Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Q is for Query

Let's say you've written a novel. (Congratulations! W00t!) What do you do next? Well, next, you start querying. You can query agents or editors, the process is the same and, frankly, the query letter is the same. I'll give you the specifics in a minute.

What if you want to self-publish your novel in electronic and/or print-on-demand (POD) format? Go for it! In that case, you get to skip the querying process. W00t! :)

Before you begin the query process, you have to decide if you're looking for an agent or an editor. Do you want a literary agent? Or do you want to go straight to the publisher yourself? There are important genre considerations here. Traditionally, for example, many romance publishers enjoyed working directly with authors. Like the rest of the economy, however, publishers have been under pressure, so go agent-less at your own risk. Certainly, agents claim they bring a lot to the table. Former agent, Nathan Bransford, has a lot of info, e.g. "What Do Literary Agents Do?", on the subject on his blog.

The first step in finding an agent or editor is research. There are a ton of resources on the web. For agents, for example, there's, Query Tracker, AAR, and Absolute Write--all free. You need to find an agent or editor who deals with your specific genre and who will accept your query. Always double-check their website to find out what their submission requirements are. You should never pay money up front (unelss you're self-publishing). You should check Writer Beware and Preditors and Editors for scams.

The second step in the query process is The Letter. I strongly recommend you utilize the following concepts in your three paragraph letter:

  1. Opening with specific agent/editor name
  2. Paragraph 1:
    • something specifically relating your work to the agent or editor
    • the title, genre, and word-count of your novel (notice your novel must be finished to have a word-count!)
    • something unique about your work, how your work is special

  3. Paragraph 2: a one paragraph synopsis of your novel, including the ending. This should be in present verb tense and should illstrate the voice or tone of your novel, e.g. funny, quirky, scary, serious,etc.
  4. Paragraph 3:
    • a short bio of the author, this should include previous publishing credits (if any), memberships in national writing organizations, national awards, writing degrees and things relevant to the novel. For example, if you are a psychic waitress living in Louisiana and your protag is a psychic waitress living in Lousiana, include this info. On the other hand, if you've been divorced three times and there's no divorce in your novel, don't include this info.
    • Info about any enclosures or attachments
    • Thanks

  5. Closing, including contact information

Paragraph 2 is by far the trickiest part. I would give it a try and let your critique partners pick it apart. Dr. Nicole Peeler posted the evolution of her selling query letter: Dr. Peeler Does Querying!. IMHO, her letter isn't perfect (e.g. she mentioned it was her first novel) But this is good! It means your letter doesn't have to be perfect. :) Phew.

The final step is, of course, sending off your query letter...

Good luck!

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