Monday, 20 August 2007

The ultimate query letter?

Literary agents are a picky bunch.

We all know a manuscript has to have the best opening sentence ever, and deliver an intriguing plot on page one, in a genre which the agent believes might be the Next Big Thing. A hopeful author will, of course, also need a snappy synopsis that makes the agent rush to read more.

Now, alerted by my friend Alan, I realize this is not enough; one also has to have the perfect query letter.

I have downloaded How to Write a Great Query Letter by Noah Lukeman, and am halfway through reading it. Some of the advice is common sense; don't use cheap or coloured paper, or an unusual font, don't write more than a page. He has some useful insider knowledge, having been an agent himself for many years; apparently, it is a convention in the publishing industry that book titles are set in caps; 'This alone can signal a pro'.

Some advice, though, is kin to my daughter's superstition that for exam success, it's as well to wear spotty socks, and the brighter the spots the better. Using A4 paper is bad, for example; it needs to be 8 1/2 x 11 inches. Can this be true?

I have now got to the nitty-gritty about what to put in my Three Paragraphs (you're only allowed three) and there's still seventy pages to go.

I know what I'm going to be doing over the next month.

Here is one of my favourite quotes, from Nerve, by Dick Francis. The hero is talking about what he learnt from his mother, a pianist;

'Professionalism, for instance; a tough-minded singleness of purpose; a refusal to be content with a low standard when a higher one could be achieved merely by working'.


  1. The A4 vs 8x11 may be a US thing.

    It may be moot soon.

    The agency I have been asked to send my first four chapters to does all of their submissions within the email message.

  2. Speaking of agents, "Pink Belly" got its inaugural form letter of disinterest courtesy of the Dystel/Goderich agency.

    Like Norm sez, an increasing number of agencies are accepting queries over e-mail. Saves them the flood of paper, saves you some postage costs, and, in at least some cases, reduces tremendously the time period it takes to receive a rejection.

    Or "Send more IMMEDIATELY!", which is even better.

  3. Hi guys,

    You're up at last. Myself, I've been awake for hours, busy, busy, busy. Teatime soon.

    Hardly any agents here accept email submissions, and it's difficult to understand why. It must be so much easier to deal with - just a few clicks, and you've sent a form rejection and deleted the pesky botherer.

    No wrestling with unstable heaps of manuscripts, or trips to queue in the post office.

    It makes you think they haven't caught up with this century yet.

    (Bitter? Resentful? Carping? Moi?)

  4. I am up. Alert? Hardly.

    I'm not sure I like the email trend. I like the feel of paper. Although, too much paper dries out the hands. Mary works with tonnes of paper and must constantly moisturize.

  5. Oh, and the industrial paper cuts...oh, the horror, the horror.

  6. Well, it's nice to think that one's manuscript might bite back before it's recycled.

    How did you get the dinky picture of you and your trusty tree on to your comments?

  7. To get the picture, go to the SIGN IN radio button in the upper right, click it, and pick "Edit Profile."

    Then, in "Photograph" you need to enter a URl, such as, oh I don't know, but in your case it could be:

  8. Hmm...not sure this is it...

  9. No but those are pictures. Where's the Spotty Leopard.

  10. My pictures don't have an url - I tried opening it on the internet, but it didn't work.

    Any ideas?

  11. Remember that US query letters and UK cover letters are different beasts, Lexi.

    In case you don't know (if you do just ignore me!) - for the UK you just need a bland covering letter to go with your synopsis and sample chapters. Much easier than doing the whole query letter thing that US agents like to torture innocent authors with...

    I like the crow picture. It is a crow, isn't it?

  12. Your pictures do have a URL. Try putting your cursor on the object and right-clicking (PC) or using the control key (Mac). That will reveal the "properties" of the image. The URL is one of the properties.

  13. Ha! Thanks, Norm. Though I had to detour to Photobucket to get it...

    It is a crow. I like crows. but I hope I'm now back to the old spotty leopard.

  14. Photobucket was awful - loads of popups to delete after my visit, too. I shall not be going back.

    But it did the trick.