Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Tips for Writing an Ineffective Query Letter

1. Remember in Legally Blonde when Elle Wood printed her application out on pink paper and spritzed it with her personal scent? You should totally do this. It gives your query letter that extra razzle-dazzle to make it stand out from the endless collection of queries agents comb through every day. Of course, in this digital age, many agents only accept email submissions. In this case, you can achieve the same effect by using html formatting in your email to make it really exciting. Animations help. If you can turn your story title into a dancing .gif, you're almost guaranteed a request.

2. It's no good sending a query letter only to have it sit in an agent's inbox for months at a time. You have to make sure that an agent actually opens your email. The way to do this is with creative subject titling. Many sites offering querying advice will tell you to keep it simple, just use the name of your story and the word QUERY, or some other such nonsense. They're wrong. You need something that will really catch the agent's attention. Sometimes this might involve a bit of creative research. For example, if you can find out the name of the agent's beloved cat, then you can send a query with the subject title Your Cat Fluffy Ate All My Rat Poison (Greedy Bastard). A title like this guarantees an agent will open your email the moment it arrives.

3. Of course, all this work does you no good if your actual query letter isn't well-written and interesting.
  • It should use vibrant and exciting language (like ZAP, POW and WHAMMY).
  • It should explain why you want this particular agent to represent your work (another place where research can be an asset. The more personal, the better).
  • It should make your book sound like something that has the potential to sell truckloads (try using the term "more popular than Harry Potter").
  • It should sum up your story in enough breadth to make sure the agent understands all the important themes (if you can't accomplish this in a few paragraphs, just attach your whole story for them to read. Agents love attachments).
  • It shouldn't take the focus away from the most important element of any good query letter: the author. You need a killer bio that explains your motivations for becoming a writer (money), your education (natural talent) and research (this blog). You also want to personalize your bio. Fun details from your medical history and past romantic relationships can give it extra zing.
4. After sending your query letter, you should hear back with an immediate request. Make sure you clear up any questions you have about future payment before sending your work in. Be careful! You don't want the agent stealing your work. They all secretly wanted to be writers like you, but couldn't come up with good ideas and thus turned to agenting. Putting watermarks on your pages is a good way to protect them.
Now all you have to do is sit back and wait for publication and the inevitable movie deal!


  1. funny. : ) Yes, we need digital perfume to make our letters sweeter!

  2. LOL.

    How could I forget ZAP, POW, and WHAMMY? Must add those to a query--should I ever finish a project enough to write one. :P

    (P.S. I love the new look of your blog!)

  3. Pam - Yes! It covers up the smell when they forget to shower.

    Eagle - You'll thank me for this when you get published. ;) (Thanks! Thought I'd try to give it a more professional feel). (Which might be in direct contrast with my current entry).

  4. BASICALLY this is exactly what has to happen. I don't know about all that other crap advice about hard returns and including contact information. Pish-posh.

  5. Jessica - I KNOW!!! There's so much false information out there these days. You really have to do your research. :)

  6. OMG, yes, this would work. Sometimes I'm tempted...not!

  7. So awesome.

    I would add to this: use music! Send your query as an attachment, and when the agent opens it, your favorite death metal song comes blaring out. That will get his attention for sure.