The Query: Putting it all together

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Just a quick post today.  Here’s what my query letter looked like all put together when I sent it to my agent.
Dear Natalie Fischer(SALUTATION:  REMEMBER TO PERSONALIZE THIS HERE.  DO NOT MASS EMAIL.  SEND TO ONE AGENT AT A TIME!!)
You’d think imagining a handsome stranger in your rearview mirror, crashing through a guardrail, careening into murky waters, and then being rescued by the same imaginary boy–who gives his name as Jackson–would be bad enough. But for seventeen-year-old Lily Baker, that’s just the start of her problems. (HOOK:  GRAB THE READERS ATTENTION)
After coming home from the hospital, Jackson starts showing up in reflective surfaces — mirrors, puddles, windows, you name it. Lily, fearing others will think she’s crazy, keeps the visions to herself. After all, they’ll just go away if she ignores them, right? Not if Jackson has anything to say about it. And it isn’t long before he convinces her he’s real. The more time she spends staring into her mirror, the more she realizes she’s falling in love with a boy her family and friends insist is nothing more than shadows in her mirror and the hallucinations of her healing head injury.  (SYNOPSIS:  EXPLAIN ENOUGH OF THE BOOK TO GET THEIR INTEREST.  END ON A HOOK)
MIRROR IMAGE is a science fiction romantic young adult novel, complete at 83,000 words. With a mix of Alice In Wonderland, The Phantom of the Opera, and Romeo & Juliet, this is a story of love that knows no bounds. Time, space, even the very fabric of reality cannot stop it.  (BOOK DETAILS)
My young adult book, under the working title FALLEN, has been offered a contract from XXX. We are currently undergoing negotiations. I am a member of the RWA and CFRW.  (PERSONAL BIO)
(PERSONALIZATION WOULD NORMALLY GO HERE)
Per your guidelines, I have enclosed a synopsis and the first 50 pages.  Thank you for your generous time. I look forward to hearing from you soon.  (TELL THEM WHAT YOU ARE INCLUDING AND THANK THEM FOR THEIR TIME.)
Sincerely,
(MAKE SURE TO INCLUDE YOUR NAME AND CONTACT INFORMATION.)
         As you can see, it’s pretty easy. Mostly.  😀
         Here’s some fantaboulous resources to help you. 
         Absolute Write
         Query Tracker
         Agent Query
         And my own agent’s template. 
         I’ll add more agent’s onto this as I find them, so check back throughout the day.

Query Letter: The conclusion

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And we’re back for Part 4 of my query letter workshop. As always, remember what worked for me, may not work for you as all agents are different and want different things.  ALWAYS read the agents/editors guidelines for their recommendations.
Let’s talk about your bio.  First the things you can and should include .  Other manuscripts, short stories, poems, articles that you’ve published.  List the title and whom you sold it to.  If it’s a book, make sure to list sales numbers.  They’re going to want to know you write something that sells. 
Also include if you belong to any writers groups like the RWA (Romance Writer’s of America), the SCBWI (Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators), MWA (Mystery Writers Association), HWA (Horror Writers Association), SFWA (Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers association), etc. (I suggest joining one or a few of these organizations, because they offer great support and information.  My RWA chapter gives wonderful workshops once a month, which has really helped my writing.)
If you’re an expert in something that’s pertinent to what you’ve written.  For instance, you were in the army for 20 years and went to Afghanistan and you’ve written a book about a corporal in the Army who’s been deployed to that same area.  They’re going to want to know that. 
Things NOT to include in your query:  what your English grades were in school.  That this is your first ever “fiction novel”.  That you’re the next JK Rowling, Stephanie Meyer, Steven King, etc.  That you’re in prison.  This list goes on and on.
When in doubt, leave it out.  If they offer representation and want to know, they’ll ask. 
If you have no relative experience, you’ve never published anything, don’t belong to any official writer’s groups, and therefore have no official bio, leave this area blank.  It’s better to not list anything than to list the fact that you’re a newbie.  
At the time, I was considering a contract for my book, THE EXILED (then titled FALLEN).  Since it didn’t work out for various reasons, I never signed, but this is what my bio looked like when I queried my agent.
My young adult book, under the working title FALLEN, has been offered a contract from XXX publisher. We are currently undergoing negotiations. I am a member of the RWA and CFRW.
And now onto the salutation.  All you want to do here is thank them for their time and let them know you look forward to hearing from them.  Don’t add what you have to offer them, like an offer for the full or partial, or a synopsis.  They know—or hope—that you have a full manuscript ready and polished for them and they’ll request whatever it is that they normally request. 
If they want a certain number of pages, make sure to let them know you’ve followed their guidelines and have included xx number of pages. 
Here’s what mine looked like:
Per your guidelines I have enclosed a synopsis and the first 50 pages.  Thank you for your generous time. I look forward to hearing from you soon.
Then you want to close the letter with “Sincerely” and your name and contact information. 
Then include whatever they’ve requested and you’re done. 
Tomorrow, I’ll show you what the whole thing should look like, if  you’ve followed my advice and  a list of resources you can use to help you write that letter if you don’t want to follow my advice, including my own agent’s template for how she wants to see queries. 
Until tomorrow…

They Query: Part 3-Deets and Personalization

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Welcome back!  This is #3 in my query “workshop.” As always, remember what worked for me, may not work for you as all agents are different and want different things.  ALWAYS read the agents/editors guidelines for their recommendations. Today we’re going to focus on the ms details section and personalizing your letter.
When I’m talking about the details, this is the nitty gritty section that lets the agent/editor know how long, what genre, and who your target audience for your book is.  I try to spice up this section a little so it’s not boring.  We still want to keep the readers attention here. 
Also, you want to make sure your title is in all caps. 
Here’s an example of the one I used for Mirror Image:
MIRROR IMAGE is a science fiction romantic young adult novel, complete at 83,000 words. With a mix of Alice In Wonderland, The Phantom of the Opera, and Romeo & Juliet, this is a story of love that knows no bounds. Time, space, even the very fabric of reality cannot stop it.
Now there is some speculation on whether or not you should actually say the work is a mix of blah and blah, but it worked well for me.  It has been said that it’s better to say that the book will appeal to readers of blah and blah instead.  I’ll leave that up to you.
As I look as this, I realize I’ve come close to doing one of the no no’s in the industry.  You NEVER want to refer to your book as a “fiction novel.”  It’s redundant.  If it’s fiction, then yes it’s a novel.  If I were still querying, I would try to reword that first sentence to make it better, but as they say, “hindsight is twenty-twenty.” 
Now onto personalization.  If at all possible, thoroughly research the agents you want to submit to, then, and only then, submit to them.   With the research you’ve obtained you want to add one or two sentences to your query so they know you’ve done your research.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t find enough information on my agent (at the time) to really personalize it, but here’s an example of something you could do.
Since you represent such and such author’s book, TITLE HERE, which is similar to mine, for these reasons (list 1 or 2 reasons), I hope you’ll agree my book is a good fit for your list.
There are, of course, other ways to do it.  For instance, reading their guidelines and mentioning that since they are looking for such and such book, you think that YOUR BOOK would be a good fit.
Or you read in such and such interview that they were looking for, or they said something. 
The potential here is limitless and, if you do your research, this should be the easiest part of the query. 
Tomorrow, will be on your bio and the closing of the letter.  Until then, Ciao!

Query letters-Part 2: The Synopsis

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Hello and welcome back for another installment on my query letter writing “workshop.”  Please remember that all agents are different and what works for me, may not work for you! 
So, now onto the next part of your letter.  They synopsis.  So you’ve drawn in the agent with your hook and they want to keep reading and find out what’s going on with your book.
This is the most difficult part of the letter for me.  Because you want to give the agent enough to realize what the plot is, but not so much you give it all away.  Basically, you want to have a back of the book blurb here. You also want to end this on a hook.  And in this particular synopsis you don’t want to give the ending away.  Make it sweet and simple, yet fascinating. 
Grab the agent’s attention and make them want to read the pages you’ve included or make them want to request them if they only have the query.
However, avoid using rhetorical questions.  Agents tend to frown on it. 
Most people say the synopsis should be no more than a paragraph, but it’s probably okay to have two if you absolutely need it.  Try for one though, if you can.  Remember there’s still more you need to include in letter besides the book stuff, and you only get a page to do it. 
Here’s an example of the synopsis I used for Mirror Image:
After coming home from the hospital, Jackson starts showing up in reflective surfaces — mirrors, puddles, windows, you name it. Lily, fearing others will think she’s crazy, keeps the visions to herself. After all, they’ll just go away if she ignores them, right? Not if Jackson has anything to say about it. And it isn’t long before he convinces her he’s real. The more time she spends staring into her mirror, the more she realizes she’s falling in love with a boy her family and friends insist is nothing more than shadows in her mirror and the hallucinations of her healing head injury.
As you can see that even though my story is written in first person, past tense, the synopsis needs to be in third person, present tense.  Always.  I can’t think of any exception to that rule. 
Also, note there’s a lot of my character’s voice in this.  Lily is funny and a smart alec, but she has a romantic side, too.  Not to mention a bit of stubbornness.  If I’ve done this part right, you can see all this. 
This is what you strive for.  You want to SHOW the agent what your book is about.  If it’s a comedy don’t just say it’s funny.  Show that in your letter.
Okay, tomorrow, the details about your manuscript and personalization.

Query letter: The Beginning

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As promised here’s day one of my Query letter writing “workshop” for my secret agent contest.  Since it’s the beginning, I figured it was only fitting to talk about beginnings.
Keep in mind there is no secret formula to writing queries, all my knowledge comes from my own writing and what I found worked for me.  Each agent is different, and each agent will want different things.
Also, keep in mind that while you want to catch the agent’s attention, you don’t want to be gimmicky.  Avoid using colored paper, glitter, or sending cookies or anything else with the letter.  It should be just as professional as if you were writing a cover letter for a job interview. 
Margins should be 1” wide all around and the letter should be no longer than one page, single-spaced.  Don’t forget to include your contact information somewhere in your letter.  Usually below your signature.
In normal circumstances, it’s important to do some research before submitting, don’t just carbon copy everyone in the writing business.  Personalize each query to each individual agent and send each query separately.
 Use Query Tracker, absolute write, editors and preditors, and Agent Query to locate, research their preferences, and check into agents.  For the purpose of this contest we’ll just personalize the query letter with Dear Secret Agent:
Now onto the first paragraph.  Some like to say why they’re querying right here, but I don’t agree.  The top of the letter is valuable real estate!  You want to make it as eye catching as possible. And most agents know why you’re querying them.  You want them to offer representation!  
So, I suggest opening your book with your hook. 
Since the query for Mirror Image is what eventually got me my agent (along with the manuscript pages) I’ll use that as an example:
“You’d think imagining a handsome stranger in your rearview mirror, crashing through a guardrail, careening into murky waters, and then being rescued by the same imaginary boy–who gives his name as Jackson–would be bad enough. But for seventeen-year-old LILY BAKER, that’s just the start of her problems.”
As you can see, I only give a little bit of information here, but it’s enough to capture said agent’s attention and hopefully make him/her keep reading. 
That’s the goal here folks, is to make the reader (whomever it may be) to keep reading.
Here’s another example of a hook.  This is one from my new WIP. 
“For EMILY BRIAR the rules are simple: life is short, death is never-ending and absolute, and second chances are almost never given. But when teenagers start walking around without their souls, that’s all about to change.”
Do you see something interesting about the names?  Names in the synopsis and query are in all caps the first time they are mentioned, as is the title of the MS. 
Also, it’s important that you double, even triple check your query for spelling, grammatical, and punctuation errors.  Even have another person read it to make sure it’s perfect.  Nothing turns people off like errors in your query and it’s a good way to get an auto-reject.
Tomorrow we’ll talk about the synopsis of the query.