Since I’m in the process of writing one and getting back in the trenches, there’s no reason you shouldn’t benefit from all the research I’ve been doing for your own query letters. This will be a multi-part series.
First of all, some Quality advice on Querying from the site Agent Query.com. Their article links to my other go-tos for this, namely Writer’s Digest and Query Shark. Everything you need, on one easy to navigate page=win for you. Plus, Agent Query has a whole part of their site dedicated to successful query letters. Reading examples of what worked is invaluable, at least to me, as a starting point.
Let’s jump right in to writing the very first part of a query letter; the salutation.
Is it really that important? Well, yes. This would seem like a self-evident, common politeness rule that would be easy to follow without being told, but you would be surprised how often it’s not. I hang out a lot on the “Queries” tab at mswishlist.com. As agents read through their slush pile they tweet their reaction and why they passed or requested. It’s like peering through the window into their thought process, and incredibly helpful. Most of the examples I’ll be using of what not to do are from these tweets.
Do: “Dear Ms. [Agent’s last name]”
Don’t: Fw:Fw: Obvious Mass Query to any and all literary agencies
-Their name is on the agency website, just above all of their submission guidelines and the genres they represent, which you have of course read carefully. Right? A mass forward generic email is conspicuous, lazy, and sort of disrespectful. Never mass forward.
Do: “Dear Mr. [Agent’s last name]”
Don’t: “Dear Fabulous Fantastic Agent Who I Know Will Love My Book”
-Think of it as a professional business letter. If they become your agent, it will be a business relationship. Trying to be cutesy or humorous in your salutation will backfire on you, because it’s not professional and plain writing doesn’t convey that it’s supposed to be funny the way body language would. It just doesn’t work. Never try to be funny.
Do: “Dear Mrs. [Agent’s last name]”
Don’t: “Dear Mrs. Jane Doe, it’s so cool that your maiden name was the same as mine! I looked you up on those personal info sites, there was a lot of neat information. How do you like living in Greenwich?”
-AAAHH! Creepy! Yes, personalize your query letter to the agent you are querying. If their agent profile lists them as “Mrs.” or makes a clear reference to kids and hubby, a Mrs. is appropriate. No, do not take “personalize” to mean “stomp down personal boundary fences and channel your inner stalker.” Never be a creeper person.
Do: “Dear Ms. [Agent’s last name, spelled correctly!]
Don’t: “To Whom it May Concern”
Similar to a mass forward. This agent is spending a large part of their working hours reading through queries. At least let them know you’re interested in talking to them by saluting them with their correctly spelled name. If you end up working together, their name will be somewhat important to get right (just sayin’). Never make it obvious you didn’t put forth the bare minimum of effort to be respectful and personable.
To summarize: Be professional. Take the time to learn their last name and how to spell it, and use that. The salutation is not the time to demonstrate how you’re a rule breaker, or really funny.
More resources to begin with:
How to personalize your query letters from Agent Carly Watters’ Blog
And how to write a query letter (with great infographic) from Reedsy. Reedsy is also a good info-gathering-place for everything publishing and I’d recommend checking it out.
picture courtesy: stocksnap.io artist Josh Byers