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The Unofficial Terrible Guide to Query Letters

Why has no one told me how hard it is to write a query letter? Or a blog post? Or a word?? Just kidding, literally every published writer I’ve spoken to has told me of the horrors that querying brings. The sleepless nights, the rejection letters, the excruciating self doubt that comes with staring at an empty inbox. Writing is hard yet we still do it. I mean, obviously we’re all idiots.

I’ve been spending a lot of time on my query letter this week. I have to admit, at first I dedicated two days in my calendar to it. Two goddamn days. I can hear all the authors collectively laughing at me. Of course it doesn’t take just two days to write a goddamn query letter. Anyway, after that embarrassment I’ve decided it’s more realistic to not set a deadline, and keep crafting it until I’m in love. Compressing around 86,100 words down to 200 is a fucking pain, but I’m feeling positive. Honestly? I can’t believe I even made it to this stage. I thought the editing phase would never end.

So, because I’m at this point in my journey, I’ve decided to motivate myself by sharing random bits of inspiration I’ve gathered from forums and writer friends, and of course from my terribly wonderful brain. As usual, I have to tell you in advance that my advice is usually unsolicited, inappropriate and most probably very, very wrong. Onwards!

The query letter is an agent’s first impression of your book. 

It doesn’t take a genius to figure that out because it applies to almost everyone (unless you are Twitter famous and agents are stalking you). I’m mentioning it anyway because I’ve been reading a lot of queries lately, good and bad, and a lot of them have brilliant concepts but the query letter doesn’t hook me enough to actually want to read the book. If an agent reads your query letter and it’s not great, then you can safely assume that they will safely assume your book is not great. Agents have become a lot more accessible because submissions can be made via email, which means you can’t send a crisp printout of your query letter in the mail with a cheeky £50 note attached. Your letter is it. It’s the key. 

There are a lot of rules to crafting a successful query letter. 

A lot, guys. I’ve heard it all. Don’t put the hook in italics. Don’t say you’re the next best thing. Don’t send nudes. I mean, for God’s sake! I hate being restricted when it comes to writing, but unfortunately I have to consider them because -- newsflash -- getting agented means business. At this particular point in time, the agent you’re contacting is not your friend. I mean, sure, maybe one day you can hang out, talk about that adorable thing your cat did the other day while bathing in a wine-filled jacuzzi (my agent is going to love me), but that’s future stuff. Right now, they are waiting for a story that lights up their whole goddamn life and it could be yours. So, read the agent’s rules, follow the agent’s rules, but don’t forget that your query letter is your name badge and if it doesn’t make sense then no agent will remember your name (boom, proud of that). Make this letter yours. Craft it into a goddamn art piece. Tattoo the final draft on your butt. Just do it right.

Trust your butt. Shit, I mean gut. Trust your gut.

Let’s say you’re done with the letter. You’ve posted it on AgentQuery, done a dozen drafts and the final readover. But something’s wrong. You don’t feel complete. And that’s most likely because deep down, you know it’s not ready. That’s not a feeling you should ignore, especially if you know what the problem is. Fix what’s broken. Don’t ignore it. Once you send it out, you can’t undo that. Don’t rush to get it out there. I know it’s exciting and every day feels like it’s stealing time from you, but this matters so treat it like it’s something that matters by giving it the time and attention it needs. Hell, this is advice I need to follow myself.

Be your biggest fan. 

Ask yourself, does my query letter capture what the book makes me feel? Have I done justice to my story? Does it make me want to read it, even though I’m the one who bloody wrote it? Does it make me feel proud of what I’ve written? Do I feel confident enough to email it out to people I know without making sneaky amendments before hitting send? Do I really believe that this is going to be a bestseller? Do I do a little victory dance every time after reading the final draft of the query? If you answer yes to all of these, you’re ready. 

Or maybe you’re not. What do I know?

Destructo Girl, OUT!