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  • Shelagh Clancy

Keep Calm and Query On

If you’re like most authors, you’re interested in the part of writing a book where you actually write. When your book is finished, you suddenly need a publisher, a format, an audience. You might not love searching for them, but it’s necessary if you want readers.

You can self-publish, or you can look for an agent.

Who Is Your Agent?

The agent puts your work in front of editors who make publishing decisions. An agent is an essential liaison in the publishing world. An agent may work for a particular publishing house or may have connections to several.

Agents are busy people. They need to make a quick decision: Is your book the type they handle? Is it of interest to the publishing houses they represent? Are your story and your writing good enough?

Enter the query letter.

A Quick Query

A query letter represents you and your book in a nutshell.

A good query letter can get your foot in the door so the agent will read a sample of your work. A bad query letter can land you and your book in the circular file.

A good query letter has three brief parts, and it all fits on one page:

  • A one-sentence “hook.” State the genre and premise of the book. Compare it to recent well-known books. For example, “A Pirate’s Tale offers modern-day swashbuckling suspense and steamy romance in a fast-paced political thriller that combines the tropical life of Michael Crichton’s Pirate Latitudes with the action of Jack Carr’s spy novels.”

  • A two-paragraph synopsis. A brief outline of plot highlights, themes, and story action. The agent wants to know if you have something new, so give them enough to decide. But it’s better to leave them wanting more rather than spell out the plot to the very end.

  • A brief bio. If you have previous publications, awards, or writing education, mention it. If you have particular knowledge of your book’s topic, mention it here. Three sentences is plenty.

  • Attach a chapter. Your query letter fits on one page, but attach a chapter—often the first chapter—so the agent can read more.

Sending Your Query

Get the most recent Writer’s Market (and other books that give agent listings) and look for publishers in your genre. Then check the publisher’s website and narrow your choice to a couple of agents. Don't query more than one agent at a time from the same publishing house.

Certain agents may have specific requirements which will be listed. Send them exactly what they request and no more.

Query on!

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