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What’s that ya say? You’ve written a novel? (Part 2)

You might think the difficult part is behind you. I mean, come on, writing a query is easy. It’s the 90,000 word novel that’s hard (pardon me while I find merriment in your naivety—but I still love you, honest).


Writing your query letter Next to the legendary evilness of the dreaded synopsis (*shudder*), the query is the next “best” thing. But don’t be discouraged! If you take it one step at a time—and don’t look it in the face—you too can survive the encounter. There are many resources to help a budding author with the query writing process.

Query Shark is awesome and offers amazing advice and hundreds of examples. Noah Lukeman’s book (only $0.99 for the e-version at b&n online) is simple and straight forward. I used it for a good base for my query. • Nathan Bradford as an ad-lib type version

These are all good resources to get a straightforward query going.

I’m going to share with you my secret for writing a query. Gather around. Closer. Closer. Too Close. (I love Aladdin) Write a brief, engaging summary for your book, similar to what you see on the back of books. Make it sharp, give it voice and personality (the same personality and voice that’s in your novel), have a barbed hook in there that will catch the agents attention and not let go no matter how much they thrash about and a cliff at the end that they want to jump off of to find out what happens next. After all, the purpose of the query is to get their attention so they want to read more. So they ask for more. The query letter isn’t where you describe your book BME (beginning, middle, end). That’s what the (*gag*) synopsis is for. Polish it, get input and have it critiqued by those you trust who may or may not have edited your novel. Then, get ready to customize and personalize.

Once you’ve done that, personalize it. Some agents just want a basic query letter (see resources above). Others are more specific. When you’re getting information on agents pay attention to the specifics on what they want to see in your query and how they want it formatted. They’ll tell you if they want to know why you chose them (referral, conference, etc) first and then the pitch second. Or it might be the other way around. Either way, if there’s a preference, find it. It goes a long way to show that you’re dedicated enough to hunt it down and then implement it. They also might want a brief personal bio if you don’t have/ in addition to a professional writing bio (a personal bio would be the quick blurb you see next to an author’s photo on a book).

At the end of the query, make sure to insert the name of you novel, genre, word count, and a closing similar to: Per your guidelines, I have included the first _______________ pages/chapters of my novel/Upon request, completed manuscript is available in part or in whole. Thank you for your time and I look forward to hearing from you.

Get a list together Yay! You have a solid query that can be easily manipulated to suit all agents. Now you need to find said agents. It can be tricky to gather a list, or at least, time consuming. Which is why I’ve taken the liberty to gather my resources and share them with you! (Send all Sbux gift cards and SOFT oatmeal raisin cookies to….just kidding, but if you do end up feeling so inclined, let me know.)

I like to start broad and whittle my way down from there, so when I’m looking, I look for agents who rep and/or are looking for Children’s, YA, or MG. Then, I start to narrow it down by genre–historical romance, fantasy, paranormal–you get the idea. Once you have a list of agents that look like they’re waiting for your ms, dig in for research to personalize your query. Below are just some of the resources I’ve used to get a listing of agent names.

Jeff Herman’s book Publishers Market Place 1,000 Literary Agents Query Tracker Agent Query Literary Rambles Absolute Write Water Cooler Publishers Weekly Predators & Editors Guide to Literary Agents Association of Authors’ Representatives (AAR) Author Advance Persist and Publish Writer Beware • Join organizations that represent your genre (SCBWI, RWA, etc) • Google/yahoo/msn search for literary agents • Look at the books you’re reading, the books in your genre and find out who their agents are • Start following blogs, you’ll get a lot of info that way Writer’s conferences!

Researching Show Dream Agent that you’ve specifically selected them from among the masses, not randomly from a hat, and for Pete’s sake, DO NOT do a mass email. If you don’t take the time for them, they might not take the time for you. I send out my queries in batches of about 10, but that’s my personal preference. I find agents I want to submit to and then Google the heck out of them.

• What’s their agency website say about them/what they’re looking for? • Do they have a personal web page with more info? • A blog? • Fb? • Twitter?

All of these sources produce priceless nuggets of information. Their blog could have different info than the agency website. For example, one agent I queried said on her blog not to send a synopsis because they’re the root of all things evil, yet the agency website (under her name) said to send one. Some agents will have you put in a personal tidbit about yourself, or want you to offer something specific. If you don’t take the time to research, you could miss that and in turn, they could pass you by.

Investigation also lets you find out how many books the agency has sold, what their record is for getting authors published, and so on. Get a feel for who they are and if they’re going to be a right fit for you and your book. Check them out on AAR and Predators and Editors—both valuable research tools.


I have a notebook where I centralize all the relevant info I need for each agent (I usually do all my research at once). • Agent’s name

• Agency

• Website of agency and any other social media sites

• What they’re looking for

• Books they’ve repped that are relevant to my novel

• What they want to be sent with the query (synopsis, sample chapters, etc) • Their response time for a query/partial/full • Their actions if they’re interested/not interested • Okay to follow up if there’s no response • Where do I send the query to? Is there something specific that needs to go in the Subject line? • Do they send out an auto response when a query is received? (no sense in having a heart attack at a false alarm. Also a good way to know if you need to follow up with them or not. No auto response probably means they didn’t get it) • Specifics they look for/personalization’s I find important • Anything else I think might be relevant

Once you have all that down, it’s time to start sending out your queries. Proof read, proof read, proof read! Make sure your email address is something professional (your name or pseudonym at Gmail/msn/like/yahoo/whatever). Not:

Check List • Are you sending out the right query to the right agent? (I save each version I send out, so I can go back and reference what worked/what didn’t) Make sure Jim isn’t getting the query addressed to Susan. • Is your contact info in the signature of your query and the again in your email? (this helps when you’re pasting partials into the email–the agent doesn’t have to scroll up through 10,000 words to get your phone number again, it’s right there at the bottom) • Is your contact/book information in the header (with page numbers) on any work THEY ASK you to attach? • Did you thank them for their time? • Did you address them by name in your query? • Did you spell that name right? • Have you sent them everything they’ve asked for? • Do you have the right email address?

These may seem simple, obvious things, but when you’re sending out your first round of query letters, you’re a nervous wreck, and you might forget some of these. I know I did (like my contact info. And the fact that my book was the first in a series. Yikes!).

So, just to recap… (I like lists, can you tell?) In your query: • Make sure you have a hook in your query • Main characters essential to the problem/solution only • Time frame (1800’s, modern day, etc) and location • Address the agent by name (this is soooo important!!) • Do your research • Make sure you have contact info in your signature (email, phone, address, name) • TMI is not a good thing • Only put down writing credentials if they’re applicable (blue ribbons in the state fair don’t count)

PS – I’m notorious for putting off things I don’t like to do. Mowing the lawn, cutting Hubby’s hair, doing the laundry….So it’s no surprise that I put doing the synopsis off until an agent asks for one. Probably not the best route to go. If you’re ambitious, do the synopsis before you query. Then you’re ahead of the game! Get a couple done—a typical synopsis (about a bazillion pages and dry as a tumbleweed) and a 1-3 page sucker. You might also want to throw in a 500 word (about 1 page) just in case.

But, since I am also a procrastinator, I won’t be talking about synopses until later. Much, much later.

Happy Wednesday!


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