Query Letter as Job Application

Wednesday, March 16, 2016
Last weekend I went to a writer’s workshop that included a Skype session with Lori Kilkelly, an agent from Rodeen Literary Management. One of the questions that someone asked was about query letters. “Should I tell the agent this is my first manuscript?”

It didn’t surprise me when Lori said no, but her explanation as to why will help us all remember what to put into our next query and what to leave out. Think of your query letter as what it is – a job application. What would you include in a job application? Relevant reasons to hire you. What do you leave out? Relevant reasons to say no. Or laugh. Or run away.

In short, don’t tell the agent/interviewer why you are a bad choice. This includes:

  • That this is your first finished manuscript.
  • That you have no sales.
  • How many agents have already said no.

Instead, tell the agent why you are a good choice.

  • For some of us that means listing sales. But only go into detail for relevant sales. When I submit a book proposal, I only include my activity writing if I am pitching a book that includes activities. If that’s the book I’m pitching, I don’t tell about my history writing unless the activities have something to do with history.
  • Also include relevant educational experience. This looks especially good if you don’t have sales. Are you working on an MFA? Do you go to SCBWI retreats or Highlight Foundation workshops? When I applied to write for an educational publisher, I told them about my degrees in anthropology and history. My first assignment? Ancient Maya.
  • Include your work experience if it is relevant. I’ve worked in archaeology which was relevant to Ancient Maya but not 12 Incredible Facts about the Cuban Missile Crisis. A friend of mine writes books to help children deal with tattling, divorce and people who appear different. She is a counselor so that appears in her letter.

Last but not least, make a personal connection.

  • Did you meet this editor at a conference? Mention it, but don’t stop here.
  • The best job applicants know why they want to work for a particular company. Why is this agent or agency a good match for you? Do they represent both fiction and nonfiction? Maybe they emphasize diverse book, self-help or romance novels.
  • Study the agency web site and the agent’s blog. Look for key phrases that they use to describe themselves and their authors. If you can subtly work these into your letter, they will see that you know who they are.

Your query letter is your job application. Use it to make yourself shine.

Sue is the instructor for our course, Writing Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults. The next session begins on March 21, 2016.


Karen Cioffi said...

Sue, great tips on how to land a nonfiction writing assignment. Thanks for sharing.

Suzanne Lilly said...

Fabulous advice, Sue! I never thought of a query as a job application, but it's a perfect analogy. Thanks for sharing these thoughts!

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