As I look up various agents online, I get this strange feeling that I’m playing duck-duck-goose. Here’s an agent that might be suitable – duck. Here’s another one that could work - duck. This one looks like a great match – goose!
In kindergarten the goose always gave chase. With agents it is much less certain, but you can improve your odds by putting your best foot forward with your query.
Here are three things to remember when crafting your query letter.
Out of All the Others, I Chose You
Writers approach agents every single day. Some will have done no research beyond finding an e-mail address. These are the people who query an agent who only represents children’s authors for an adult cozy mystery or a thriller.
Others will have put a bit more effort into it. These are the writers who skim a market listing and see that this agent represents mysteries. They then assume that the agent will want a cozy when she only represents hard-boiled detective stories and police procedurals.
To demonstrate that you have really and truly done your research, tell the agent why you are approaching them. “I saw on Twitter that you want stories set in 15th century Mongolia.” “Your Manuscript Wish List indicates that you want to see more STEM picture books.” Don’t claim a connection that you don’t have, but do let the agent know why you think they are a good fit.
How Is Your Manuscript Unique?
Perhaps even more difficult than showing why you chose the agent is figuring out which information to include about your manuscript. All too often, we resort to the kinds of phrases we hear in movie trailers. “This is a story of one woman’s fight against big government and corporate corruption.” “A fantasy epic to rival Lord of the Rings.”
That approach just doesn’t work in a query. One problem is that we already have Lord of the Rings. The other problem is that these kinds of statements are too general.
Instead you need to show what makes your story unique. Your character is struggling to get a toxic waste site downwind from her neighborhood cleaned up, but government regulations and lobbyists stand in the way. That’s much more specific.
Cut the Clichés
Since you only have one page for your query letter, it is going to be tempting to use written shortcuts. Be careful when you do this, because it is easy to fall into using clichés and overused phrases.
What falls into this category? Referring to your nonfiction character as a national treasure. Other worn phrases include sordid underbelly, uphill battle, low-hanging fruit, or a drop in the bucket.
Keep it short, but keep it meaningful.
Many agents post their query letter preferences online. Explore to see what you can find, then take the time to write a letter that explains why your story is unique and why this agent out of the many you have researched is a good match for your manuscript. Do this and maybe the Goose will give chase!
Sue Bradford Edwards' is the author of over 27 books for young readers. To find out more about her writing, visit her site and blog, One Writer's Journey.
The next session of her new course, Pitching, Querying and Submitting Your Work will begin on September 6, 2021). Coping with rejection is one of the topics she will cover in this course.
Sue is also the instructor for Research: Prepping to Write Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults (next session begins September 6, 2021) and Writing Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults (next session begins September 6, 2021).