Winding this series up with the last bit you need to make your query letter the most amazing one ever. At the very least, you’ll know you have everything in a row and have not forgotten one piece of information. As always, I still recommend reading examples of successful query letters.
Part 1 is all about writing an opening to your letter that isn’t cheeky, is spelled right, addressed to the correct person, and avoids the obvious epic fails. You can find it here
Part 2, writing an enticing hook that clearly outlines the protagonist and the stakes of your story is here
And part 3, giving the specifics of your book with genre, word count and title, can be found here
We’re working off “the hook, the book and the cook” because it sounds cool and covers all the basics you need in one sentence. We have now made it to the part about The Cook (that’s you!) Note that this series is for Fiction authors, Nonfiction is a completely different game in which I have no experience.
Unfortunately for an already bruised ego, this is the shortest part of the entire letter. The one all-pervading piece of advice everyone seems to agree on is that no agent wants to hear endless paragraphs all about you. Why you love writing so much and how you started writing when you were five and being an author is your whole life and writing this book took you six years of gut wrenching effort but it’s the most amazing story and you put little pieces of yourself in each character so that you really got to know them . . .
Don’t do that. My one piece of advice to remember for this part is:
Publishing is a business. Agents treat it like a business. Your book is your product and they want to hear about the product. Not you. (Sorry.)
Some posts recommend no more than 50 words for this part. Some say a couple of sentences. Seriously, I’m supposed to condense my awesome self into fifty dinky words? Yes. Now is the time to give your ego a swift chop to the neck and tell it to shut up, because you are querying.
So what should you put in your precious two sentences? Who you are and why you are the best person, the only person, to write this book.
Ideas of what to include, in no particular order of importance:
- writing credits you already have-literary journals, articles, online sites, short stories, etc. Don’t list the title and source of everything you’ve ever published. Brevity is the soul of getting an agent.
- any relevant writing experience-you volunteer as a slush pile reader, curate an online writing magazine, teach creative writing at the local college, pick books for your local library to purchase, make a podcast on SciFi books for a website, regularly guest blog, and etc.
- any degrees related to writing-B.A. M.F.A. the letters look impressive.
- if you were previously published-Only if the book did well. Otherwise leave the information that you self-published and sold 100 copies total for the heart to heart talks with your agent later. You will have to tell them, if they end up representing you.
- any life experiences that influence your book-you were a police officer and you wrote a crime novel, you worked in social services and the book is about a depressed teen working his way through the foster system, you’re a librarian and the book is about a librarian who moonlights as a demon banisher on weekends.
- amazing things that have already happened to this manuscript-awards from contests (especially the big ones!) writer’s fellowships, requests from movie companies to buy the rights to it, you somehow blackmailed a great review of it from a New York newspaper (leave out the blackmail part.)
- If you’re part of a large writer’s association-RWA, MWA, SCBWI, etc. This can make you look more serious and professional.
- Your platform and publicity– if it’s genuinely impressive. You have Twitter-pated 10,000 followers? Put that in. 100,000 eyeballs a month on your writing blog or 20,000 people already signed up to your newsletter? Wow, yeah, put that in. If, like me, you have 20 followers total and maybe 200 visits in a month it’s not so necessary to put that in.
Before you put anything in ask yourself two things. Is this relevant to this manuscript? And, will it help this book get published? If not, leave it out. Anything that wanders into the realm of trying too hard/bragging will actually put agents off your book, the opposite of what you want. Remember; business. They want to sell this book. They’re not selling you (that’s illegal.)
If you’re over there laughing and shaking your head, sitting on a finished manuscript without any of these wonderful shiny things to dangle from it (like me), don’t despair. If not one of these things applies to your work your bio will be super short and sweet. A couple sentences about you will be easy, maybe just something like where you’re from and that this is your third finished manuscript.
In her take, Jane Friedman says that if you have nothing to include, don’t include anything. Just end your query letter and let your story speak for itself. This seems ballsy to me, but if Jane Friedman says it it’s solid advice. Go with your instincts on it and good luck!
resources for you:
Author Karma Brown’s take on hook, book, cook here
Writer’s Digest article on How to Write the Perfect Query Letter, part of an excellent series they do where a successful query letter is shown and the agent who requested it breaks down exactly what they liked about it which is just the best
How to Write a Darn Good Query letter, from the NY Book editors.com. Funny, succinct and very helpful. Find it here
What Should You Write in the Bio Paragraph of a Query Letter? by Chuck Sambuchino over at Writer’s Digest here with a good list of what NOT to include.
feature image courtesy Stocksnap.io and Thong Vo