Writing a Query Letter: Part 3

The Book

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Welcome to part 3, writing about your book. We covered the hook in this post, and the salutation/personalizing your query letter here in part 1.

So the query letter is addressed to an agent, we’ve got that part. And you started off with an immediate hook, seducing your chosen agent into caring about your book using the main characters and the stakes.

Now we get to the book itself. You have to tell the agent what they’re dealing with, and what they will be trying to sell if they decide to represent your book. That means the picky details about your book, the genre, the word count and the target audience.

If you’re self-publishing you still need to know this, because booksellers will need a genre to list your book under and a page count once it’s turned into e-book format. So buckle down and get that figured out.

  • A note-In the catchy phrase it goes, “the Hook, the Book and the Cook” but that doesn’t mean you should follow that formula exactly and have precisely three paragraphs on just those subjects, in that order. For one thing, that would make for lots of boring formulaic query letters. How you work in the information about your book is up to you and how your query letter ends up looking. Structure it the way you want, and in whatever order works best for you.

For some ideas, here is where you go to look at successful query letters, at Agent Query Connect.com

These are the things you must have for sure, no matter what, about your book:

  1. A genre. Do some research and figure out which genre is the most like your book. If it doesn’t fit in a genre, pick the two closest and say it’s a mashup. If the age level isn’t already made clear by the genre, include that too. (Adult, YA, Middle Grade, Picture book, etc.)
  2. A word count. Is it a novella? A novel? An epic seven book series? All of those are figured out through word count.
  3. A Title. Please God, do not forget the title, in all caps.

Three things, sounds easy right? Bahahahaha no. These are harder than figuring out the hook! Here I turn to the wonderful magic of the internet, and do lots of reading to figure out what to put in my query letter. Sometimes, I won’t lie, I consider writing erotica just because it would be easy to figure out what genre it belongs to and the word counts for erotica are pretty standard.

How this might look in your query letter:

Option 1

Dear Ms. [Agent],

Let me introduce my book, [word count] [genre], [TITLE!] Example; Let me introduce to you my 120,000 word epic fantasy novel, THE WANDERING DARK ELVES.

[Hook paragraphs, etc]

-Boom, you led off with all the pertinent information and can now dive into the plot.

Option 2

Dear Ms. [Agent],

[Starts with the Hook] Example; When Agent Brian Scully finds a decomposing Alien in the backseat of his car, he knows it’s time to come out of retirement and fight for the survival of Earth. Again. [now the Book] WHEN ALIENS FALL is my 90,000 word science fiction novel for adult readers, a mix of heart pounding adventure and galaxy wide political intrigue with a dash of tentacle-laden humor.

-Second option, you can sort of wiggle the Book information right into your hook. Work it in as a natural extension of the paragraphs you just wrote about the story. This option seems to work the best.

Option 3.

Dear Mr. [Agent],

[the cool Hook]

[Now a small paragraph about you and your writing credits] Complete at 105,000 words, SUBSPACE COWBOY is a science fiction adventure story, and the winner of the Locus prize for unpublished SciFi manuscripts.

-Third option, leave the details of the Book for the very end, as you are closing. Opinions differ as to whether or not you should do this. It annoys some agents that they have to work all the way to the bottom to find this, others don’t mind it because they’re more focused on your hook and like to see all the details tied up in the end. In general, option 2 seems to be in most successful query letters.

Anyway, resources for you.

How to Figure Out Your Book’s Genre from Rock Your Writing.com. It’s from 2013, so verify what they say with other sources too.

How to Pick the Right Genre For Your Book from Write to Done, with some reasons why you should care.

What Genre is My Book? from Writer’s Life.org.

All of these are good to start with, and they suggest checking out Amazon too, looking over what they have for sale in genre and sub-genres to figure out your target audience for your story.

Once you’ve figured that out, time to worry about your word count.

How Long Should a Book Be? from Writer’s Digest. This one is also older, 2012, and we all know that publishing changes every year so also double check their numbers before you start to worry.

Manuscript Agency (in Australia)  has a good, easy to understand post: Word Count By Genre

And a great, succinct post that I really recommend, about the entire process. From author/slush pile reader Traci Chee, Query Tips: Structure

Good luck!

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