Monday, January 30, 2012

How To Write An Unsolicited Query Letter

On Friday, I submitted my first novel to an agent. While this act does not make me an author, it does bring me a step closer to that goal. I've reached the the longest of the six requirements outlined in my Writing Is Hard entry. I must wait. I have no idea how long to expect for a response. If this were a normal case of an unsolicited query letter, I'd expect five to six months, possibly a year. In this case, the agent had indicated she was out of unsolicited queries and was requesting more. Hopefully, this puts me near the top of the pile and will give me only a couple of months of waiting.

Sending a query letter was a process. I've never done one before, and I can't be completely certain I did this correctly. What I can tell you is that the internet is full of conflicting advice. I used several different resources on the internet to piecemeal together my final query letter.

What is an Unsolicited Query Letter?
A query letter is a letter outlining your interest in publishing your novel and information about the novel you'd like to see published. Most query letters will be unsolicited; that is to say, query letters that were not directly requested by the agent or editor. In my case, I was made aware of an agent looking for submissions. This was still an unsolicited query letter. She asked for submissions, but did not ask ME for submissions.

Step 1. Outline Your Story
This step is listed first because it can be completed long before you should be hunting down an agent or writing a query letter. If you write your stories by outline, this step should have been completed long ago. If you are a pantster, I recommend doing this during a read through of your novel. Break the story down into chapters and outline the major events of each chapter. This will be a reference later. You can skip this step, but I recommend against it. I got this tip from Writing World.

Step 2. Determine the Agent/Editor's Submission Guidelines
Every editor and agent is going to be different. Be certain you check what they prefer before you send an unsolicited query letter. These guidelines are your first in. You are being told exactly what they want for information. Figure it out. Find what they want. Search around. Ask. Trust me when I say that this is for the better. I couldn't find two articles online that agreed on how you should do a query letter otherwise.

Step 3. Write the Components
The best I can figure out, there are three parts to most query letters. You have your initial query, the story synopsis, and your writing excerpt.

Step 3, Part 1: Hook, Mini-Synopsis, and Biography
My research in query letters led me to a site that defines them as being three paragraphs long and a single page. This page does contain information that should be included in any submission. You need to have information on your hook, you need to have a mini-synopsis, and you should include a biography. I recommend going with the advice I linked earlier in the paragraph. However, for the hook, you do have a bit more flexibility (or at least, so I've been told). The hook doesn't have to be a one-sentence summary of your story. It can be a statement as to why you think your story should be published. In the case of my query, I pointed out that fairy tales are in and that the story will do well in the current market.

Step 3, Part 2: The Synopsis
If the agent or editor you are submitting to wants a synopsis, now is the time to write it. Do not use the outline you wrote in Step 1. You will instead be using that outline to aid you in writing your synopsis. The agent I submitted to was looking for two pages double spaced. That left me little room to work with. I had to condense it and still allow the story carry through. My first draft of my synopsis was two and a half pages long. I rewrote the synopsis twice. In the end, I felt my synopsis hit the important elements.

One trick that I found useful during the two page synopsis was eliminating minor characters. It takes a sentence to explain how the minor character interacted with my main character and I spent another sentence explaining why it was connected to the plot. By eliminating as many minor characters as I could, I was able to put down a more concise synopsis.

Step 3, Part 3: The Excerpt
Find the excerpt you are using for you query. Copy and paste it into a new document. Have a friend or a loved one read it over. Read it over again. Read it out loud. Make sure it is free of any grammatical issues. Make sure it is captivating. Read it once more to be absolutely certain. The first two parts of your query are where you sell your skills at plotting and making a book that an editor/agent wants. This third part is where you have to sell your skills at writing.

Step 4: Put Together the Email
Never send attachments. If you refuse to not send an attachment, save your document in a Microsoft Word format unless they specify otherwise. Even if you send an attachment, be sure to include the text in the body of your email. I used hyphen breaks to make it easier to find each section of the email. Make sure you include a greeting in the front and to thank them at the end.

Step 5 – 999998: Build Up the Courage to Click Send
I'm not going to lie here. I had a very hard time clicking send. I closed my eyes, listened to the music that was playing. Ironically, it was my favorite song, Army of Love by Kerli. When I had convinced myself that this was the next logical step for me, I clicked send. My eyes were still closed at the time.

Step 999999: Click Send.
Click Send. Reward yourself with something. You've earned it.

Step +1

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