Well, here's a girl who knows what she wants. Tina Wexler from ICM.
How Your Query Letter Should Sound
* The tone of your query letter should match the tone of your work. Don't be cute if your book is serious; don't be serious if your book is cute. That said, you are writing a professional letter, a business letter, so you should conduct yourself as such while letting your personality and your writing style shine through.
* You should take the same care writing your query letter as you would with a resume and cover letter. That means no typos, spelling mistakes, or grammatical errors.
* Have every single person you know read your query letter. Not only is this a helpful way to catch grammatical errors, it's also a great way to test out your plot summary. If the reader has questions, it might mean you're not explaining the story well.
* Write the letter yourself. Don't have your poor sister or husband do it. It won't impress me if you're assistant writes it, or your dentist. You don't need a mini-agent to get an agent. And since you're writing the letter yourself, please, for the love of Pete, don't talk about yourself in the third person, not even in your bio. That drives Tina batty.
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June 6, 2007 - Wednesday
WHAT YOUR QUERY LETTER SHOULD NOT SAY
* Do not tell me how many people have rejected your work before it got to me. I don't want to know. This is the equivalent of being on a first date and talking about how many times you've been dumped. Yikes!
* If you're going to flatter, get your facts straight and try to be specific. I recently received a query letter praising my impressive list of authors (thank you) who have "inspired and entertained throughout the ages." Now, let me be the first to say it: I love compliments. I don't take them well—I'll disagree with you well into the night if you dare tell me my hair looks nice today—but I love hearing them about the authors I represent. Still, the truth is, I haven't been in this industry for ages. I haven't been ALIVE for ages. And most of my clients are debut authors. Certainly, they are all capable of inspiring and entertaining, but I can't say that many of them have been doing either (by way of their books at least) throughout the ages.
Now, I know it seems like I'm a bit obsessed with the wording (because I am) but let me explain why. The wording of this query letter tells me that this same praise was doled out to everyone who received this person's query letter. I'm sure it saved him plenty of time, but it also got him a form rejection letter. (Okay, it was actually the lousy plot summary, but...)
The lesson here is this: If you admire one of my client's books, I'm happy to hear it. If you have heard good things about me (really??!), I'm glad it prompted you to write. But know that I decode query letters for a living and I'd rather get no praise at all than false praise.
* Do not tell me how much money your book will make me, that it's going to be a New York Times Bestseller, or that it has great film potential.
* Do not babble. Do not complain. Do not start with an apology. Do not be hostile. Do not intimate that anyone who doesn't ask to read your work is a complete idiot. Do not, if I reject your manuscript, write to tell me "I wouldn't know a good book if it landed on my head." (True story.)
* Do not lie. If you tell me you have a Fulbright, I'm going to look it up. Trust me.
Now, enough of what NOT to do. Let's get to the body of the query letter...in the next post.
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May 31, 2007 - Thursday
What Your Query Letter Should Say, wrap up
* Your bio needn't be very long. Let me know if you're a recognized expert in the field of X if your book is about X. Tell me where you went to college (if you recently graduated), what you're currently working on, what you do to earn a living, anything to give me an idea of how you fill your days, but nothing so personal you wouldn't tell a stranger. Because really, that's what I am.
* If you have publication credits, please include them in your bio. Tell me the title and the publisher and the year the book was published—-TITLE (Publisher, Year). Don't tell me you're a published author and not give me the details. Sure, I can look it all up online, but I don't want to and chances are I'll find that the reason you have alluded to publications, but haven't include details is because 1) you self-published or 2) you don't think the book was "big" enough and that just writing "published author" is better. It's not. Be specific.
* If you don't have publication credits, that's fine. Just skip this part of your bio if you've nothing substantial to include. I base my decision of whether I want to represent you or not entirely on if I'm interested in the current project you're querying me about.
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Tina is one of my dream agents. She read a full of one of my novels but, unfortunately, passed. She's really nice and wrote me a personal letter with the reasons explained fully on why she did decide to pass.