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Pen IN Hand
The Darn Good Query Letter
By Peggy Bechko
October, 2006, 15:20

The query letter is a sales tool, a way of selling the agent on the idea that he or she wants to represent your work. You have literally only seconds to grab this prospective agentís attention so the first sentence or two must hook this agent into reading further.

First, the query letter is a formal meeting. You donít know the agent yet, so approach the situation that way. Be respectful and formal. That means you donít start with ďHowdy Al!Ē Rather, you begin with Dear Mr./Ms. Smith, and use a colon instead of a comma following the formal address. It also means youíve already done your research and have pinpointed a name within the agency to whom to send this query Ė not, "Dear Sir or Madam."
Make your introduction like a professional. Donít introduce yourself first; rather, introduce your work. Your name will only be important if the agent is truly hooked and ready to read your manuscript. The first sentence of the first paragraph is where you hook Ďem. A powerful line from your book, perhaps even the first one is good. If you can work it into a question, something that is provocative, you should be able to give this person something to consider; not an answer to the question youíve raised, but a reason to read on. If youíre good with cutting to the bone, then a succinct blurb may work well for you as an alternative to a gripping line from your book.
Okay, you hooked your potential agent. Next you use a couple of paragraphs to tell him what the book is about. Donít go into detail; keep it broad, and unless thereís a very compelling reason to do so, donít reveal the ending. Donít try to tell the agent how wonderful you are. Focus on the story and avoid flowery adjectives. Be sure to mention what kind of a story it is Ė a romance, suspense, sci-fi, whatever it is.
By now, the agent is ready to request your manuscript. Now is the time to expand the picture with details of the length of the manuscript and a bit about you. Simply and directly state your background, writing credits (if you don't have any, leave that unsaid), and any special qualifications that might give you outstanding expertise with the story youíre presenting.
Close the letter by asking if the agent is willing to read your manuscript, and if so, how it should be presented (snail mail paper or CD, email, whatever). Politely offer your thanks for their time and consideration. If youíve done your homework and know the agency requests sample pages, donít forget to include them. State whether you want the pages returned to you. If you do, then include an envelope the correct size with sufficient postage. Proof your letter carefully for spelling errors and other mistakes and remember all this needs to fit on one page, two only if you really, really need to.
Finally, put it all together and send it off. You may not hear back for a month. If you donít hear in that time, a brief inquiry would not be inappropriate. If your query is rejected, either it wasnít the type of story the agency is looking to represent or the query wasnít intriguing enough for the agent to ask to see more. Reread it, rethink it, and try again.
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Author of Doubleday western novels, Harlequin romances, Fictionworks' fantasies (eBook format), Peggy Bechko has also optioned screenplays domestically and abroad, written for an animated series and for variety of other venues. She's working on a new novel and collaborating on a animated series.

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