One of the most daunting tasks an author will ever face is writing the query letter for their novels. Personally, I hate them. They rank somewhere between ripping off my fingernails and walking on broken glass in my “how much do I like doing this” category. I’ve learned over the years that by following a few rules, the process is a lot less stressful. Here’s what I’ve learned. Feel free to add your own rules in the comments section.
1. Keep it simple. Don’t try to be too cutsie with your query. Keep it short, sweet, simple, and to the point.
2. Write in the present tense. Most agents/publishers prefer present tense in queries. Hedge your bets and write in the present.
3. Visit Query Shark website and READ, STUDY, AND LEARN. This is beyond a doubt the best site there is for helping with a query.
4. Who is your protagonist? What do they want? What’s stopping them from achieving their goals? What are their ultimate consequences? This step is the most important when writing your query. If you can’t answer these questions, it’s not the query that’s the problem, it’s the story.
5. Don’t name a bunch of characters. Try to name no more than two characters in your query. One is preferred, two is okay, three is stretching it, four or more…NO, NO, NO!
6. Open the query with a great hook! You have one shot to catch an agent’s/ publisher’s attention. Don’t kill that shot with a weak or non-existent hook.
7. Don’t ever (and I mean ever) open a query with a rhetorical question. What if…? Would you…? How long…? Agents tend to HATE rhetorical questions. Don’t blow your one chance by opening with one.
8. Try to keep the query at 250 words or less. Long queries, bored agents, slush pile.
9. Don’t put your book’s title, genre, word count, etc. in the first paragraph unless specifically requested by an agent. Most agent’s want this stuff at the end. Keep it in the last paragraph along with your writing creds. if you have any.
10. NEVER EVER address the query to an agent or publisher with Dear Agent. Use their name. How would you like it if they answered you with Dear Writer, Your query stinks. Sincerely, Dear Agent?
11. Do your research! Find out which agents/publishers are accepting queries in your book’s genre, then find out which specifically want stories like yours. Also, read the agent’s bio. Learn who you are querying!
12. Check for spelling, grammar or other errors. This is your query letter! For pete’s sake check the damned thing before you send it to agents.
That’s about it. If you think of anything I’ve forgotten, feel free to add.