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How Do I Write a Query Letter Literary Reps Will Be Excited By?

By September 24, 2021No Comments

You wrote a great book… now it’s time to write a great query letter.

In film and television, there are a myriad of ways to have your work seen in order to break in. However, in traditional publishing, the paths are far fewer and narrower, with the classic query letter often being your best bet. But how do you write a query letter reps will be excited by? 

Short and Precise

Much like a cover letter you would write for a job, you want your query letter to get across the story, who you are as a person and as a writer, and leave them wanting to know more. Word choice is key. While you want to keep things polite and professional, you also want to write in a way that’s gripping and will interest the agent. You can bring this out the most in how you pitch a story and how you pitch yourself. You only truly have 3-5 sentences, a paragraph, to sell yourself and your story. 

The Launch Pad spoke with Stefanie Molina, an agent at Ladderbird Literary Agency, who advised finding a unique way to reach out to the agent.

“It’s okay to come at it from a personal angle sometimes. I get queries from people telling me we have things in common, briefly describing their emotional journey in publishing, and so on. It sets me up to want to like this.”

Pitch the Story

Much like a logline for a screenplay, you want to set up the story without giving everything away. Molina says,

“I want to clearly see the emotional trajectory of the story as you describe the inciting incident, the reaction(s) to and consequences of that incident (including subplots), and a hint at a conclusion. If the pitch doesn’t grab me, I usually don’t read on.”

Story Over Theme

Last year, the Launch Pad spoke with Kiana Nguyen, a literary agent with Donald Maass Literary Agency, who warned that writers can get caught up in over-prioritizing (and therefore, over-explaining) the theme. By focusing on these broader topics that your story should evoke, you could potentially confuse the agent who now doesn’t know what that story actually is. 

Pitch Yourself

You only have a paragraph to really tell a potential agent why they should work with you, so you need to make it tight. In addition to telling them about your story, you need to let them know who you are. You’re not just selling a book, you’re selling yourself as a client. Some screenwriters use a “logline for their life” as a jumping-off point. If you have a “brand” or genre focus, previously published works, any kind of awards, etc., this is all worth mentioning as a selling point. But the most crucial piece is that this query letter has your voice so to make the agent want to get to know you better. 

If/when your query wins over an agent for a follow-up meeting or call, Molina advises that she looks for something specific, “Is this author someone I would like to work with on a personal level?” As much as you’re selling your story, you’re selling yourself for a long-term working relationship as well, making a great dynamic between writer and agent imperative.

You’re looking to start a long-term relationship with just a few short sentences. Take your time to make sure it’s the best representative of who you are as a storyteller. 

Enter your short story or book into the Launch Pad Prose Competition. Regular Deadline ends August 27th!

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