Thursday, May 21, 2009

Query Letter Connection

Hi Everybody,

As promised in my last post, I have some information to share from last year's Backspace Writer's Conference on writing query letters. Since I am focused on fiction, these notes are specific to fiction queries. There are a couple of general items that apparently happen quite frequently. One is that the query letter is titled Dear Sir/Madam or some other generic format. Agents prefer to be addressed individually and although it's fine to query more than one agent at an agency, it is best to query only one at a time.

The second point is to research the agents preferences for submissions. Their preferences vary. Some want only the query letter, others prefer to also have a certain number of pages of manuscript as well. Most agents now accept email submissions and some only email submissions but it's always good to check. I always start with the agency's web site for genres they represent and and then also There are some great sites to gain information about agents and the types of work they represent. These sites often also include submission requirements. I always check The Association of Author Representatives at as well as Publisher's Marketplace at

Often, if you write in a particular genre there will be an organization of writers in that specialty which will include lists of agents. For example, Romance Writers of America has a list of agents representing romance.

The agents who spoke at last year's conference varied to a degree in what catches their eye in a query letter, but there were a some general themes that stood out. First, state up front what your genre and word count is. Then, succintly describe the novel. Here is where your writing style needs to shine. I've heard people say this section of the letter should sound similar to back cover copy. It needs to catch the agent with not only the content, but the strength of the writing. They also often said no 'What would happen if' statements and if there's humor in the book, reflect it in the summary.

It is helpful to include a brief statement about your previous experience as a writer if it is applicable. For example, I included the titles of my two novels but not specifics about the medical writing I have done beyond a brief statement I have expertise in that area. If you have expertise in the area about which you are writing, this is great to add. For example, horse people writing equestrian fiction write compelling narrative because they've lived it.

Well, folks, I'll be flying to New York next week to sit in front of between 12 and 18 agents. I'll post their comments on the query letter when we get back. They say to be prepared for open, honest feedback. Okay, here I go...



mugwump said...

Thanks Mary. This is helpful advice. Good luck with the agents...are you nervous?

Mary Paine said...


I"m not really nervous. I think of it as a business opportunity, sort of like an interview. Whenever I've gone into an interview, I've certainly wanted to put my best foot forward, but I was also evaluating the people and the organization to decide if it would be a good fit for me.

Of course, if I hear I have tons of work still to do on my query letter I'll have a few sad moments, but I'll dust myself off and get back on that horse. : )