You finally have your manuscript - edited to perfection! So what next in your journey to become the next J.K.?
It's easy to think the hard parts over, but unfortunately you will need to think again. If you want to be published the traditional way, you now need to convince an agent that you are the newest best thing. The dreaded query letter is almost just as hard as the manuscript itself! The letter absolutely has to be just as perfect as your manuscript. Otherwise no one will even bother to read the amazing story you've created!
So how do you make your query letter perfect? Read on to find out...
We will start off with probably the most important tip I ever received - tell the agent why
you are best placed to tell this story. Is it your personal experience? Your job? Hobbies? For example, a lot of the best detective style thrillers are written by people who have some kind of experience in a similar environment. Patricia Cornwell was an employee of the medical examiners office in Richmond - her novels centre around a medical examiner based in Richmond. Her first book was also based on real life strangling's that happened in the same area.
This almost follows the old age adage of 'write what you know' - but that isn't what I'm stating here. J.K. Rowling probably isn't a witch, Charlaine Harris probably doesn't identify as a mind reader or vampire. What I am saying is, whatever you have written about, tell the agent why. What makes you different to all the other authors of the same genre or subject? Differentiate yourself and you will hook the agent in.
Now, I don't mean go on and on about how amazing you are. This won't entice anyone! However, neither will a bland and boring cover letter. This is a small window of opportunity to show off your personality through your writing. Who better to do so that a writer whose just finished their big manuscript! A general letter is going to be very boring for the agent to read through. You want your query letter to shine and stand out from all the others. To do so, you need to inject a little personality!
Watch The Typo's!
Now although I've just said be yourself, don't take being casual too far! There's a fine line between being casual and professional, and you must still be professional. If you cannot write a one page letter without a spelling or grammatical error, can you really write a fantastic story?? This is an obvious but important reminder for anyone looking for an agent!
This is a scary but important item in our list. When you have read and re-read your letter a million times, it almost doesn't make sense anymore. You need a fresh pair of eyes to review it for you. Ask a close friend or family member to take a look! Can they see any typo's? Is it boring or eye-catching? Does it shine from the page? Most importantly, does it make them want to read your book? If not, then ask for tips. What would make them want to read more? The letter needs to draw the agent in. You want them to be interested in you from the second they read the query letter - it must be just as good as that amazing first page of your book!
Watch The Guidelines
Now, if this is your first query letter, then one thing you need to be aware of is that all agents and publishers have different guidelines. These guidelines set out how you need to approach them with your book. For example, they may say a one page query letter is required along with the first chapter of your book plus a synopsis. They may also state that this needs to be is size 12 font and Arial type. You must make sure you follow these guidelines exactly. Again, if you can't follow simple guidelines, how will you be able to follow editing advice? No matter how perfect you believe your book is, there is no doubt some editing will be required before it goes to print. You need to show the agent that you can follow guidelines straight from the off.
Research the Agent
Agents are just people at the end of the day, scary people to an unpublished writer, but people none the less! A generic letter will not suit all of them, not matter how fantastically written it is. So do not send the same letter to all. Another biggie - do not cc in loads of agents when you write to one. This is a huge turn off for pretty much any agent!
Agents are all different with separate personalities and differing requirements. You need to research each one you write to and amend your query letter to suit their individual likes and dislikes. Some will like humour, some will prefer you getting to the point. The first and most obvious place to start is their business website. This should outline their needs pretty clearly, but you can go one step further. Most agents will give interviews at some point about what they want in an author. Not just the type of book they're looking for (but do make sure they are looking for your genre!!) but also the what they need from an author. Make sure you know as much as possible about an agent before writing your query letter to them, and make sure it suits what you know. Make them feel like you took the effort to get to know them, they will appreciate it!
Writing a query letter is a scary step, but if you follow the guidelines above your letter will shine!
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