Thursday, December 17, 2009

Queries and Cover Letters

First impressions count. As cliché as it may be, it is true. Unless you have been lucky enough to meet Elaine or Naomi at a conference, your query letter is your first impression. That being said, you want to appear the same as you would for a job interview: professional, hardworking, invested, and a good fit for the company. You can think of the submission process the same as the job application process. The query letter is your cover letter and resume. It is a brief introduction to you and your work and many of the same basic principles apply to both queries and resumes. The partial and synopsis is akin to the first interview, a face to face meeting to get to know you better and to make sure you have the right background. The full manuscript is the last interview; it is when we are trying to place you in the company and make sure you work with the group dynamic.

Your final interview/manuscript might be spectacular but we will never have the chance to see it if you send us a poorly written cover/query letter. To a certain extent a cover letter is a stock item, something you can take to every interview; send to every company, and so is your query letter. As a matter of course all query letters should include:


  • A standard sized S.A.S.E (Self Addressed Stamped Envelope)
    • Note: the pull and seal envelopes have the advantage of not self adhering in the heat and humidity.
  • The letter itself, one page single spaced. At most it can be two pages but like a resume shorter is better. A cover letter with bad grammar and spelling does not get you to the interview and it does not advance your query.
  • Contact Information: email and phone generally suffice.
  • Literary Achievements
  • Marketing: place your manuscript on a shelf in a bookstore and tell us that genre. Please make sure that it’s a genre that we represent.
  • Word Count
  • Be Professional: As Elaine has mentioned, a professional and cooperative relationship between author and agent is the best chance a manuscript has of getting published.

Those are some elements every query should include and none are longer than a line or two of text. At this point describe the manuscript you want us to accept. Please do not use bullet points; a query is a cover letter not a resume. The query description is where you can throw out teasers like “has a surprising twist at the end” or “with a sub plot romance that becomes significant later on” and we will simply want to read more. However, if you use vague descriptions like that in the synopsis you include with the partial we will be less than pleased.

Submitting a partial without a synopsis is like going to a job interview naked. We can see that you have shown up but clearly you are not wholly invested in the getting the job. This of course only applies to intentional nudists. We are happy to give the absent minded professor types a few minutes to get dressed and let them send in the synopsis a little late. The same can be said when an author leaves off the ending in the synopsis; you’re mostly dressed but you seem to have misplaced your pants. It just looks very odd and makes it difficult to evaluate your manuscript as a candidate. We almost prefer the professor since once he has his clothes on, he has them all on.

The most important thing to remember about the query letter is that it is your manuscript going on the interviews and applying for the job, not you the author. We know it’s hard sending them out but not every company is the right fit for every manuscript and it is only a matter of finding the right one. Just so long as you don’t let your manuscripts walk out of the house naked they can get through the rest of the interview on their own.

1 comment:

gyratingcobra said...

I love this post. I just spent several weeks going over the synopsis of my most recent novel. My most trusted reader was kind enough to read my slightly altered versions of my 'first impression' at least ten times over. I was attempting to fit the highlights of an 130,000 word thriller into one page. At times, composing the synopsis felt more challenging than writing the novel. Thanks for blogging!