Have I done this before? I sure hope not, but with a memory like mine-and a disinclination for actually looking it up-we’ll never know.
Anyway! One of my internet friends is querying right now, which made me think of my time querying, at the end of 2016. So, just in case it’s helpful for other people, here’s The Query Letter That Got Me An Agent, and the breakdown of how I wrote it.
Dear Ms. Dowdle,
I saw in an interview you did with Writer’s Digest that we share a love of cozy mysteries, so I am sending my manuscript for your consideration. Kiss Kiss of Death is a 65,000-word cozy mystery set at an anime convention. The point of view is third-person limited, following the protagonist.
Stella McKinney has only been a full-time webcomic writer for a year, but she has a pretty good idea of how a weekend convention should go. She and her boyfriend Kurt will spend three days at a booth in Artist Alley selling books and merch to promote their webcomic Steam Gal. In between sales, they’ll run a couple panels, visit with friends, and enjoy the costumes, shows, and other entertainments Kiss Kiss has to offer. Unfortunately, Stella’s plans for the weekend are interrupted when she discovers the body of one of the convention headliners.
When one of the suspects becomes a little too enamored with her friend, Stella is determined to uncover the killer before anyone else gets hurt. But with the convention only open until Sunday, she has to hurry, or someone’s going to get away with murder.
I am a member of the Sisters in Crime writer’s organization and a regular attendee of fandom conventions, particularly those focused on Harry Potter or anime. My geek credentials include cosplaying as “Don’t call me Nymphadora” Tonks and a season pass to my local renaissance festival.
If you are interested in seeing the manuscript I can be reached at [my phone number] or at [my professional email address]. Thank you for your time; I hope to hear from you soon.
The first thing I did while querying was read everything I could find on how to query. Since the rules are probably slightly different for every genre, that’s where I recommend you start too. Just read everything, even if it’s only a little bit different from the last thing you read. Eventually, if your brain is like mine, you’ll start putting together what’s actually important. Here’s what I ended up taking as my rules.
- Address it to the agent you’re writing to. Saying “Dear sir or madam” or “Dear agent” is a quick way to guarantee you’re going into the trash without them reading any farther. An agent is someone you’re going to work closely with for, hopefully, a long time so they want to feel like you actually want them, not just anyone.
- If at all possible, make your first paragraph something that connects you to them. This actually wasn’t my strongest connection- that would be an agent that a publishing friend recommended to me. So for him, I put that in the first section. He ultimately rejected me, but that personal relationship got me a full manuscript read.
- The summary of your manuscript should have your protagonist, the core plotline, and be an example of the voice you’ve written the story in. It’s been over a year, so I can’t exactly break down how this is put together, but the resources I picked here do a good job of explaining how and why you should write it.
- Finally, a little snippet about yourself that details your credentials (what makes you the right person to write this book), any professional connections you have, what makes you a salable author for this genre.
Of course, the query letter is only the first step in your query. Every agent has a different preference for how you approach them. Many agents want comp, or comparable, titles, something I found really tough. Luckily, I’ve got a friend who knows everything there is to know about publishing in my genre.
This is the Google Drive spreadsheet that I used to keep track of my querying. (I mentioned I put a lot of research and work into this process, right?) You can see the agent, which agency she’s with (her own, as it happens), and how to get in touch with her. The notes section was important, because I used that to store info I gleaned from interviews around the web that might be useful as well as authors that she represents that I thought were similar enough to what I wrote to be comps or were authors I really admired. The “Response Time” section was important to me because I’m an anxious mess and knowing that it might take three months for her to get back to me meant I could put off worrying about that rejection until then. Dawn’s line is in pink because I had sent my query packet off to her. Agents that I hadn’t queried yet are still in white.
All the information in my spreadsheet was freely available on the internet. Before I even thought about sending out a query letter (email) I found everything I could about Dawn. What are her favorite books, who she represents, what she looks for in particular in a manuscript. Anything that might make me a good fit for her, and vice versa, was noted and analyzed.
Now, I got INCREDIBLY lucky. Dawn was one of the first queries I sent out because she was one of my very top choices. (I sent out a total of three in this first batch, keeping it small and manageable.) She got back to me within a few days and before I could blink, I had a stellar agent working with me. Querying is usually a much longer and more rejection-filled process, as evidenced by her “three month” response time.
Besides the crucial role of an agent as the gatekeeper and go-between for aspiring authors and the publishing world, they also act as an ego boost, and a life vest for you. When you’re smacking your head against your writing, or you receive another submission rejection, you know that there’s a publishing professional who thought that your work was worth banking on. That you’re a good writer. That you’re going to get published, if they just knock on enough doors. When you need a pep talk, or a kick in the butt, your agent is there for you.
So hopefully this is helpful to someone out there in the querying hinterlands, if only as a reminder that you’re not alone and to never give up, never surrender! Your dream agent is out there, waiting for your manuscript to hit their inbox.