Query Letters Part 3: Everything Else
OK! We’re almost wrapped up with our Query Letter Coverage TM here at Agents and Books, and today we’re going to cover a bunch of odds and ends. In more or less no particular order!
Comp titles and X meets Y comparisons:
SO. Lots of agents will tell you that you should definitely have comparable titles (i.e. books like yours by other people) and/or X meets Y comparisons in your query letter—and you should! If you have a good one. If you do not have a good one, do not reach for one, or include a bad one, or mash up two best sellers and hope it works. Your book is probably not like Harry Potter, The Da Vinci Code, The Hunger Games, 50 Shades of Gray, or any other mega-mega-best-selling book, because those are outliers. Almost no books sell like that, and it is statistically unlikely yours would, too. If it does, we will throw a parade for it, but there’s almost no way to predict it now, especially at the query letter stage. But, if your book is Back to the Future but with dinosaurs, or You’ve Got Mail but with carrier pigeons, or for fans of The Guernesy Potato Peel whatever whatever Society book, then put that. Don’t say something because it will impress the reader; say it because it’s true. Yes, you can use movies.
You can put these more or less anywhere it makes sense in your query letter. There is no right or wrong way to include them. They are not a strict requirement.
Follow them. Period. Yes, they are annoying. Yes, they are different for every agent. Yes, we do it just to annoying writers. (That’s not true, actually.) But yes, you HAVE to follow them. You are not the exception to any rule. Nope, not even you.
Paste when it says paste. (We know you can’t double space an email; it’s ok.) Attach when it says attach. (Default to .doc files, but .pdf is ok, too). If it doesn’t specificy, be reasonable. If an agent says ATTACHMENTS WILL BE DELETED, then, uh, don’t attach your manuscript. If an agent says include the first three chapters, but you don’t use chapters, include about 30-40 pages. It’s ok to include to page 49 if that’s a good stoping point. UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES INCLUDE NON-CONSECUTIVE CHAPTERS. Even if Ch. 18 is your best one. No one reads a book out of order. It will make no sense to the agent. If it asks for multiple chapters, put them all in one file. Adding the word “Query” in your subject line is helpful. You do not need to put your own name there, because that already shows up in my inbox. All this applies to email queries, of course. Only do snail mail queries if allowed by the agent. (I throw snail mail queries in the recycling.) Submission guidelines aren’t there to trip you up. They are there to provide agents with the information they need to make a decision. Different agents need different things.
Some agents stress including some personalization in your query letters, indicating that you are querying them for a specific reason. This is a good idea. Personally, I don’t care if it’s not there, but it’s a nice thing if it is there. If you say, and mean it, that you read my client’s book and loved it and you think yours is similar, then great. Put that in there. But if you’re querying 25 agents, are you really going to read 25 books and will there be 25 specific books that apply to your book? No. Probably not. You can also say something like I’m reaching out because I see that you represent a lot of YA. Great! That’s true. But I know I rep a lot of YA. What you’re doing there is tipping your hat to say I did my homework, promise and that’s ok. But it doesn’t sway the tide for me, either way. The very, very generic “personalizations” that say I see from your website that you represent works in my genre, without even mentioning the genre, are just lazy, imho. Better to not put anything than something lazy.
If you met me at a conference, if you were referred by a client or a colleague (A person I know, not just someone who’s heard my name), if I’ve previously requested your work before—mention that for sure. If you follow me on Twitter, or subscribe here, it’s ok to mention that, but again, it doesn’t make you more likely to get picked (or rejected). Don’t get creepy and mention specific tweets or personal details you may have learned about me—I may read your query weeks after that tweet and it’ll be weird. NEVER, NEVER, NEVER mention an agent’s physical appearance. Don’t say “You have such a pretty smile I just know you’re the right agent for me.” NO NO NO NO NO. That is creepy and inappropriate and I don’t want that dynamic in my work life. (You think I’m kidding? It’s happened on more than one occasion.) If you wouldn’t say it to your boss, don’t say it to an agent.
Closing Your Query:
Sign off your query with any appropriate information. You may say something like: "Please find attached my first three chapters. This is a multiple submission. I look forward to hearing from you.”
BOOM. Done. That’s it. I’m always going to assume it’s a multiple submission (don’t query one agent at a time! Make us compete for you!). There’s no magic incantation to end your query that will make me sign you up. Include any contact information you would like to give. I’m 100% going to email you back first, not call you out of the blue.
I know queries are stressful to write. It feels like your one and only shot to get an agent. It is, but it also isn’t. There are many agents. You will likely write more than one book. Play the long game.
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