Queries: Your Query Letter is not One-Size-Fits-All

Wednesday, September 16, 2015
How many query letters have you written for each of your manuscripts? The uncomfortable truth is that you should have one for every agent you approach.

I know, I know. You want to agonize over that letter only once and then change the address and date. After all, shouldn’t it be your manuscript that makes the sale?

Your manuscript does show how well you write. But your query letter shows an agent something too. It reveals how well you know the business of writing including what you know about the agent.

Every agent that you approach should be carefully chosen. This means your reasoning should go beyond “because you take young adult novels and I have written a novel for teens.” Not only should you be submitting to an agent who represents young adult novels, they should represent your kind of young adult novel whether that’s urban fantasy or diverse characters. What is it about the books this agent represents that are similar to your own?

If you are approaching an agent who has sold books to Random House and you already have a Random House book, point that out. It tells that agent that you write the kinds of book that he sells.

Have you found an agent who wants manuscripts for a given series? Read the specs for the series and discuss your work using key words taken from the spec sheet.

A query letter is more than a chance to butter up an agent. It is a chance to talk to a professional about your work. Open your letter with what you are sending – TITLE, a young adult novel of X length. It makes it easy to keep track of your work and shows that you know what they represent (you aren’t submitting a novel to an agent who only reps nonfiction), and that you know a novel isn’t 50 pages long any more than a picture book is 20 pages.

I know. You want part of this letter to be boiler plate. Can’t the section on your manuscript be it? Even this section needs to be customized. If an agent wants quirky characters, your description must include your quirky character. If an agent wants stories set in Armenia, that information has to be in your paragraph. While this paragraph may not change much, it needs to highlight what this agent most needs to know about your work.

Query letters may not be one-size-fits-all but they are a solid way to let an agent know that you’ve done your research before sending them your work.


Sue is the instructor for our course, Writing Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults. The next session begins on November 9, 2015.


Sioux Roslawski said...


This post clearly outlines what we (sadly) must hear--that we can't write one letter and then send out a dozen copies to a dozen different editors.

Thanks for the reminder and the hints.

Eric W. Trant said...

When I submit, I only hit 10 agents/publishers per week. That means one or two or three per day. I cut the generic query letter to fit the target audience, and always make mention of something specific in their profile that shows this is not a generic letter.

I'm careful to avoid gender assumptions. Chris could be a boy or a girl, so be careful with your Sirs and Madams.

And each week I modify my basic, generic, starting-point query. You don't want to keep using a query that is not working, so like a fisherman, change the bait periodically. I don't rewrite from scratch, but I change it up in case something about the last query was off-putting.

Good hints, and worth keeping this post around for future reference.

- Eric

Sue Bradford Edwards said...

When you're contacting 10 people a week, you do have to make it as efficient as possible.
I completely forgot to mention the gender assumptions. That's a huge pitfall.
Good luck with your submissions! It sounds like you have a lot of work circulating.

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