Sorry it’s been a while! I’ve had a busy month at Mumm’s the Word, for which I am so thankful. Gosh, I love my job. And since query letters have been a major focus of my critique work this month, I figure it makes sense to carry that over to Word Café. Here’s a question that keeps coming up for my clients and readers:
I’ve finally written the dang thing, but how do I know it’s ready to go?
So here it is…
The Whoa-Nelly-Before-You-Submit-That-Query-Letter Checklist:
- Does it contain all of the essential elements: personalized greeting (not “To whom it may concern”), genre/word count, hook, strong body paragraph(s), optional author bio, and closing? Here is my hands-down favorite resource for getting that right; it’s long, but definitely worth your time: http://www.agentquery.com/writer_hq.aspx. You can also check out this one from Writers Digest that gives more detail on things like your author platform: http://www.writersdigest.com/online-editor/the-10-dos-and-donts-of-writing-a-query-letter.
- Has someone you trust read through it and given you honest feedback? I’ve seen so many queries that could have been saved by this simple step. A second pair of eyes would catch the fact that you didn’t explain what a “circumspectrometer” is, and that without this information we can’t understand the plot premise. (This is an argument for showing the query to someone not familiar with your book.) Or they might notice that you spelled “sincerely” wrong—a single typo won’t deter most agents, but why tarnish your first impression? True, it’s scary to share your writing, even a query letter. But it’s also darn good practice for the day when thousands of readers and reviewers could be scrutinizing your published work. (Yoiks!) So take a deep breath and dive in.
- Is your manuscript 100% polished and ready to go, should you receive a request? You may think writing query letters is a form of torture, but it doesn’t stop a lot of people from putting the cart before the horse. There’s nothing wrong with starting your query letter when the book is still in its early stages; some writers find that helps them gauge whether the plot is on track. But whatever you do, don’t send it out until you’ve been over your manuscript with a fine-toothed comb. That’s because if an agent thinks your project is hot, the last thing he wants to hear is “I’ll have it for you as soon as I finish this final draft.” In that scenario, there’s a good chance his interest will have waned by the time you’re ready.
- Have you checked the agent’s website and social media for updates? This can help you get the timing of your submission just right—and that could make a difference. An agent will often mention on her blog, Twitter, etc. if she’s about to head out for a conference or book fair (e.g. Bologna Children’s Fair, coming up next month). That’s your cue to hold onto your query for a couple of weeks. She’ll have no time to read submissions while she’s gone, and her staff will be doing their best to minimize the workload when she gets back. Translation: fewer queries making it past the gatekeeper. Oi! Another thing an agent might say on her platform is that she has decided to close to submissions for a period of time. When that happens, it’s disappointing but she means it. Rather than risking a sure-fire rejection, make your submission count by turning to the other dream agents on your list.
Go for the gold, my friends!
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Need a little more help? There’s still time to take advantage of my query critique special through the end of February. I’d love to give yours a read!
If you’d like to additional tips and publishing news between blog posts, please visit my Word Café Facebook page.