A 3-part series by the agents at Andrea Hurst Literary Management
So you’re writing a query letter? Well, let’s talk about the guts of it, the middle part of a good three-part query. A good phrase to remember is the three-part rule of any query letter: The Hook, The Book, and The Cook that Michael Larsen talks about. I’ll be tackling The Book section, as this is where I often see the most mistakes made in letters.
You’ve written your book, and now you have to sum it up. You’ve already revealed your hook, so now, you got to sell me, and as an agent, my time is fleeting. Remember, any agent’s inbox is probably full the brim with email queries, if they are accepting open submissions, so you have to stand out, and in a good way. So what SHOULDN’T you put in? Well, don’t put the entire synopsis in, nor drop a chapter, because both are demanding the agent read them to figure out what your book is about, and when they have a stack of emails and snail mail sitting on the desk, what do you think they are going to do: read your unsolicited synopsis and chapters, or delete it for the next one. Assume the second answer for safety. If we want either, we will ask. Instead, imagine you are pitching your book to me in person, and you have 30 seconds to sell it, now, what do you say? What details are important to know, which are better off left out, and what do you need to omit to make me ask, “I have to read this”, and you will be surprised how small this section gets.
A paragraph, maybe a little longer, and that is all the room you get. Ever read the back flaps of books? That is a good model, it hits you with the important details of the plot, the primary characters, what the conflict is, but it suggest the bigger questions but doesn’t say them. There is a struggle; something is going to happen, but what? You tease, you hint, you suggest, but you don’t spell it out, because you want the agent to say “ok, I want to know” and then the request goes out. The query is a distilled down version of your book, and is sometimes quite painful to create. You may think we have to know something, but you must step outside yourself and ask “but do they really? Is this what they have to know or is it what I think they need to know.” Go with need, and save the “have to know” for the synopsis.
And remember, above all else, this one important rule: the publishing world is a business, full of professionals, so treat your query letter with professionalism