Last time, after doing my best to convince you that it’s worth the work to master the query letter, I went through the most important part of said query letter: the pitch. If you’re already set up with an agent and editor and/or are publishing on your own, that’s pretty much all you need. But if you’re actually querying, what else should go in your query letter?
Enter: the extras. I say ‘extras’ because, yes, at its heart the most important part of any query letter is the pitch. Without a good, intriguing pitch of your book, no one will ask to see more. But don’t let that word choice fool you into thinking these other components don’t matter, because they absolutely do. They can, if done well, even push a ‘maybe’ into a ‘request.’ If a pitch comes across as so-so, intriguing comp titles, a killer bio, or even a perfectly-worded intro paragraph may well urge an agent to ask to see more.
[Note that the goal of a query letter is not to sell your book or even to land an agent; the goal of a query letter is to get an agent interested enough to read your manuscript, which must do the rest. :)]
So let’s break down the extras that can go into your query letter, with some things I’ve learned about each. I say “can go” because most of these things are at least arguably optional, and could be left out or minimized on a case-by-case basis. Still, we’ll cover each.
I’m starting with this one, which I personally think is the least important, because it usually goes first. The idea is to include a brief (brief!) introductory paragraph that’s personalized to each specific agent that you’re querying, either letting them know why you chose them or reminding them how you’ve met, interacted, etc.
Now, I didn’t always do this, and you’ll hear a lot of conflicting information about whether or not you should – even from agents themselves. If you know that an agent you’re querying prefers them, go ahead and do it. If you know he/she hates them, leave it out. And if you don’t know, my rule of thumb is to only include something if it feels genuinely personal and genuinely relevant. In other words, don’t force a faux-personalized intro. “I saw from your list that you’re looking for (insert your genre here)” isn’t likely to impress. You having done your research is presumed.
But if you loved their talk about your genre at a conference, are critique partners with one of their clients, or pal around all the time on Twitter, go ahead and use that to connect them with who you are. This is also the place to mention referrals, previous requests, pitch contests, etc. Don’t have any of those things? (Disclaimer: never make them up.) I lean towards skipping it; save your space for your amazing pitch and bio.
This is what I think of as the second most important section of your letter, after the pitch. The stats. The goods. The hard facts. A stats paragraph can appear anywhere in the letter (but is typically seen either as the opener or right before the closer; fine arguments can be made for either) and should include: 1) title 2) age level, 3) genre, 4) word count, and 5) comps. [Read more…]