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How to Write an Effective Query Letter [Part 1]

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A literary agent is a critical ally in your mission to write a great book and get it published. 

To find a literary agent, you'll need to send him or her a convincing query letter.

But how do you write an effective query?

We interviewed Literary Agent Sam Hiyate for his advice. Watch the video to find out [Transcript Below].

 

So You Want to Write?: The first question here is from Neil from the Toronto NaNoWriMo Facebook group, and he wants to know how to write an effective query letter. 

Literary Agent Sam Hiyate: That’s a really good question and one that I get asked a lot. There are a ton of online resources included writersdigest.com, which is the website for the great magazine that every writer should be reading, that has a section which is I think “queries that worked” or "effective queries,” if you just search there or in the site.

And what they give you is the query letter that the writer sent to the literary agent and then the literary agent will say, “This is what I liked about the query.” So you can see a range, there’s probably hundreds of queries that actually worked, because every one is a little different.

I can tell you in what ways they should be the same, generally, but what you can usually see in the successful queries is that they [the writer] found a really brilliant, clever way of distilling the essence of their story and who they are and putting it out there.

So some of them who are very funny, if they have a funny project, their humour comes through, the tone of their work comes through in the query. And one of the things, people like me and book editors who are reading these letters all the time, is we can tell a lot about you from the query.

SYWW: So it’s kind of like your query is an inadvertent way of talking about your book and promoting yourself, but you can package it? 

Sam: It definitely is, and my analogy is a good query letter is like sending a cover letter with a resume, and then the outcome you want from when you do that is you've analyzed the job description and the company and the industry and you should know why you want to work there and what that cover letter says and the cover letter and the resume are usually adapted to highlight your experiences that relate to what they need you to have, right?

So no two cover letters or resumes should be the same when you’re seriously applying for work. It’s the same with approaching a literary agent or an editor. 

What you can do is look at the literary agent’s site and see what they specifically are looking for. And you should do your homework, the same way it would be for getting an interview.

And so ideally when you send that cover letter and resume you want them to say, “Hey we love you, when can you come in for an interview?”

So that’s a positive outcome, and the outcome you want when you send a query letter to an agent is to have the agent say, “This sounds awesome, can you please submit it [the manuscript] and I’ll read it.” So you want it to be read.

SYWW: Ya because you always can tell when there’s canned emails that they’re sending to everyone. You can tell…

Sam: Well that’s actually one of my pet peeves but I think that’s another question…

 

Watch Part 2 Here

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