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SRHowen
03-30-2005, 10:43 PM
OK, there has been a lot of talk on this thread about query letters. I once did the conventional sort, then, after a ton of rejections I tried something new. Now with this one I got rejections, but they praised my query letter--I got things like WOW, wish all queries were this easy to find the info I needed, can I barrow your query as an example of how a query should be? Info easy to find--and so on.


While many still turned down the ms, their list was full etc, I got personal responses. I got letters that said, I bet I am going to be sorry for turning this one down but I wouldn't know how to market it and so on. So, I thought--here goes--I'll share my format.

First off you need a one line plot summary. Yes, it's hell to write, but if you can't summarize your book in one line how will you ever talk about it if you hit the big time?

Next you need at least two already published books to compare it to.

Now the letter:








S.R.Howen

Assistant Editor—Wild Child Publishing
Texas Town USA
Phone: (111) 123-4567 E-mail: srhowen@mail.com (srhowen@mail.com)






March 30, 2005





The Agent Company, Inc.
100 west 10th St., Suite 10
New York, NY 10023-4366

Dear Mr. Agent,

I found you agency listing at Publisher’s Market Place, and visited your web site. Both your agency and your web site have the professionalism I have found lacking elsewhere. drop in some praise about them (we all like some praise)(and it shows you did some research) At Publisher’s Market Place, I noted your sale of the novel "BREED", by Owl Goingback to Signet Books and thought you might be interested in representing my current work. compare your book to something they have already agented--again shows research and that you didn't pick them willy nilly Below, please find the details of my novel, "TITLE OF YOUR BOOK". If interested, sample chapters, detailed and expanded synopsis, or complete manuscript are ready to be printed and mailed. this says the book is done, the synop is done, anything they might need is done and is ready to send--shows you are a professional who knows the needs of an agent or publisher.


TITLE: YES, I use this--I put a heading in just like an outline, in fact the query is formatted like an outline--"YOUR BOOK TITLE"

PLOT: This is where you put that one line plot summary


GENRE: Novel, Native American Mysticism with time travel.

WORD COUNT: About 91,000 words---finished

EXTRA INFO: this is where you need those novels to compare it to, not published by an author reped by the agent The novel combines the feel of Orson Scott Card's "PAST WATCH" with a mix of William Sarabande's "THE FIRST AMERICANS SAGA"---with a twist of light horror.

DESCRIPTION/SHORT SYNOPSIS: this is where you put in that very short synop/blurb about the book, give away the end--yes give away the end, they want to know you can wrap up a good story.

AUTHOR BIO; PREVIOUS PUBLICATIONS: self explanatory--yes? If no previous publications, then list schooling, what have you, relevant to your novel.


CONTACT INFO: Include every way they can get ahold of you.

SASE enclosed or I can be reached at srhowen@mail.com (srhowen@mail.com) (personal e-mail), or through Wild Child Magazine at srhowen@.com, or at (111) 123-4567 (TX number)---any time, day or night. If the machine picks up, the greeting will say you have reached Written Solutions Inc., leave a message. I check my messages frequently throughout the day.

Thank you for your time and consideration,

And that is exactly what my letters looked like, bold headings off to the side outline style and all.

How hard is that to write? In fact it's very very simple--anyone can do one. And agents and Editors like it because it gives them al the info they need right there, no digging. It shows respect, gives praise, and shows you are a pro who did research and didn't pick their name from a hat.

Hope this helps some of you--

Shawn

Julie Worth
03-30-2005, 10:52 PM
Very nice! It's the way I do it, but considerably better.

Hermit
03-30-2005, 11:04 PM
Awesome. I am going to save this one for sure. So simple and logical.
Thank you!

dragonjax
03-30-2005, 11:09 PM
Terrific idea, Shawn! It's like a press release -- it gives the information to the agents EXACTLY how they want it: easily, and in a pithy manner. If authors want to be unconventional yet professional, this is one of the ways to go about it. (Humble opinion, of course.) :hat:

maestrowork
03-30-2005, 11:16 PM
Shawn's letter is a good template. If you don't want to do the "list" format, you can still follow hers to make sure you have everything covered: genre, word count, synopsis, title, contact info, etc.

SRHowen
03-30-2005, 11:21 PM
It also takes some of the fear and loathing out the query letter--simple to the point info in a simple format--no making it blend together.

It also makes a good note sheet--like Ray said, to make sure you have all of it covered including the research and "praise" part. Feed them a little word candy.

Shawn

awatkins
03-30-2005, 11:24 PM
"Word candy." I like that!

Great post, Shawn. :)

arkady
03-31-2005, 12:20 AM
Worth trying. Thank you.

JuliePgh
05-19-2005, 11:38 PM
Thank you, Shawn. I like this very much. I do have one question though... Do you keep your queries to one page each? When I followed your format, my spilled over onto a second page. I don't know if my synopsis is too long, or it's my generous use of margins and tabs. Thank you.

eldragon
05-20-2005, 12:11 AM
Good question - Mine was two pages, also.

SRHowen
05-20-2005, 02:21 AM
My synopsis is only two very short paragraphs, and I use 1 inch margins, single spaced--times for the query.

eldragon
05-20-2005, 02:27 PM
When I removed the descriptions and did a little tweaking - it got down to one full page. Thanks again.

JuliePgh
05-20-2005, 04:14 PM
Okay, that begs the next question: just how important is it to have on one page? If the person sees the heading of "SYNOPSIS" towards the bottom, then he/she would understand why the letter spills over onto a second page.

Anaparenna
05-28-2005, 06:16 AM
Thank you for this. It's a wonderfully unique approach, which I predict might become a fad. :) It also challenged me as a writer, and renewed my own flagging interest in my piece (after a tough rejection by a noted agent after much consideration and interaction, the closest I've ever gotten).

I like what I ended up with, feel it's professionally useful, and am recommending it widely. Excellent innovation, and thanks for sharing your formula with us!

azbikergirl
05-28-2005, 06:30 AM
I tried this format and I got the entire query on one page by leaving out the author bio (I have no relevent publishing credits anyway). My blurb is fairly short, but it doesn't give away the ending. (Whether a query should reveal the ending or not depends on who you ask, so I went with not simply because to reveal the ending would take another large paragraph.)

I used it for my last assignment in a query letter course I took online, and the feedback I got was all negative. Nobody liked the format because it was "ugly." Putting myself in the shoes of a busy agent, I think I'd appreciate the format even if it is non-standard.

SRHowen
05-28-2005, 06:45 AM
I used it for my last assignment in a query letter course I took online, and the feedback I got was all negative. Nobody liked the format because it was "ugly." Putting myself in the shoes of a busy agent, I think I'd appreciate the format even if it is non-standard.

LOL

A query or manuscript is not meant to be pretty. The reaction to Times vs Courier is a big one as well--many say, but C is ugly!

I got a lot of complements on this letter--I send only one page. Why? The synop in this query is meant to mirror the type of thing you would do in a five min face to face at a Conference. Quick, to the point, the basic plot and that's it. It's mean to make the agent or editor ask for more.

One line plot summary expanded to five or six lines--or fewer.

I taught this at writer's Conferences in Germany when I lived there--an afternoon workshop that everyone walked away from with a query and a basic synopsis--2 pages (the synop)

Remember, this letter is your sales pitch--the buyer (agent or editor) likes a tip sheet, or a new product fact sheet--What is it? Why should I care? Who is going to buy it? Where do I get more info? How do I get a hold of the author?

Shawn

Roger J Carlson
05-29-2005, 05:14 AM
Very Nice! I tried it too. I posted the results here:
http://absolutewrite.com/forums/showpost.php?p=208076&postcount=11
if you're interested.

The thing I like about it is its conciseness and professionalism. My first query letters were more like business letters. But everything I read said it should have a hook, or be quirky, or grab the reader by the throat, or some such. So I tried to do that without visible success.

To me, this was a breath of fresh air.

Jamesaritchie
05-29-2005, 07:21 AM
I wouldn't call that query letter unconventional at all. It's pretty much perfect, in my opinion. If there's anything unconventional about it, it's that most writers don't take the time and trouble to write such a query.

JuliePgh
05-29-2005, 08:14 AM
Do you think this query is better suited for novels, or would it work well for children's manuscripts as well? At first I thought novels only, but now I'm starting to think it could be a good approach for the picture book queries and magazine queries. Does anyone see a negative side?

Jamesaritchie
05-29-2005, 10:58 AM
One thing about the Courier font. It is without any doubt the best font for editing, and only writers care about ugly or pretty in a manuscript. Editors care about ease of editing and how much faster Courier is than other fonts.

But this is only for editing. If it's going to be edited, use Courier 12. But if it isn't going to be edited, Courier is the wrong font to use. Query letters are not edited, and should be treated like any other business letter. Times New Roman, single spaced thorugh the body, and double-spaced only between paragraphs.

SRHowen
05-30-2005, 01:03 AM
No I did not use Courier in the query letter. Times and I used .75 margins as well.

I don't know how many times to say it or say it again, but courier is the wanted
font. When I first switched to it on my computer when Times was the preset, I thought oh man this is ugly, now I see tmes and I think--what the heck?

It's all in what you are used to and you have to remember that what your ms looks liek has nothing to do with what the printed book looks like.

Shawn

LightShadow
05-31-2005, 01:43 AM
Dam it all to the beavers, that's catchy. Similar to mine, but much more of an eye catcher. I like it.

Euan H.
05-31-2005, 01:38 PM
Just thought I'd add my 2c. I've been using Shawn's letter as a template for my query. I've sent out 14 queries in the past three weeks or so.

Results so far:

Form rejects: 3
Request for partials: 2

So there y'go. It can't be my writing--they haven't seen any of that yet--so it must be the letter.

arkady
05-31-2005, 06:39 PM
Just thought I'd add my 2c. I've been using Shawn's letter as a template for my query. I've sent out 14 queries in the past three weeks or so.

Results so far:

Form rejects: 3
Request for partials: 2

So there y'go. It can't be my writing--they haven't seen any of that yet--so it must be the letter.

That's the question I've been wanting to ask -- not whether or not it "feels" right, but whether anyone's gotten results with it. Thanks, Euan. Anyone else who's had similar real-world experience with this format, please chime in.

arkady
05-31-2005, 08:11 PM
Very Nice! I tried it too. I posted the results here:
http://absolutewrite.com/forums/showpost.php?p=208076&postcount=11
if you're interested.

The thing I like about it is its conciseness and professionalism. My first query letters were more like business letters. But everything I read said it should have a hook, or be quirky, or grab the reader by the throat, or some such. So I tried to do that without visible success.

To me, this was a breath of fresh air.

Roger, I noticed that you eliminated the "say-nice-things-about-the-agent" paragraph, presumably so you could squeeze it all on a single page. I wonder how many others have chosen to eliminate some of the items in the template, and if so, which ones.

Euan H.
06-01-2005, 03:40 AM
OKay, I've been asked to post my version of Shawn's query, so here it is:


Euan H.

[address]



[Agent's address]



[Date]



Dear [Name],

I found your agency through [where]. I understand you represent [Author 1 and name of book] and [Author 2 and name of book]. I am writing to you to ask about representation for my current work. Below, please find the details of my novel, "WOTAN'S BLOODY SPEAR." If you are interested, sample chapter, a synopsis and a complete manuscript are ready to be printed and (e)mailed.

TITLE: WOTAN'S BLOODY SPEAR

PLOT: Stefan von Stawy--werewolf and knight--must battle a shadowy conspiracy that threatens to destroy the world.

GENRE: Novel, Dark Alternate-History Fantasy

WORD COUNT: About 100,000 words---finished

EXTRA INFO: The novel offers the fresh slant on the werewolf story presented by The Wolf's Hour by Robert McCammon, combined with the alternate-history, dark-fantasy feel of The Shadow of the Lion by Mercedes Lackey, Eric Flint & Dave Freer, mixed with a dash of The Name of the Rose.





DESCRIPTION/SHORT SYNOPSIS:



Europe: Spring, 1457



Christendom is under attack. The Turkish Sultan has crushed the last remnant of the once-great Eastern Empire of Rome and now stands at the gates of Constantinople.



Stefan von Stawy—werewolf and knight—is sent to Constantinople of the eve of the Sultan’s victory, on a mission to recover a dangerous relic. There, he uncovers the clue that starts him on the trail of a monstrous conspiracy, one that reaches into the highest echelons of the Holy Roman Empire, and deep into Stefan’s troubled past.





AUTHOR BIO; PREVIOUS PUBLICATIONS: I have taught freshmen writing to students at [a university] for seven years. Fantasy and history have been life-long interests, which I have finally managed to combine in this novel.





CONTACT INFO: SASE enclosed or I can be reached at [email address] (through [the university]) or [alternate email address] (alternate address), or at +66 (code for Thailand) (0) [telephone number]





Thank you for your time and consideration,





Euan Harvey

SRHowen
06-01-2005, 07:24 AM
I hope no one minds, but I am going to use some of the compliments from here to post as a testimonial in my workshop pitch---

Thanks for the nice words.

Shawn

underthecity
03-01-2006, 09:46 PM
SR Howen and others:

I was reading through Miss Snark's blog and thought you might like to know that she absolutely does not like the opener in the letter format seen in the first post. She has a copy of a query letter that uses the exact template shown, word for word.

She was unimpressed. The post is 3/4 of the way down the page. To find it quickly, do a FIND for "One last crap shoot" at Miss Snark's Blogspot (http://misssnark.blogspot.com/2005_08_01_misssnark_archive.html)

To quote:


I found your agency listing at Publisher's Market Place, and visited your web site. Both your agency and your web site have the professionalism I have found lacking elsewhere.

oh really? you mean my mom's site? and the woman who gave me a job out of college? and my two dearest friends? Look lady, you've just insulted my colleagues. I may think some of them are halfwits, but only *I* get to say it.

Never ever, and I mean EVER start a query letter with a slap in the face to another agent. It's just downright f*cking rude. And if you think it's true, it's still rude.

Also:


This is an interesting format and one that appeals to my love of organization. If I sold this genre, I'd read on IF you don't have that opening paragraph.

I'd toss this if you did: I don't like the attitude, and good writing is a lot but life is too short to have more than one snark in the stable.

She liked the template, but not that opener.

Just a heads up.

allen

Branwyn
03-03-2006, 09:09 PM
What is the standard format for snail mail queries?




Word Count: As many words as you can neatly fit on one single sheet of stationery paper: approximately 100-500 words
Spacing: Standard business letter spacing and alignment: all text should be flush with the left margin, and single spaced. No paragraph indentations, but a space between each paragraph.
Margins: 1.0-1.25 inch margins all around
Font: Should be 12-point Times New Roman. Don't shrink your font down to 10 or 9 in order to fit more words on a single page.
Agent Info: Agent's contact information (name, agency, mailing address) should be arranged at the start of your query, flush with the left margin, in accordance with standard business format.
Date: Should be positioned under the agent's contact address
Salutation: Use a formal business greeting. We recommend "Attn. Ms. Jade Walker:" or "Attn. Ms. Walker:" In our opinion, "Dear Ms. Walker," is never appropriate in a business letter.
I always started, Dear so and so...
Title: Your book title should be italicized
Closing: We like good 'ol boring "Sincerely," or "Best Regards," or something else plain vanilla. Do NOT use "Very Truly Yours," or "Your Most Humble Servant,". The only thing worse than that is "Cheers,".
Your Info: Your contact information (mailing address, phone, email address) should be listed in the header or footer. It may be bolded and centered, and you may use an illustrative font to mimic professional business "stationery" look and feel, but don't get too crazy. And although many agents still DON'T accept email queries, they aren't completely stuck in the twentieth century; many of these same agents DO use email to correspond with a writer, especially to request partials and fulls. So always include your email address in your contact information of your snail mail query letter.
SASE: Always include a self-addressed stamped envelope (SASE) with your snail mail query for the agent's response

Jeneral
03-03-2006, 11:48 PM
Salutation: Use a formal business greeting. We recommend "Attn. Ms. Jade Walker:" or "Attn. Ms. Walker:" In our opinion, "Dear Ms. Walker," is never appropriate in a business letter.
I always started, Dear so and so...

Same here. I should drop an email to the large law firm I used to work for and tell them that all their letters have an inappropriate salutation. :tongue


Closing: We like good 'ol boring "Sincerely," or "Best Regards," or something else plain vanilla. Do NOT use "Very Truly Yours," or "Your Most Humble Servant,". The only thing worse than that is "Cheers,".

And again. I'll email my former boss, a partner in said firm with 25+ years experience, and let her know that she really shouldn't say "very truly yours." All this time she's been unprofessional. :tongue

kuroisama
03-24-2006, 05:21 AM
Salutation: Use a formal business greeting. We recommend "Attn. Ms. Jade Walker:" or "Attn. Ms. Walker:" In our opinion, "Dear Ms. Walker," is never appropriate in a business letter.
I always started, Dear so and so...

First, I love this template and plan on using it. Second, the reason most people start business letters with "Dear" is because that's what they were taught in high school. That's what I was taught. And, places like about.com tell you that's what you should do. I'm pretty sure my Troika handbook to writing basics says the same thing (I'm too lazy to go find it at the moment as I recently moved and haven't finished unpacking yet).

To me, "Attn" seems a little like ordering the reader around. That may just be me because I grew up in a military household. But hey, if that's what the agent wants, then give it to them. Unless I read that specifically on the agent's page (or I find something less personal sounding), I'm sticking with "Dear".

Just thought I'd add that.

Optimus
04-07-2006, 12:14 PM
Shawn's "unconventional" query letter is actually pretty darned close to the standard, "conventional" query letter used by screenwriters.

It's actually quite close the the query I send out for my scripts (with a few differences, of course).

Short, direct, to-the-point but with a little arse kissing, concise, and no longer than one page.

Are novel/manuscript query letters usually much different?

It seemed pretty standard fare from where I'm sitting but, then again, my experience is only in screenwriting and not novels.

Celia Cyanide
04-11-2006, 05:49 PM
To me, "Attn" seems a little like ordering the reader around. That may just be me because I grew up in a military household. But hey, if that's what the agent wants, then give it to them. Unless I read that specifically on the agent's page (or I find something less personal sounding), I'm sticking with "Dear".

I did not grow up in a military household, and I agree with you. When I send emails about acting jobs in local films, I do not use "dear" because I think it sounds too formal! "Attn" is what you put on the envelope so that the mail sorter knows who to give the letter to.

But just as you said, I am going to do that if it is what the agent wants. But I work in a clinic and all our letters from Attorney's offices start with "dear," and several end with "very truly yours," so obviously not everyone feels that way about business letters.

Sassenach
04-11-2006, 09:59 PM
I'd do what they ask, but only for them. 'Dear ______' is the standard business form, whatever these guys say.

priceless1
04-17-2006, 04:40 AM
Shawn, as one who sits on the other side of the desk, may I say that I love you? While I normally blow over a query letter so I can get to the meat of a submission, a letter like yours is exactly the sort of thing that makes me sit up a bit straighter in my chair and run some Windex over my eyes. Your letter screams obvious professional - a true dream.

Julie Worth
04-17-2006, 05:30 AM
Shawn, as one who sits on the other side of the desk, may I say that I love you? While I normally blow over a query letter so I can get to the meat of a submission, a letter like yours is exactly the sort of thing that makes me sit up a bit straighter in my chair and run some Windex over my eyes. Your letter screams obvious professional - a true dream.

Since she disappeared from here a couple of months ago, maybe someone else felt the same.

ABKN
06-06-2009, 09:43 PM
This is great for a newbie like me. Thanks

Newguy1428
06-08-2009, 04:40 AM
Thank you Shawn...Why isn't this on the query board? I think it should be a sticky there!

Kayley
06-08-2009, 05:34 AM
I'm a bit confused...if agents prefer this format, why do so many agent blogs instruct on the other format, where there is a descriptive letter?

That's nothing against your format; on the contrary, I'm delighted by it. It's like your format seems too good to be true. If agents really do prefer this format, I'd be very happy. I think this fits my style better. I'm just reluctant to use it because I haven't seen any assurance from agents that they prefer it.

Regardless, thank you for posting it! In the end, if agents do prefer this, I will most likely use your format. :]

EDIT: Nvm, I didn't notice that this was from 2005.

MumblingSage
06-08-2009, 09:05 PM
Well, people have been posting here the last few weeks--and Kayley asks a good question. Is there a catch?

SRHowen
08-28-2011, 06:08 PM
Hi all, I've been AWL for awhile, life happened and I am back in the game full time once again.

I can only say that the letter works and still works because it is so simple. It's an open the door kind of letter not a submission, most instructions that you find are for submissions. This is a business proposal designed to get an agent to ask for a submission--if you go to conferences at all you may get 3 to 5 min with an agent or publisher. What do you say?

This works as a tip sheet as well for that purpose. It's quick simple and to the point. As to the don't use that praise paragraph, the words I used were an example, not what you should write in every letter.

Forgive my typos lately part of why I have been MIA is I am loosing my vision so don't catch them all.

MsJudy
08-28-2011, 07:58 PM
resurrected zombie thread...probably in the wrong place now that Query Hell is such a vibrant and active little inferno.

Maybe a Mod should portal this over to QLH where people can debate the pros and cons of this approach?

I would just say that of all the successful queries posted in QLH, not one uses this format, as far as I know.