How To Get A Submission: Query Letter Edition

Writing is hard. Unfortunately, querying can be even harder.

I’ve been through the query trenches time and time again, and written about it a lot, too. Through all of this, I’ve discovered a fair amount about ways to help me land a submission. Here’s what I’ve learned.

Write up your blurbs and synopses.

Once you’ve done all the revising and polishing you can, it’s time to start getting ready for querying. This means you should have a few synopses of varying lengths on hand. Here’s a list of what I like to have ready:

  • A back-cover blurb (about two/three paragraphs or somewhere around 100-200 words) for a query letter
  • A short synopsis about a double-spaced page in length that introduces the story and discusses the main plot points and over-arching themes (check out this site or this site for help)
  • A longer synopsis that goes over all the important stuff in your story (think an IMDB movie synopsis; for help, check here, here or here)

It seems like a long list, but agents can ask for these things. I’ve seen agents who ask for short synopses along with your query letter, and agents who ask for longer synopses in partial submissions. And everything else will most likely go into your query letter.

Create an elevator pitch.

While longer synopses are good as well, shorter pitches are just as important. You aren’t always going to have a paragraph or ten minutes to explain your novel to agents or editors. Sometimes, all you have is a couple sentences. You might be participating in a Twitter query contest and only have 140 characters, or you might luck out and meet an agent in real life. So you’ve got to have something short prepared. This comes in two parts: a few comp titles (those lines in query letters that say something like MY NOVEL IS X MEETS Y, and an elevator pitch.

For VINDICTA, my comp titles are currently The CW’s The 100 and Suzanne Collin’s THE HUNGER GAMES. (For help with comp titles from a much better authority, check out here or here.) I haven’t actually written out my elevator pitch yet (oops), but the idea here is to capture the book’s essence and pique interest in one or two sentences. If I was to write an elevator pitch, it’d be something like Kieran can’t let herself fall again. Flynn can’t survive losing anyone else. But in this forest of empty ghosts, they’re all the other has.

It’s rough, and it’s not my best stuff, but you get the point. Immediately, questions come to mind. Why is Kieran so scared? What did Flynn lose? What happened in the forest? Who’s after them? You’ve got to hook them in and leave them wondering.

Write your query letter.

Seeing as I’ve queried and been rejected by several dozen agents (for a different novel), I’m probably not the best authority on the topic. But this is the stage where you write your basic query letter—the no frills one you can customize to fit the agent. Sites to help you write a query letter include Carly Watters’ querying tag, QueryShark and Nathan Bradford’s example of a good query letter.

Do your research.

The most important step of all. In order to really help you land an agent, you’ve got to do your research. What agents are looking for novels in your genre? Which agents are known for working with debut authors? Which agents have represented books similar to yours? Doing all this work can be daunting, but it’ll pay off in the end, I promise. Find the agents who rep similar books in your genre. Browse the #MSWL hashtag on Twitter. Other sites to help you find agents to query include Manuscript Wishlist, AgentQuery (although beware, this one can be outdated) and QueryTracker.

Personalize the letters.

I know I said before to create a query letter template. And yeah, it’s important to have a good base to work off, but you also have to tailor every single query letter you send out to the agent you’re sending it to. Are they a fan of a book that inspired your manuscript? Put it in. Something else you two share? Mention it. You’ve got to have an author bio anyways. This takes care of it.

Send out the letters.

This is the hardest part for me. I’m a generally anxious person anyways, but sending out query letters for something that’s incredibly important to me in hopes of achieving my biggest goal is completely nerve-wracking. So if you’re like me, just breathe. It’ll be okay. No matter what happens, you’ll survive.

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What tips help you in the query trenches? 🙂

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