By Cait Collins
I love to write, but I thoroughly dislike writing query letters. While not my favorite activity, I understand the importance of a good pitch letter. Not only does the correspondence present your work to the editor or agent, writing the perfect pitch will help you with the verbal promotion of the work.
A good query letter begins with your ability to state the theme of your work. Every story has a theme. Sometimes it is obvious, but in other instances the writer has to dig to find the point of his story. For example the theme of my story How Do You Like Me Now, is “Revenge may be satisfying, but justice is better.” With that in mind, it’s easy to open the query with a solid hook. Yes, lead the letter with an attention grabber and worry about your biography later.
A pitch letter should be as well thought out and crafted as your novel or story. Do not take shortcuts here. If the query is weak, the agent or editor might assume the work is also poorly constructed. Avoid using clichés. Make sure your verbs are strong, action verbs. This eliminates the need for adverbs. I’ve heard writing instructors preach on adverbs as enemies instead of friends. A good verb can save you precious words when facing a limited word count.
Here are a few other tips that have helped me.
- Know your characters and their relationships. Use the understanding to introduce the protagonist and the antagonist in short paragraphs.
- Use present tense.
- Keep the letter to less than one page. Too much information is not necessarily good. In a verbal pitch, you may have ten seconds to get an agent’s attention. Apply the same standard to the query.
- Do your research. You don’t want to be the erotica writer who pitched to an inspirational agent. Be sure you have the editor’s full name and the correct spelling. Be sure he represents your genre. Make sure you follow the agency’s submission guidelines.
- Do not include your photograph, your cute kitty’s picture, or submit the letter on bright colored paper. Use only Times New Roman 12pt type. The margins should be one inch all around, on one side, and printed on a good quality, white bond paper.
- Your information should be at the end of the pitch. Keep it simple. If you are a first time writer, don’t publicize the fact. Instead, promote your successes. If the novel won an award in a contest, say so. Your self-published first book garnered respectable success. Say so. Just don’t over advertise yourself.
- Promote your platform. Agents and Editors need to know if you have a website, are on Facebook or Twitter. While you may have multiple, promotion sources remember you still need time to write. Don’t over burden yourself with social media
- Thank the agent or editor for his time. It may take eight to twelve weeks to get a response, so be patient. Bugging the agent for an update every few days may do more harm than good.
- Be yourself, but be professional.
Paying attention to details will help ensure your letter will be well received and could get you one step closer to a publication contract. Good luck. I’ll be looking for your name in the stacks.