How to Write a Killer Query

by Ellen Raskin

Jaida TemperlyJaida Temperly, Literary Agent at New Leaf Literary and Media agency, New York City, explained query letter tips at the October 3, 2015 NY-Metro SCBWI meeting, part of the Westchester On the Road Series:

Query only agents interested in your work.

Use the agent’s correct name and title.

Get specific with the agent – why did you query them? Do you read their blog?  Did they give a memorable interview at a conference that resonated with you?

It is alright to offer that you know one of the agent’s clients. However, do not “stretch the truth”, because the agent will probably check with that client about you.

“Cut to the chase,” and introduce the manuscript in the query’s first paragraph.

The second and third paragraphs comprise the meat of the query. Summarize the manuscript in a pitchy way. Be intriguing. Entice, so the agent feels she or he must know what happens next in the story, so she or he requests more information from you. No need to give all details, but rather offer the key elements of what the story is about. Do not use rhetorical questions (e.g.: “I wonder what happens next?…”).

Use comparative titles if you wish, but avoid comparisons of your work to big franchises, such as Harry Potter, Twilight, Dan Brown, etc.

With picture book queries, a little specific text helps.

Also, in the second and third paragraphs, offer the manuscript’s genre, proposed age group, and word count. (This information can be located in a different section of the query, but just make sure to include it!)

Write a brief two to three sentence bio that is fun and not fabricated.

The closing paragraph ideally contains any last thougths to make oneself memorable.

Most importantly, stick to each agent’s exact submission guidelines; every agent’s are different. And your killer query will make the right connection, and a great agent/author relationship is formed.

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Ellen Raskin is an artist and writer currently working on a picture book.

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