For a writer, a query letter is hands-down the most important letter you’ll ever write. I’ve been a professional writer since I graduated from college — marketing, advertising, business, public relations — so I’ve written my share of business letters. But no one letter stressed me out as much as my query letter. I would say, as I’m sure every other writer does: “If they’d just read the first chapter of my book, they’d love it! I’m an author, not a letter writer!” And I was a business letter writer, and I still thought this.
I made the mistake of thinking that a query letter was different than any other business letter. It is and it isn’t. It is different in that you’re pitching your book (and you have to summarize it). It isn’t different in that you want to be as professional as possible. Agents love dealing with professionals. So as much as you may want to, keep the unseemly begging, pleading, and angst-filled prose in your computer where it belongs. Believe me, I know, this is hard to do when your budding writing career is on the line.
But how did I write my synopsis paragraph for Magic Lost, Trouble Found? I did what everyone else does — I tried to include everything. I soon found out that “everything” doesn’t fit in a paragraph, and it just made my book sound like a jumbled mess. What I had to get at, what I had to dig down to, was the core of what my book was about. Here’s the link to my agent, Kristin Nelson’s analysis of my query letter. I did a brief intro of why I was writing to her, got right to the pitch, and then did a brief, professional wrap-up. In my pitch, I used the tone and voice of my book (my big selling point), and hit only the high points of the plot. A good exercise to do this is to gather up your favorite novels that are in the genre in which you write. Now read the jacket or back cover copy. That’s what I went for: a combo of big-picture plot summary and marketing promo copy. Give it a try with your own pitch paragraph and see if it works for you.