Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Anatomy of an Agent Hunt: Writing the Query

The query letter is probably the single most important tool for marketing a novel, and it’s made up of four main parts: a plot summary; a plot summary; a plot summary; and a brief biography, appropriate conclusion, and contact information. People disagree about a lot of things (whether you should have an introduction, what to include in your biography, whether you should even have a biography if you’re not a published author), but pretty much everyone agrees that the plot summary is the single most important component of the query. Fortunately, that means that pretty much everybody’s talking about it--and about query writing in general, too.

Perhaps the best place to turn for query-writing help is to the people who have to read and judge them every day: agents. Here are a few of their blogs that I’ve found useful.

1) Pub Rants Kristin Nelson is one of the best agents in the business, and in addition to the fairly frequent posts she makes on the subject, the Pub Rants sidebar is jammed with query-writing information. About midway down the page you’ll find the heading “Agent Kristin’s Queries: An Inside Scoop.” These are the actual query letters she received from several of her now clients, along with her commentary on the things that worked and why. A little farther down the sidebar you’ll find “Agent Kristin’s Query Pitch Workshop On The Blog,” which is all about that infamous plot summary.

2) Nathan Bransford - Literary Agent Nathan Bransford, another dynamite agent, also regularly discusses queries and query writing on his blog, and he’s kindly grouped several of his most informative posts under the sidebar heading “The Essentials (Please Read Before You Query).” Definitely some must-reads.

3) Janet Reid, Literary Agent Oh, look: another fantastic agent. And this one’s provided a few more fantastic posts about writing that query under her sidebar heading “If you’re looking for an agent.” I’m sure you’ll notice that Ms. Reid is a bit, er, more abrupt than either Ms. Nelson or Mr. Bransford, which just goes to show that agents have personalities, too, and that you should be looking for one that complements yours.

4) Query Shark This is another blog maintained by Janet Reid, and this one is all about the query. Here’s how it works: A bevy of unsuspecting victims jump into the shark tank (i.e., e-mail their queries to her Query Shark address) and hope that they get chomped. The getting chomped is often painful but always instructive. And the rest of us get tank-side seats to watch. It’s a great way to learn what the more common slipups are and how to avoid them.

There have got to be at least a million other websites with helpful information on this topic, including Kate Schafer Testerman’s ongoing “Ask Daphne! About My Query” series and Jennifer Jackson’s “Letters from the Query Wars” posts. So look around, and if you find a good one, feel free to share it below.


Kristy Hutchison said...

The Intern is worth reading:

Matthew Rush said...

Probably not yet as helpful as all these blogs with great advice about WHAT TO DO when querying, my blog is an exercise in WHAT NOT TO DO.

On it I am posting all the queries I sent last year before I had even a clue what I was doing. These are ACTUAL queries and ACTUAL replies (with personal agent info redacted).

Some of them are horrid and therefore embarrassing but you have to develop a thick skin to be a successful query submitter so I figured I would swallow my pride and go for it.

Please click on my name in my comment if you would like to stop by, comment and follow.