During August, we on Aussie Owned are talking all things ‘pitching’, and Rebecca and I will be tackling how to take on a query letter.
There is SO much advice out there it can be hard to know where to start, but if you are planning on the traditional publishing route, you WILL need a query letter and it WILL need to be a good one.
Because every agent/editor/reader is different, they all have different preferences, so below are a few pointers that seem like the safest way to go. Heather has also included an example query letter that was successful in gaining her agent’s attention.
Stick to the main story arc
Yes, your story is unique because of the multiple storylines and details you have worked meticulously to craft. We wouldn’t expect any less. Problem is, try and push more than the main storyline, and possibly one sub-plot, and you’ve lot your audience. The whole letter will read like one gigantic mess of problems.
Stick to the main characters
Your query should be written about your MC and their main conflict. If there are other characters that directly impact either the MC or the main storyline, it is okay to mention them. But no one else. No one needs to know the MC’s sister’s boyfriend’s name. Don’t create character soup, you want your reader to connect with your MC, not get confused by side characters. A good rule of thumb is no more than three characters mentioned by name. Usually (especially for YA) this would be your MC, your love interest, and your antagonist.
Write in third person
What’s that? But you want to be super creative and write your query letter from your MC’s POV because the book is from their POV and doesn’t it make more sense?! No. Resist. Keep it clean. Stand out with great writing, not some fancy gimmick.
Aren’t they great? Don’t they open up a world of possibility? Isn’t a life or death choice the best way to start?
Every rhetorical question can be written stronger as a statement, and some agents are so sick of seeing them they can lead to an auto-pass. Don’t risk it.
Try and limit your letter to between 250-350 words. You should have a solid paragraph or two about the story, and one that mentions genre, word count, TITLE, and any qualifications you have to write the book. This summary paragraph can either go at the beginning or the end as it differs depending on the reader, just make sure to include it.
DO be friendly and show personality
DON’T be too creepy and over-the-top
DO mention WHY you are querying that certain agent/editor so they can see you’ve done your research
DON’T follow up unless guidelines specifically mention an always-reply policy, and in that case, only do so after at least a six week timeframe
It is important to keep in mind that not every query letter will be perfect, and some that get attention are the ones that break the rules. But it’s highly recommended that if you are going to break the rules, you need to be pro at following them first.
A well-written query letter can only increase your chances that whoever you’re pitching will read on to the opening pages. Which we all know is where the magic starts.
The following query letter was probably rewrite number 134.7. It isn’t perfect, but it’s clean, got to the point, and held enough interest for agents to read on.
Michelle Hodkins’ MARA DYER series meets Kate Brian’s PRIVATE in this YA Dark Urban Fantasy about a girl who goes to a boarding school for teens with superhuman abilities. Once there, she must confront her own dangerous powers, her psychotic father, and a scandalous, forbidden romance.
Gifted with special powers, seventeen-year-old Jenna Rose is unique. She can adopt and subvert the supernatural gifts of those around her. Unfortunately, her father has the same ability—and it’s pushed him to the brink of insanity.
In an attempt to escape his psychotic rage, Jenna and her family flee to Delford Valley, a place that coaches and protects Majesties—people like her. Christian pushes Jenna into the school spotlight, and she is torn between wanting to smack the smug out of him, and helping him fight the conformist shackles of his rigid, royal family.
As Jenna learns to develop and control her powers, she finds her sanity being pushed to the edge. Dreams and illusions so real they nearly kill her begin to manifest, testing her perception of reality. And when another severed doll’s head shows up—her father’s calling card—Jenna must make a choice: either flee the Valley and leave Christian behind forever; or face her father once and for all, and risk losing what’s left of her sanity.
ILLUSION OF A MAJESTY is a Young Adult dark urban fantasy with series potential, complete at 75,700 words. It features an unreliable narrator and teens with X-MEN-style abilities.
I am currently a blogger with Aussie Owned and Read. This is my first novel.
Thank you for your consideration.
Rebecca is busy planning the release of her debut novel, Enchanting the Fey, for later this year
Heather is rep’d by Carrie Howland of Donadio and Olsen