Writing a Query Letter


           A couple months ago, I finished a collection of short stories for a young adult audience. I asked a few people with different backgrounds to read them. Those people liked the stories and were very kind and helpful in their comments and notes to help make the stories even better. I used to be terrible with taking criticism for my writing, mostly in high school and a little bit in college. Took me a while to realize the only reason they’re telling me what’s wrong is so I can fix it and make my writing even better. It’s not a personal attack on me or my writing. Constructive criticism is actually awesome even it does give me an ulcer waiting for it.

           Anyway, now it’s time to start sending them out. I chose a couple different stories and sent them to about 30 literary magazines. Unfortunately, none of them were picked but I was told by former teachers this would happen because that’s the way this business goes. Some of my rejection letters were incredibly kind though, complimenting my work in a way I could tell they actually read it and liked it but it wasn’t the right fit for their magazine. But I keep writing and I keep trying.

           I also started sending query letters to literary agents…after doing pretty extensive research into what makes a good query letter. Quick note, I’m not an expert by any means and you should do your own research, this is just my point of view. Also, you should research the person you send your query letter too. Check out the literary agency’s website and look at all the agents and what they’re looking for in a manuscript. Find the one you think would be the best fit for you. For example: I look for agents who have an interest in young adult but I am also drawn to certain agents if they mention they like Doctor Who or any of my other pop culture interests because we might mesh a little better. I look for agents who in their little paragraph on the websites can capture my attention. Then I try to do the exact same thing in my query letter to them. Now back to the letter.

           For those of you unfamiliar with the term, a query letter is kind of like a cover letter you would send with a resume. You write about your manuscript, how many words is it, what genre is it, and then you write a hook. A hook would be like a thesis statement almost. In college, a thesis statement summarized your whole paper and your point in one or two sentences. Don’t crucify me if that definition is slightly off because most of my papers were always lacking in the thesis department. A hook in a query letter is something to really grab the agent. You want this to be the sentence they read and think, “I want to know more”. Coming up with a hook is difficult for me just like coming up with a thesis statement was always difficult. Mostly because I find it hard to summarize long pieces of writing in only one or two sentences.

           After the hook, I quickly summarize the stories as a whole and explain how they’re interconnected with one another. This is a little like what you read on the back cover of books. At least, that’s how I see it. I write what I would want the back of my book to say. Next up, you talk about yourself. Which is weird. Kind of like writing your online dating profile but tone down what you like doing on a Friday night and play up your accolades from school and work. This where I quickly write about my degree in English Literature, the personal narrative I wrote and had published in my University’s Lit Magazine, Folio, and the paper I presented at the SEPCHE conference about the gangster genre of film. That’s all I have, folks. I was on the Dean’s List once but hate to break it to you, no one gives a crap about that after college. I worked as a book editor at a legal publishing company and now I’m a technical writer but again, this doesn’t really matter. The only thing that matters is the work I’m sending out now.

            In the last few sentences of my query, I talk directly to the literary agent. I tell them why I believe we would make a good fit together. I explain to them why I felt compelled to write my stories, why they mean so much to me. I try to convey how much I believe in my work and why they should take a chance on me. And then I thank them for their time and consideration. And after all that, I have a mini panic attack and hit send. No, I’m not even kidding. Hands actually shake every time I hit send. Then it’s off into the world, containing everything I’ve ever wanted my entire life.

           The possibility of being represented.

           The possibility of being published.

           The possibility of being able to call myself an author.