If you’re an author trying to go the traditional publishing route, you’ll need a literary agent. And to get a literary agent, you’ll need a query letter.
So what is a query letter? It’s essentially a one-page cover letter for your manuscript. It’s NOT the synopsis – many agents will ask for that as well, and make sure you don’t make the rookie mistake (ahem, Tallie one year ago, ahem) of thinking that query and synopsis are the same thing.
I’m notoriously bad at pitches. My two minute elevator speech is more like twenty five. I was always the kid in school that went over the essay maximum page limit. So the idea of cramming my novel into an eye-catching one page felt like it was going to be the end of the road, before I was even officially on the road.
But fear not. After my own research, I realized it’s not actually that hard. And after lots of practice, I was able to cram my own into a concise page without sacrificing any content.
The first part of your query should hook the agent in. It should introduce the title of your manuscript, and give a kick ass first sentence that secures the reader’s attention. Make SURE you address it to the specific agent you’re querying, otherwise they’ll immediately trash it. It’s great to give us a taste of your protagonist and the conflict that will define your book as soon as possible. In your second query paragraph, you get to write that dreaded mini-synopsis. Yep, the paragraph equivalent of an elevator speech. Try to approach this by thinking of everything you wish you could have crammed into your opening sentence, but couldn’t. You can cram it in here! Strategically, of course. When in doubt, write everything you think you need to have in this paragraph, and then mercilessly cut the excess. This will be hard, but just remember that you’re not cutting anything from your actual book (yet). Put your critic glasses on and m=be real with yourself, knowing that it is entirely possible to come up with a paragraph synopsis. Somehow, somewhere, people have done it over and over again, and you are about to join the ranks of the mighty.
Your third paragraph is a little author bio. You’re done with the hard stuff and now you just get to talk about yourself! Yay! Mention where you went to college (grad school if acceptable), and why you had to write this book, if applicable. It’s also a place to flesh yourself out as a living breathing human person to your prospective agents. Throw in a little fun fact, perhaps! Keep in mind that an agent isn’t just signing a book, but they’re signing you as a client and they’ll want to get along with you and believe in you even more than you do.
After this, remember to give a little closing thank you note, and include your phone number in your signature. Nothing is worse than an agent wanting to contact you but not readily having the information to do so.
Now boom! You’ve written a query letter! Look at you go!! You’re ready to start hawking your soul to the wide world of literary agents. But don’t worry, they’re a largely friendly group of people who love reading and want to love your book. Now sit back, relax, write something else, and wait for the interest or rejection e-mails.
I’ve attached my query letter below for comparison. Cheers!
Dear Ms. __________,
Mason Radley, a seventeen-year-old boy on the spectrum, developed schizophrenia after his twin sister, Maisie (aka “M”), died in a hiking accident. Plagued with guilt, frustration, and a completely unraveled social life, Mason cannot imagine refuge from the imaginary companions he’s collected.
Until he is enrolled in a homeschool group with two other peers, including the mysterious and charming Olivia Overly. With Olivia’s help, Mason begins exploring new interests and ideas- including bug collecting, horror movies, and untranslatable words- that help distract him from a seemingly otherwise doomed existence.
However, when M herself comes back into the picture as a voice in Mason’s mind, he starts to worry that getting close to Olivia is causing him to forget his sister altogether. Mason has the choice to get better with Olivia, or hang on to the last piece of M he has left.
M is a contemporary YA novel complete at 76,000 words. I am an NYU graduate, currently working with BEDLAM and InViolet theatre companies. M is my debut novel, with another currently in progress. Thank you so much for your time and consideration!
BookHive does beta reader editorial research for authors in Fiction (all kinds), YA/Middle Grade and Memoir. $699 for 8-10 beta readers; $1099 for 16-18 readers. The results are a 35+ page report full of both qualitative and quantitative feedback. www.bookhivecorp.com
Tallie Gabriel is an actor, writer, and BookHive social media maven. She’s a member of InViolet Theatre and Artistic Assossiate of BEDLAM Theatre in NYC.