- ~Guest post by Kristine Asselin
Thank you to 24 Carrot Writing for asking me to blog for them today. It’s a pleasure to be here talking about one of my favorite things: The Query Letter.
A bit of background: It’s no secret that I’d queried a lot in the early 2010s (I’ve written about it in a bunch of places -- Articles about Querying and Writing - Query Godmother). After a few false starts, I signed with my third agent in the summer of 2013. This past summer, after seven years with the same agent, we parted ways—and I was honestly feeling like a bit of a failure. I’d been hoping for feedback on a manuscript and wasn’t prepared for my agent to be downsizing their list. In the middle of 2020, I took it really hard.
All this to say that anyone can be in the query trenches.
Writing a query can be scary. Remember, a query letter is a tool. It’s a way to put your words into the world. Don’t overthink the query letter. It’s manageable. There are parts to it.
1. Introduction (and opening paragraph):
Sometimes this is called the “hook” part of the query. Include the title, the word count, the target age, and the genre of the book. A short tagline (elevator pitch) can be included in this section as well. It is not mandatory, though. If you have something personal to add, like that you met the agent at a conference, or took their workshop, do that here. If you don’t have anything personal, don’t force it.
2. Book section:
Think of this as your back cover copy. This is the most important part of the query. Be specific, but brief. Try to express how your book is different than others. Use specificity about character goals, stakes, and motivations. This section should be the longest—after all the query is about your BOOK. Make sure you are answering these questions in this section:
- Who is the main character?
- What do they want more than anything else?
- What is stopping them from getting it?
- What problem do they face?
- What choices do they have to make?
- How does the problem get worse?
Something about yourself and your expertise. What makes you the person to write this book? If you have any relevant published works, mention them here. Keep this part business. Don’t include things about your family or hobbies.
- Do your research, determine what the submission guidelines are and attach what is asked for. This will differ by agent. Some want the whole book; some only want a few chapters or pages. If you’re querying a picture book, it will typically be the whole piece.
- I generally advise starting by sending out five query letters. When you receive a pass, send out a new one. (Look at this blog for ideas of where to find agents.) Keep track of your process and replies in a spread sheet or tracking tool.
- Don’t send too many queries at one time. If you feel like revising or refining the letter, you can’t do that if you’ve sent out too many at once.
- Don’t let querying get you down. If you feel overwhelmed, it’s okay to stop and take a break.
- Don’t take anything personally. But that said, take any and all feedback seriously.
- Putting your work out in the world requires having a bit of a tough shell. You have to be honest with yourself. When you get responses, make changes as appropriate. Be ready to change the manuscript if necessary, but don’t let it affect your confidence in yourself and your work.
I’ll be honest, I have yet to sign with a new agent. However, my request rate is over 20%, so I feel like my query letter is working, and there are several people considering my work. Keep track of this sort of data, so you know when to revise and/or move to the next manuscript.
Jumping into the querying pool can help you put aside your fears and anxieties about your work. Querying is forward motion. It is taking control of your career.
Know yourself and what works for you. I wish you all good luck in 2021.
Kristine Asselin is the author of several works of children’s nonfiction, co-author of the middle grade novel The Art of The Swap, as well as the YA novels Any Way You Slice It and Falling for Wonder Boy. She loves being a Girl Scout leader and volunteering with the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. She is a sucker for a good love song (preferably from the 80s), and can’t resist an invitation for Chinese food or ice cream (but not at the same time!). She lives in Central Massachusetts with her teen daughter and husband, and spends part of everyday looking for a TARDIS to borrow.