Tuesday, May 5, 2009

My Query Letter

Okay, so you finally get your novel to the point where you think it's ready to be seen by a publishing professional. That usually means sending it off to an editor or literary agent. But as every aspiring author should know, nothing sours the disposition of one of these hardworking book folk more quickly than a big ol' unsolicited manuscript. They don't want them, they get mad at people who send them, and they immediately flush any that show up in their virtual or physical mailboxes.

So what do you do? Write a query letter, of course.

The purpose of a query letter is to briefly describe your manuscript (c.300 words or less) and ask if it's okay to send them the first chapter or two. Most sources that I've found seem to think that writing a good query is nearly as important as your actual novel and great care should be taken when crafting it. That makes sense to me. Since you can't just dump the whole manuscript on an editor's desk, that one page letter has to be pretty darned good.

The ideal query letter intrigues the editor or agent just enough so that they want to read more.

After Leonard was rejected at the query stage by the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award, sniff, I began to suspect that I needed some help on my own query (genius that I am). Fortunately, I had somewhere to turn for help, running it past Evil Editor and his trusty minions. They offered some very helpful suggestions about how to make it better. I highly recommend putting your query to the test over on his site. They can be a little rough (tough love), but if you check your ego and go there to be educated, you'll benefit immensely from the feedback. I know I did. Oh, and another cool thing is that it's all for free.

Here's how my query letter turned out:

Dear (Editor),

Leonard the Great is a middle-grade fantasy novel (77,000 words) set in the days of King Arthur. It's the story of Leonard Albacore, a young page who dreams of getting Sir Ronald the Mediocre, his kind but incompetent master, a seat at the Round Table. After a chance encounter with a suicidal dragon, he cooks up a plan that will get both of them what they want -- death for the dragon and a sure-fire invite to Camelot for Sir Ronald.

But the plan backfires horribly when the snooty Knights of the Round Table show up and arrest Sir Ronald for "attempted bravery without a license", dragging him off to Camelot's dungeons.

Wracked with guilt, Leonard vows to do whatever it takes to free his master. But it won’t be easy. An ancient evil has taken over Camelot, and unless Leonard can figure out how to defeat it, both Sir Ronald and Arthur’s dream are doomed.

Full of rough and tumble action, this boy-centric novel is also rich with irreverent asides and unique characters.

I would be happy to send a sample chapter at your request.

Roger Eschbacher

So there you go. Short, to the point, and (hopefully) effective. Bring on the multi book deals!


Michael Tallon said...

Thanks, Roger, excellent insight!

Roger Eschbacher said...

No problem. Don't claim to have all (or most) of the answers to this stuff but I don't mind sharing when I stumble across something useful.

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