There is a lot of contradiction online about the best way to start a query letter. Some say start with an introduction about yourself, others say start with your hook and move bio and reasons for selecting that particular agent to the last paragraph. What are your thoughts?
Personally, I don’t like the author introduction at the beginning. I prefer it at the end. I firstly want to know about your book (the hook), then a brief synopsis (one paragraph), followed lastly by the author bio. I feel that often writers get so tied up with placing themselves in the work (telling agents their age, their occupation etc.) that it takes away from the primary goal of the query: to get an agent to request more material.
Most importantly: follow agency submission instructions. If you are submitting a query to P.S. Literary please follow our query guidelines.
Question from Jennifer:
I am interested in how much attention most agents pay to various social media when someone submits their first query. Specifically: Facebook, Twitter, WordPress or other blog sites, and Pinterest. If a lot of attention gets paid to those things, what is the mental process like for you? If the query catches your attention but the person has a very sparse Pinterest account or a barely-followed blog, does that affect your choices?
Great question, Jennifer. I think this is increasingly becoming a standard part of being an author: having a strong, personable, professional online identity. The mental process for me is as follows: if I am interested (so not for every query) in an author I will search their blogs, websites, Twitter accounts and other online sources and social media pages (especially if they link to them in their query or signature). If you want to show an agent that you are ahead of the pack, ready to tackle marketing your book, and demonstrate commitment to being a professional author then you must have these things in check. Because, as soon as you get representation, if you don’t already have these things set up, your agent will ensure that developing your online identity becomes a major priority. So why not do it ahead of time?
If the query catches my eye but the author has a limited online following I’m not turned off at all. What turns me off is: a dated, weak website; confusing blog layout or infrequent posts; and/or a Twitter bio and feed that doesn’t reflect their ambitions as a writer. Pinterest is a nice bonus right now. But really only important in the querying stage if you are writing in non fiction, an illustrator, or working on a highly visual book project.
I’m looking to represent professional writers that understand that having a strong online following and personable online identity is part of a writer’s job description.
Question from Dianne:
So, when you read a manuscript and it’s not a sure- fire winner, but a “maybe”, what are the components that will push it toward a yes or a no.
That’s a toughie, because as soon as something is a ‘maybe’ that makes me say ‘no’. Let me explain: all agents wade through the slush pile to find the manuscripts that make their hearts beat faster and make us frantic to offer representation to take it off the table. My first agent mentor in publishing told me only to fish things out of the slush pile for her to read if I can defend their greatness. There really is no room for ‘maybe.’
In the rare case that I take on a manuscript knowing it will take a lot of work to get it to where it needs to be for submission I need a massive passion for it and know that I’ll go to the ends of the earth to find it a publisher because I see merit. So there is no room for wishy-washy feelings–and you don’t want an agent that thinks it is a maybe. You want an agent that thinks it’s a winner.
Come back tomorrow for Part II of Ask the Agent: Your Questions Answered!