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7 Tips For Writing Query Letters That Win

Question: How do you schmooze a literary agent?

Answer: Sending them red wine, flowers or chocolates – or all three. Nope

Correct Answer: By writing query letters that sell your next book so easily to big name publishers and movie producers that your literary agent won’t need to break a sweat even while they are counting their commissions. Maybe a bit tongue in cheek but run with me a little

The literary agent needs to know:
1. What genre are you in?
2. What’s the story about?
3. What makes it unique?
4. Why should the agent take it on?
5. Who would watch this if it was produced?

Your first challenge will be divorcing yourself away from the book you wrote ‘as the best book ever written’ and treating it like ‘a product’ that is for sale. Sounds easy but it’s hard to do if you are emotionally tied to your work.

The next challenge for you will be actually writing query letters not to just one agent but potentially hundreds. If poorly done, it can knock you out of the game and end your writing career in an instant. But if you master writing query letters, the doors will open to a whole new world, potentially making you a New York Times bestseller and a multiple seven figure income earner annually. No longer will you have to cut out photos of country estates owned by successful authors and paste them all over your walls while chanting “I am a bestselling author” and tugging on a rubber band on your wrist, you will be one!

Here are the 7 tips to make all this happen (start dialling the local Ferrari dealership now):

  1. Answer the main questions
    Simple I know but writing query letters ain’t simple. Have a look at those five little gems at the beginning of this article. They are the main questions that need answered. Query letters are about marketing. Take off the beret and toss the ‘John Lennon’ specs. It’s time for the Ray Ban Wayfarers and to slick back your hair. Think Miami Vice not Oxford Professor.
  2. Follow the submission guidelines
    They ask, you answer. Don’t go floating off into some crazy trance that you think your wild ideas are actually wanted. Each literary agent has their very own specific questions and guidelines they need adhered to. Follow it to a ‘T’.
  3. Personalise the query 
    Yep we humans (and yes literary agents are human, especially the one that takes you on) love to hear our own name. Make sure you address the person by their name. ‘Stalk’ them on Facebook or LinkedIn and see what their interests are. Writing query letters to agents who love British bulldogs for instance should include a reference to your favourite dog. Yes authors, your new favourite dog (this week) is a British bulldog. Hmmm ok, avoid lying.
  4. Make your words count
    Literary agents are busy people. They need to read your submission while watching their favourite movie Jerry Maguire and screaming “show me the money”, but there’s only 24 hours in a day. When writing query letters include a brief bio, a short sharp punchy synopsis and a call to action. Don’t waffle and don’t pontificate. It was great that your year five English teacher said that one day you would become a great author, but how are you justifying the other forty seven years you’ve spent driving the Mr. Whippy ice cream van around town. Be concise and be relevant. Show me the money…..show me the money.
  5. Avoid the big mistakes
    You know the ones. Long, long, very long paragraphs. There’s a reason why Miss Davis at 63 years is still teaching grade five English and not writing books (and why she is still single). Short, concise, to the point sentences is what is required. Remember these literary agents are busy!
    Remember ‘show not tell’. The line “my theme is about……” is not required as it should be evident from reading your query letter.
    Outlining the ’75 characters’ that may appear in your book is not necessary either. Just talk about the two or three main ones.
  6. Write an effective bio
    Let them know the psycho they are about to get into bed with. Again be concise. Not too wordy but show some personalty and what makes you great. If you won the 1973 Miss Oklahoma High beauty pageant, congratulations, but it won’t be necessary to submit that photo. Your Mumma lied about how important it was to keep that original pic – look at the spouse it won you and you should get my drift.
  7. Don’t give ultimatums
    “Go ahead, make my day” followed by “reject me” may have worked in part for Clint Eastwood but telling the literary agent that he or she is just one of hundreds to whom you are writing query letters, may get your masterpiece tossed into the bin. Everybody wants to feel special. Don’t make out that you are such a hot commodity every agent in town is dying to sign you. The New York literary agents may all ban together and suggest you pitch their Albuquerque cousins instead.Just remember writing query letters is about the pitch. It’s a marketing letter. Get it right and you’ll be drinking margaritas on the beaches of the world – with your literary agent – they’re nice people too, really.
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