Query Letters and Research

Let’s talk about query letters, today. I recently edited a query letter for a client and I think some of the items he needed to improve are things my blog readers could stand to learn from, too. In writing your query letter, many of you are going to do quite a bit of research to learn more about the marketability of your work. If it’s a memoir, you may want to learn more about how well your type of memoir sells, and in what specific markets. If it’s fiction, you’ll want to know who usually buys that type of work, and what aspects of your style or subject matter most appeal to book-buying readers, so you can make your pitch accordingly. I’m sure, if you’ve done any research into query-letter writing, you already know this. Now, once you have all that information, you’ll want to keep it in mind as you write, but bear this in mind: whatever you just learned, the publishing agent you’re querying probably already knows it.


All you have done is bring yourself up to speed on what industry professionals know. So, don’t presume to tell the publishing agent her job. What I mean by that is if you have simply found general information, don’t write a paragraph about how such-and-such books are well loved by such-and-such market. She knows that and will be immediately bored by you telling her what she already knows. You need to keep that knowledge in mind while telling the agent something she doesn’t already know. The exception to this rule is: if you have found specific, useful, numerical statistics, use them. The agent won’t mind being reminded of the numbers, because, remember, she is a sales professional. However, if your opening paragraph contains phrases like “it seems like” or “I assume,” you are simply drawing a conjecture about the market, and that’s silly, because she already knows a heck of a lot more about the market than you do.

So, what should you include in your query letter?

What you need to do is tell her what she doesn’t already know in a way that will intrigue her. Specifically, what she knows nothing about is: your book! Open the letter by talking about your book, and end it with information about your book. Don’t make the mistake a lot of writers do and try to keep what happens “a secret,” as if you’re building suspense. Remember what a publishing agent’s job is: to sell your book. The ending and plot points are selling points of the story. You wouldn’t buy a dishwasher from someone who told you he didn’t reallly know what the dishes would look like when they came out, would you? If an agent is to sell your book to a publisher, she needs to know all about it. Presumably you are proud of your book, every single bit of it, so lay out the fascinating plot points so that they peak her interest. And while you’re writing, sneak in the fact that you know about the market, such as, “the twist at the end, where Valentino turns out to actually be from planet Ultron, is exactly the kind of switcheroo that engages the teenage market currently seeking novelty in a horror/sci-fi crossover.” See what I mean? (I made that up, of course.) Good luck, and happy querying!


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