The Perfect Query Letter

Girl on Writing

by Elizabeth Conte

The Query. The word can either make a writer squeal with joy, or screech in fear when they reach this point. This point. The place where the novel is finished, critiqued, edited, and ready to send off into the world of agents.

The Perfect Query Letter

According to Jane Friedman, the query has one purpose: “To seduce the agent or editor into reading or requesting your work.” But is there a perfect strategy to accomplish this?

I was in search of the perfect query letter. I thought, if I just inserted my own words into the format, I was assured success. After researching hundreds of queries, I didn’t find the “perfect” query. Queries that touted to win over agents were as different as were the stories they told. No one was ideal. If it worked, it was because it was ideal for that story. But my story–voice, style, writing–was different.

Everyone Is An Expert

There are one-day seminars, 12-week courses, blogs written by agents, advice by experienced writers, and webinars by published authors who want to impart their wisdom about query writing. Aspiring writers wanting to know, desperate to learn, the inside scoop. But is the money and time well spent?

Learn Craft Basics

There are good queries, and bad queries. Queries that are boring, and some a must read. Queries that follow the perfect format, or break all the rules. There’s no method, no perfect format, no one way that is right. But there are basics for all queries no matter what story they tell: They must be well written, follow the guidelines of the agent/agency, and concisely explain the premise. Ultimately, a query should explain in less than 300 words, who, what, when, where, and why.

Tastes Are Subjective

Tastes of agents vary, and they change from day to day, from book to book. You may write exactly the same type of cozy mystery as the agent represents, but then receive a rejection citing it isn’t the right fit for her. An agent may post that she is seeking a one-eyed, brown-haired girl, traveling to West India with a cat named Tooter, to discover rare bowls of an ancient alien civilization. You may have that story, down to the name of the cat! Yet, the agent says, “I just didn’t feel connected.”

There are very clear reason why an agent will reject a query: wrong genre, poorly written, addressed incorrectly, and disregard for the agent’s/agency guidelines. Don’t set yourself up for failure. Learn the basic do’s and don’ts. After that, rejections come in all shapes and sizes. There is no formula. There is no secret. There is no perfect query.

Luck Of The Draw

The publishing industry is tough. It’s hard work and requires improving your craft each and every day. It’s about learning, and trying new methods and strategies. It’s about putting yourself out there to critics, editors, and fellow writers–to be knocked down to your knees, as well as, being held up by encouragement. It’s about finding your purpose, and pulling it out of you in spite of it all.

But it’s also about luck. Luck when an agent found the name of your character enticing because she had a childhood dog with the same name. Luck when the agent took a cooking class of the culture you are writing about and connected. Or luck when the agent had a spare moment to read your perfected query and loved it!

Unfortunately, there are no controls, webinars, or craft books to help with luck. So, in the meantime, until your luck comes along, follow the guidelines and write the query that is right for you.

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Elizabeth Conte

Elizabeth Conte

When I am not writing books, tormented with poetry, or inspiring others with my blog at Writerdeeva.com, you can find some of my work published in Lost Coast Review and PennWriters, and I am a regular editor/contributor to Industry News for Women’s Fiction Writers Association (WFWA).

3 thoughts on “The Perfect Query Letter

  1. Sometimes it feels that way! I am working on an article just about that: Querying and Landing An Agent: Myth or Fact. More to come…

  2. As I’m immersed in query hell right now, your post couldn’t have been timed better. Not only did I not win the Powerball but I’ve earned a few rejections already. Now to find an agent who had a significant ‘Jean’ in her life who may or may not have murdered someone. Thanks!

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