Updated: Jul 10, 2022
Hey there and Happy Monday! Ok, let's be real, most of us are not happy for Monday (nobody more than me) but I'm trying to be positive! Today we're going to talk about query letters and the querying process.
So first off, here's a disclaimer—I feel it’s important to note, I have not yet had my novel picked up by an agent or publisher by a query. (But if you are an agent/publisher, and looking to represent me, hit me up!)
I say this to point out, this post is nothing more than what my goals are for queries, a compilation of research I’ve done on the topic, a couple of recommendations for resources I’ve found helpful, and probably a lot of laughing at myself for things I’m sure I already did wrong. If you are looking for someone who has already sent a successful query letter that got their manuscript represented, this isn’t the blog post for you (though I do point you in the direction of some people who do seem to know what they’re talking about). If you’re reading this; you and I are likely either in the same boat–we’re both just working at our goals. Or you’re my family who feels obligated to read my blog just because you love me! 😂😂😂 I’ll say it one more time for the kids in the back-I’m not an expert, I don’t have the answers… sorry about your luck!
Ok, now that I’ve made myself clear about what this post won’t be, (and maybe lost some readers already), let’s move on! So first, let’s talk about what a query letter is. It is a letter that you prepare to send to agents and publishers when you are trying to sell your finished manuscript. This means you have taken many, many steps to write, re-write, edit, beta test, and re-write again. This is an important thing to note-it's finished. I talk more about some of these steps in my other blog posts, so I won't say them again, but as I’m a fan of the shameless self promotion, let me take a minute to link back to a previous blog post about beta readers in case you missed it… https://www.roseraynerivers.com/post/mytwocents-on-beta-readers
More posts about the rest of the aforementioned process are forthcoming, but I’m having a little trouble crafting those in my brain right now, because I’m deep in the query trenches so this post is the one calling me to write it right now. (Also, let’s note that if you are planning on self-publishing, you probably don’t need a query letter, so save yourself the headache.) I have considered this instead of going through the query process-but alas, I am pretty sure self-publishing is not for me, so here I am writing a post about how querying is so hard (at 4am instead of sleeping) and reminding myself that it's ok that I am basically just talking out of my a$$... That's ok, I'm just trying to fake it until I make it!
(Is it a coincidence that I chose a gif from a show about publishing? Probably not!)
Anyway, a query letter is generally sent to agents/publishers along with your submission package. It’s usually accompanied by either a synopsis of your book and/or a short sample of your book. My experience has been that some agents/publishers want one or the other and some want both. The synopsis is another blog post on it’s own, so we’ll talk about that later. The sample of your book seems self explanatory so let’s move on. ‘Nuff Said!
Ok, so let’s talk about writing a good query letter. This is the $1M question right, how do you do it? Truth is, I really don’t know, I haven’t sold my book yet, but I have been able to craft letters that seem like they could potentially get the job done. I said that, and I’m not sure you caught it so I’ll say it again-LETTERS. One of the most consistently mentioned and I think one of the most important things in all my research on this topic is that you should not create a form query letter. I think of it like looking for a new job. What’s the first thing they tell you when you start sending out resumes? Don’t assume that every employer wants the exact same resume. They’re all looking for different things, so you should highlight what’s important on your resume that qualifies you for that job. The same is true of query letters…Tailor your letter to the audience.
So let’s get to the meat of it. Pretend we’re looking through Query Manager or Manuscript Wishlist—these are just what I’m currently looking through, I have also heard people say Twitter is an excellent resource and I’m sure there are a ton more—and we find an agent. Here’s the first thing to check (after you skim their wishlist to be sure they’re looking for your manuscript) - is he/she/they open to submissions. I cannot tell you the number of times I’ve read an agent's full profile and gotten so excited because they were looking for my exact manuscript and then I clicked ‘Submission Guidelines’ and got the message, “Sorry I’m currently closed to submissions right now, please check back…” It’s like looking at a house listing and falling in love with the house and then looking at the price and realizing it’s like four times your budget. Trust me, save yourself the heartbreak and just check if they’re open to submissions first, thank me later…
This is mostly an aside, but I will say–I keep two lists. If the aforementioned agent who I think would be perfect for my manuscript but is closed to submissions—I will add him/her/them to a list I call, ‘check back later,’ follow him/her/them on Twitter and move on. So it’s okay to skim the agent’s profile to see if they’re a good match for you, but just don’t spend a ton of time until you check if they’re open first. Also, I will say, keep a good list of everyone you do query so you don't make duplicates, because that's embarrassing. Also, a lot of agencies don't like it when you query multiple agents, so just make sure you know who you're querying. I have a simple spreadsheet, but do what you do...
Moving on, we’ve found an agent, he/she/they is open to submissions and you think they are the right fit for your manuscript. Here’s where it gets tricky, and I think it depends highly on the genre for which you write. I write romance, which is a crowded space that has a ton of niche sub genres. Finding an agent who is looking for something in your specific niche, is sometimes really, really hard, so it’s important to know your comps. What is a comp you ask? It’s a book that is similar/comparable to yours. I know, we all want to believe we’re writing the very first Divergent or Twilight, but let’s face it we’re not. You’re probably not writing anything that is truly new and if you are, you’re probably not reading my blog because you have probably already found representation. So find books that are actually comparable to yours. Here’s an important note-I don’t think the book needs to be about the same thing as yours, or even necessarily the same type of characters. You are hopefully writing something somewhat unique, but I think the best way to describe a good comp is it’s ‘vibe’ is the same as yours.
What do I mean by ‘vibe,’ you ask? To me that means maybe the author has a specific voice- they make similar jokes, they have a similar kind of sense of humor, or a similar way of describing their characters or settings-as you. It can also mean their books have similar pacing. Like they draw you along in the story and they don’t give everything away. Maybe your book is a slow burn romance, and you and your comp both always wait until almost the very end for your characters to get together, whatever you think your ‘vibe’ is, find a book(s) that gives you that same feeling. It’s also important not to shoot for the moon. I mentioned Divergent and Twilight—I know I’m not on the same level as those authors, and again, if you are, you probably aren’t reading my blog, so be realistic. So here is one of my comps; The Not So Meet Cute-by Meghan Quinn. I think she has a similar voice as me, I find her pacing is similar to mine and I honestly just love her. She is popular on Amazon, but I don't think she is like Danielle Steele. She is self published (or I think she actually started a publishing company) and I’m not sure if that matters, I’ve gotten mixed feedback on that-so use your judgment. Also, since I mentioned Danielle Steele, don't do that. She's great, but not that relevant and agents will likely pass thinking you don't know the current space for where your book belongs. What you're looking to identify is what shelf would this go on in a bookstore and who writes the books that would have overlapping readers that Amazon would target. I also usually comp Ivy Smoak and Kristan Higgins as they are also some of my favorites and I think it gives agents an idea of what I think my voice sounds like.
Ok, so what do comps have to do with your query letter/querying aside from the fact that they should be included? Well, when you’re searching for an agent, you should be looking at the section of their profile, page, website, etc. that says ‘What I like to read’ and 'What I'm looking for.' If they like Pride and Prejudice or Jane Eyre and your book is The Not So Meet Cute you’re probably not a match. They probably aren’t your target audience and they might not be the best champions for your work. As a reader, I love me some Austen and Bronte too, so this shouldn't be an immediate red flag, but my work isn't the same as theirs, so I would just say, be mindful of what they’re telling you with their preferences and make sure there is a good reason you think they’d like your book. Don’t waste the time querying agents/publishers that don’t want/like your type of work. That sounds harsh, but it will save you a lot of heartache and rejection if you’re choosy about who you submit to. Sending your manuscript out to 157 of the wrong agents isn’t better than sending it out to 3 who are right. I can tell you, from experience getting a letter that says ‘This isn’t the right fit for me…’ or something similar still feels like rejection, even though it might not be. It may be that they really just don’t want your type of work and if you’d taken the time to figure that out up front, you may have already known. Just be choosy, that’s all I’m saying.
One more thing about reading agent’s profiles that is a tad off topic but does circle back—you are a writer so you should be reading… a lot. Read the books that the agents/publishers are reading. Know if those books are similar to yours, and if they aren’t, don’t query them. Don’t waste everyone’s time. That’s it, I’m really moving on, I promise….
Ok, so what does a good query letter look like? Or at least a successful one? I don’t know… Read this blog (or one similar) ‘100 Query Letters That Got Authors an Agent’ https://thejohnfox.com/2021/05/100-query-letter-examples-that-got-authors-an-agent/
There are a million and a half articles and blogs out there that will show you a successful query in your genre, you can chase your tail for a long time trying to craft identical ones, so just read a lot of articles that tell you about queries and take in what you find helpful. Just like your novel, write, read, edit, read, edit, repeat. Some of that reading should be advice, articles, blogs, seminars, etc.
There are also a ton of really reputable editing services (Query Shark, Manuscript Academy, etc.) you can pay to help you get your query into the best shape it can be. I personally am trying to get it done without paying, but I also accept that I might need to pay someone eventually and I’m prepared to do that. If you go that route, make sure you don’t try to cheap out and waste your money. Use good services, do a lot of research and ask authors what worked for them. The great thing about this community is we all are (mostly) willing to share our successes, so ask for help, it can’t hurt!
Ok, I’m almost done (I think). What does it all boil down to? What should be in your query letter and what do you need to know to make a good one? Here is what my research and reading 153 million articles on the topic say:
A short description of your book (Think blurb-something hook-y that makes the agent/publisher want to pick up your book. Similar to what you would see on Amazon when you are trying to find a book to read)
Word count, title, etc. (The basics)
Breakdown of what your book topic is and anything special about your book (Why should they read this one over the other 82 million they received)
A short bio about you (This part is a little bit weird. If you’re a debut novelist, it can be hard to figure out what to put here, but I’ll do another blog about that…)
Included in the bio/the book description—Why are you the only person who can write this story?
Why are you querying this agent/publisher? (You love their picture, they are an agent, you want to get published, isn’t good enough—See above on how to choose your target agent. You should be mentioning things like ‘I too love the Gilmore Girls,’ ‘My novel is about a restaurateur and you said you want a novel about a restauranteur,’ etc. Be thoughtful and specific about this part, but don’t suck up)
A thanks and goodbye.
After your signature, link to your website (if you have one–and I think you should) and your blog/social media accounts (again, if you have them–and I think you should)
That’s it! Clear as mud right? Look, I’ll say it probably until I’m blue in the face, choosing to be a writer is an incredibly crazy thing. You don’t realize how humbling putting your work out for public consumption is until you do it. Becoming an author (a published writer), probably shouldn't be easy, because if it were, we’d all do it, right? Maybe not, but you know what I mean…
One last thing I will say, and then I promise I’m done. There is not one of us that doesn’t have something to learn. I don’t care where you’re at in your career or your life, if you think you don’t have anything to learn you’re probably on the way out. I think you should continually hone your craft and learn from others' mistakes and successes. That is the biggest piece of advice I can give anyone. Don’t be too proud to at least listen and internalize anyone’s suggestions. You don't have to take them, but you shouldn’t be too good to at least hear another perspective.
So, that’s my two cents on querying and query letters. It’s hard and it probably doesn’t get easier, but hopefully in the end it pays off!
Happy Monday friends!
-Rose Rayne Rivers
Also, if you're an agent/publisher looking to represent a contemporary romance with the voice of this blog--I'm your girl!
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