1. Know what a query letter needs to look like. If you don’t know, this is key, get every book you can from the library on how to write query letters and read them- ALL OF THEM. Writing a query is not something that comes naturally. You need to learn how they work and what they need to include to make sure an agent takes you seriously.
2. Have someone who has NOT read your book read your query letter. They can tell you if it makes sense.
3. Have someone who has read your book read your query letter. They can tell you if you are leaving anything important out.
4. Re-write your query letter, over and over if you have to. I rewrote the one below probably 15-20 times. Why? Because no one will read your amazing book if you have a crap query letter.
5. Send queries out in bunches- 20 at a time. If you are sending 1 at a time, you will be waiting forever.
6. Send to your second-choice agents first. Why? To test your query. If it isn’t good and you send it to your first-choice agent, you just lost your one chance with them.
7. Address queries and send them out to one agent at a time. You might query 20 agents a day, but don’t bcc them on one email. They will delete it before they even read it.
8. Don’t nudge unless it has been an un-Godly long time. However long you think it will take for an agent to get back to you it will probably take longer, a lot longer.
9. Post your query letter to Absolute Write.com ‘s Query Letter Hell. People you don’t know will tell you if your query is ready or not. http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/ (I don’t want to out anyone, but I know for a fact that NYT bestsellers have posted to this site seeking advice before they were published. So guess what? There is no shame in admitting you don’t know what the hell you are doing.)
10. Keep querying. Keep writing. Keep querying. It is HARD to find an agent. Rejection is the name of the game, until it’s not.
Okay without further ado, the query that got me my agent.
Everyone thinks Amy Fleishman has an attitude problem. And why wouldn’t she?She’s had to deal with a mother whose estimation of parenting could be a mental disorder, a father who cares more about her teeth than the rest of her, a face that she wishes she could order different parts for like her school yearbook was a menu, and a great uncle who also happens to be her gynecologist, and that was before she got arrested.It would have been bad enough if it hadn’t happened on prom night. Pulled over with her best friends Lila and Cassie, after Lila lamented about losing their dates and being all dressed up with no place to go, the first thought in Amy’s head was not that she had been caught, but that the fact she had been stood up for her prom would now be a part of the public record.Thrown into a cell in her dress and heels and into a situation she never expected my 57,000 word-length YA fiction manuscript, Pretty Amy, takes us on Amy’s unwelcome crossover from delinquent to defendant, from best friend to public enemy.Walking downstairs the morning following her arrest, thankful to be home after being bailed out by her dutiful dentist father, Amy is looking forward to a cup of coffee and some quiet, but her life is no Folgers commercial. Amy finds her mother waiting for her at the kitchen table with more bad news. Being arrested is just the beginning. Now, she’ll have to do something about it.Required to get a job to pay for a lawyer aptly named Dick, who wishes he were a stand-up comedian, Amy applies for work at her local cigarette depository, convenient store Gas-N-Go. Managed by well-meaning, religious zealot Connor, she deals with his unwelcome sermons by tuning him out and comparing her life before and after the arrest. Before, immense and filled with possibilities, after small enough to fit into a Tupperware container like week old leftovers.When Dick forces her to cut all contact with Cassie and Lila, go to voluntary community service and meet with therapist Daniel twice a week, who further implores her to prove to him why she isn’t just like every other rebellious teenager in the world, Amy wonders if juvenile detention might be better.That is until her arraignment, where being convicted becomes a tangible reality. Naively, Amy thinks there is no way she can spend a year waiting for freedom, if she can’t last five minutes waiting for a latte.But the possibility of being imprisoned becomes the least of her problems, when she is faced with making the toughest decision of her life, saving herself by turning on her best friends and sending them away, or standing by them and being convicted.Reminiscent of “Youth in Revolt”, Pretty Amy is the story of Amy Fleishman, struggling to believe she is a beautiful and deserving person, even though she has succeeded in teaching her pet parakeet to echo those words. An edgy, hilarious look at a prom night arrest and the girl left in its wake, Pretty Amy presents a fresh female voice in young adult fiction, describing drug use, self-esteem struggles, gastrointestinal problems, broken friendships and broken teeth with irreverence, cynicism and ultimately substance.I received my MFA in Fiction from the Inland Northwest Center for Writers at Eastern Washington University and was granted a year-long fellowship during my studies there as well as a summer fellowship from the Squaw Valley Community of Write. Thank you for your time and consideration. Please be in touch should you want to request the completed manuscript.Sincerely,
So there it is. The book when it was published ended up being 75,000 words and added 2 new characters (hot boys of course ;)) based on editorial feedback. But the letter above was enough to open doors. The letter above got it in front of an editor who liked it enough to ask me to add two new characters so she could read it again. That is really all you need. The “right” door to open, with the “right” person waiting for you on the other side. Good luck!
Please feel free to post questions or comments below! I am also having a contest to celebrate PRETTY AMY being 1 month old, where you can win either a 3-chapter critique from me or my editor Stacy Cantor Abrams, or my agent Susan Finesman. Someone recently paid $335 in an auction for a critique from Stacy and my agent has won an Emmy, so come on enter!
Get the entry details here! http://www.lisaburstein.com/Contests_.html