, so let’s start the letter. When you submit a query, what better place to to prove your talent and professionalism than with a well-written letter?
The letter should be only one page long. Publishing professionals are very busy people. Send a one-page query with lots of white space on it, and they’ll probably glance at it. Send either a two page query or a one-page letter with narrow margins and they’ll probably think, “I don’t have time for this.”
The query letter will contain three paragraphs and a closing. This format is true whether in a written letter or an email.
PARAGRAPH ONE: Introduce the proposal
1. Mention if you’ve met this editor/agent before and/or if this was requested.
a. Start with a hook, a concise, one-sentence tagline for your book. It’s meant to hook your reader’s interest, and wind them in. Think of description of programs in TV Guide or something like a short blurb that would be used on the back of your book.
My favorites were lines that had started my thinking about books but I had to cut from the novels because they didn’t fit once I’d written the book.
From The Path to Love: “Francie Calhoun met Jesus and the devil on the same day”
From Second Chance Bride: “Annie MacAllister buried herself in the hills of central Texas one warm October afternoon.”
Some great hooks are descriptions of your book as a combination of popular themes or plots like King Kong meets The Black Knight. This is probably how Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter started.
Used a marketing idea you know is popular with the line you’re targeting: cowboy, hidden baby, vampire, amnesia, etc. This shows you have done your research.
If you can’t think of a hook, just give the information and move on: Tootsie’s Terrible Trek is a humorous 100,000-word contemporary novel set in Chicago.
b. ADD the reason you chose this editor: “I have read many novels in your Twinkle-Toes series and believe this would fit well.” “This story is targeted for the Twinkle Toes line.” Again, this shows you’ve done your homework and are targeting this editor and line.
With an agent, mention exactly why you’re approaching him/her. Compare your book with others they have represented in the past. For example, “Because I know you like novels set in Chicago, I would like you to consider representing this book.” Or, “I read many novels by your client Tasmin Butler.”
c. The first paragraph MUST include: word count, line, type of book.
d. You may mention a main character if needed for the hook as I did with Francie Calhoun and Annie MacAllister. You might use, “When Annie Smith discovers her fiancé . . . .
If necessary in the hook, you may mention time or place but that information is probably better in the second paragraph.
Either here or in the final paragraph, for an editor, you may mention if complete (I never did because they usually weren’t). For AGENT, the manuscript must be complete.
I’m often asked, “Should I mention if this is a part of a series? I always answer, “Why?” I believe it’s best to choose the best book you have for this line/editor/ agent and try to sell this ONE. If the editor likes this one, mention the rest. If not, why would he/she care about more? An agent may like fact you’re prolific but an editor might think you haven’t been successful if you’ve completed a couple of books and haven’t sold one.
However, I’m also told that today editors are looking for a series. When I sold The Welcome Committee of Butternut Creek, I had only vague ideas for a second and third book. Amazingly, my editor gave me a three-book contract without even asking about the second or third. know if I had even a tiny idea of the other books.
This means, I don’t know if you should mention this is a series. I’ll leave that up to you.
PARAGRAPH TWO: This should be a SHORT synopsis, only a few sentences. You should be sending a synopsis with the query. If the editor/agent wants to know more, you’ve enclosed that.
For a reason I’ve never understood, you must use all PRESENT TENSE—or almost all. There will be some thoughts that don’t work well in present tense, but attempt to do that.
Do not end the short synopsis without wrapping the plot up. “You’ll just have to buy the novel to find out what happens next” will make the editor toss the letter in the REJECT basket. “After they escape, Matt and Tootsie declare their love.”
Show your voice through word choice. If you write humor, instead of, “The two women traveled through France,” write, “The two women wreaked havoc on Western Europe” or “Millie and Sara danced their way from Paris to Cannes.”
Make sure you set the mood and the time. “In a fetid swamp in seventeenth century Louisiana. . . ”
Show the conflict that will carry the book. I “When shy Ann Smith meets the flamboyant Pookey Reynolds–” “After a hard life as a mod hit man Bob Benson discovers the woman of his dreams is a cop (nun). . .” Sketch in conflict but you have no room to explore in this paragraph.
Use few names because they’ll need explanation and you don’t have room. Instead of Mary Davis, Bob’s boss, use “mob boss”.
Here’s an example of the second paragraph, one I just and very quickly wrote about my first book, The Mad Herringtons. Look it over. What works here? What doesn’t? What’s missing? Learn from it and write a better one!
“During the glittering Regency period, Aphrodite, the eldest and most level-headed of The Mad Herringtons, attempts the impossible task of controlling her headstrong younger siblings who seem determined to misbehave. Before she is able to announce her engagement to the reliable Frederick, she must meet his mother. For that reason, she and two sisters attend a house party at Frederick’s estate. When they arrive, she finds Warwick, the rake whose kiss she has not been able to forget, is also a guest. As they present Midsummer Night’s Eve for the house party, Aphrodite discovers she truly is a Mad Herrington finds happiness with Warwick.”
See you in August for information about the next two paragraphs