Episode 43: Query Letters and Popcorn

There have been two things on my mind quite a bit lately: query letters and popcorn. Since it would be tough to make popcorn into a metaphor for writing (not impossible), I’ll stick with eating it and writing about queries.

First, let’s give a definition to keep things tidy. According to About.com, a query letter is

A letter or email sent to an editor or agent which details an idea for a magazine, newspaper, book or other publication, along with an attempt to sell this particular idea, along with yourself as the potential writer.

In some ways, this is like your book’s (and your) resumé, your shot to get a foot in the door for an interview (i.e., the agent/publisher reading your work).

Since I am definitely no expert in writing queries (having only succeeded in getting interest via magazine queries so far), I’ve chronicled some of the interesting resources I’ve found, and I’m sharing them here with you. (If you have successful queries on your blog or website, please leave a link in the comments.)

  • One recent Twitter experiment that produced some excellent advice for writers was “Query Day.” Basically, literary agents ganged up and sent out more information than one human could possibly absorb. However, Rachelle Gardner (one of the agents participating) published her advice for the sake of posterity—and sanity. [Update: She also recently posted about what makes a winning query.]
  • Nathan Bransford (an agent who gave me more traffic with one link than I could have thought possible) has a series of posts that document the format and basic information of a query letter: format, anatomy 1, anatomy 2, and how to mess it up.
  • And yet another agent, Colleen Lindsay, has a succinct post on why she may have rejected your query letter (or would if you sent it to her with some of the problems she points out—and consider yourself warned on the language).

Mainly, the biggest points that I’ve picked up so far are as follows:

  • Make sure you get to know the agent/publisher before submitting (check out their site/blog).
  • Provide the information they request.
  • Be humble—but not groveling.
  • Don’t tell them it’s going to win an award, be made into a movie, or be the best thing they’ve ever read.
  • Let the creativity you have as a writer come through in the query.

As for some examples of good queries, I’ve dug up a few.

  • Even if you don’t like Nicholas Sparks’s writing (I do, but that’s me), you should still check out his query letter for The Notebook that he graciously put out there for the world to see.
  • Nelson literary agency has several good query letters linked from their site.

That should be enough to get you started. If you have some web resources that you rely on (or have something you’ve used), please share.


4 thoughts on “Episode 43: Query Letters and Popcorn

  1. Pingback: Daily News About Writing : A few links about Writing - Wednesday, 29 April 2009 07:32

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