So, you have finished your novel, edited it to death, and written your pitch and synopsis, what is next? Writing your letter to an agent is up there with the super important stuff. It is the very first thing they will read from you and first impressions count. This week’s column follows on from writing your pitch and synopsis with some articles and podcasts that offer guidance and tips to take into account when writing a letter to an agent.
Anna Davis from Curtis Brown shares 15 tips on how to make your letter stand out from the rest. She advises you to keep it short, three paragraphs are enough: 1. Pitch your novel; 2. A bit about you; 3. Why you have chosen this particular agent. It is important to be professional, avoid bragging, and be focused – don’t pitch more than one novel in your letter.
This article emphasises the importance of making sure your letter is specifically written to that agent. Don’t use a generic one. Keep it simple: one page, easily readable font, normal margins. It tells you not to go into too much detail about your novel as the detail is already in your attached synopsis. Make sure you include the genre and the sort of books you see your novel sitting alongside in a bookshop. Be sure to flag up anything that shows how seriously you take your writing.
All agents, whether they bother with your manuscript or synopsis, will read the covering letter. So make the effort. Short, concise points to consider are shared in this article from Writers and Artists, including some helpful words of advice from a literary agent, Simon Trewin. He advises that life is too short and less is more. Make sure you put the letter aside for a few days – distance is a great editor. This article also provides a case study of a letter.
New York Book Editors tell us that your query letter is more important than the novel you have written. The letter stands between you and your publishing dreams. In essence, a query letter is a marketing page that talks up your book without overselling it. This article shares a formula to follow with examples from published novels. It advises you to only have 3 short paragraphs, use short sentences, and to use a similar tone to your narrative. Make sure you follow the submission guidelines of each agent. Be prepared to send out a lot of query letters and don’t be disheartened by rejection. Even the best have been rejected: J.K. Rowling, Agatha Christie, and Stephen Fry to name a few.
A query letter needs to have 4 elements: the housekeeping – genre, word count, and working title; the hook; bio note; and thank you and closing. Jane Friedman explains each element and provides examples.
This article from Reedsy advises you to follow 7 simple steps to write your letter. It explains the step-by-step process, including the all-important hook, personalising your letter so that it stands out from other queries, and be sure to proofread your work.
It is always handy to get advice from an actual agency that receives hundreds of cover letters each week. Blue Pencil Agency shares a rough template to follow: Tell the agent about your novel, tell them about you, and consider the tone. The article also shares some common issues in previously submitted cover letters that you can learn from.
Best-selling author, Sam Blake, shares her tips in this helpful article. She tells you to ensure the letter is more about the book than you. Be succinct. Use one pitch for one book, no need to mention others at this stage. Follow the submission guidelines to a T.
In this short podcast, Scribendi talks about using a business format in your query letter, and about the importance of having a good hook.
What is a query letter and what do you put in it? These two questions are discussed in this podcast by Writers Group Therapy.
In this podcast from Author Life, practical tips for writing a query letter that will make the process less overwhelming and help you craft a compelling letter are shared.
The host, Nicole Rivera, shares her query letter on this podcast. She discusses what she has learnt on query construction and uses her letter as a template to describe the various building blocks of a good query letter.
Writing your query letter is one of the necessary steps to take in order to get published, so lots of practice and taking your time in crafting it is important. If you find you are getting rejections it may not always be that the agent didn’t like your novel but maybe that they didn’t read your novel because they were put off by your query letter. Give it a tweak before sending it back out into the world. I am leaving you with one big reminder: make your letter personal to each agent you query. I hope you have found this week’s column useful. As always, get in touch if you have any topics you would like me to cover.
(c) Lucy O’Callaghan