I recently attended John Pipkin’s two part workshop, Writing the Successful Synopsis and Query Letter (or Selling Your Book Without Selling Out). The first session was on writing a solid query letter, something that takes a little practice. While I have read numerous books on the subject and there is an overwhelming number of resources about it on the internet, I found the session to be helpful and was reminded of the basic rules of query writing.
The set up for a query letter should be something like this:
1st paragraph: The hook/one sentence summary/title and genre
2nd paragraph: Summary of characters and plot
Optional paragraph: Historical background/relevance/potential audience
3rd paragraph: Writer’s bio
4th paragraph: Formal closing, thank you, give length of manuscript
Mr. Pipkin sold his current novel, Woodsburner, after sending out only five query letters, but he is quick to point out that his first attempt at publishing ended with 75 rejections. One of the things he did the second time around was to keep the idea of the query and synopsis in mind as he was writing. Doing that helped guide his book and made it easier when it came time to getting down to writing the dreaded query letter. He also reminded us that agents are trained to look for certain things in the queries they receive (manuscript name, word count, genre, summary). When they don’t find those items, they lose interest.
One of the more interesting things discussed was what happens once your book is accepted by an agent. Most people tend to think it’s a streamlined process with the agent taking the book to the publisher and the publisher getting it to the bookstore. In reality there are lots of steps in between, and it can take up to two years to get the book on shelves once it’s been accepted. Knowing that, an agent has to look carefully at the manuscript to make sure it’s right for them and that they know someone to pitch it too. Often a query may be rejected not because it’s poorly written or uninteresting, but because the agent doesn’t have the contacts and can’t help you. Always research what the agent represents before you query.
I’m attending the second session of the workshop this Saturday, which is on creating the one page synopsis. I’ll be updating the site next week with more information on that subject.