You’re here! Hooray!
You’d be amazed the number of people who blindly send out query letters and manuscripts without doing a lick of research. Crazy, I tell you. So treat yourself to some ice cream because you’re already way ahead of them.
You may even already know the query letter basics. If not, a quick refresher. The job of the query letter is to make the editor or agent want to read more.
Your query letter MUST have:
- Genre (Contemporary YA, Dystopian, Paranormal Romance, Thriller—you get it, right?)
- Word count
- A brief description of the book
- Whether you’ve published before (books, magazine articles, high school newspaper–well, ok maybe not so much unless you’re fresh out of high school–short stories, self-publication)
- Anything relevant about you personally in relation to writing (like, say, organizing a fabulous online conference attended by thousands of aspiring writers)
So that covers a lot. And even with just those basics, you’re pretty golden. But there are a few ways to go above and beyond that could (and I say could because everyone’s different) help you really stand out from the pack:
- Reference a book that editor/agent has worked on. It shows you’ve done your homework. It makes me feel like you really want me in particular to be your partner on your book. And who doesn’t want to feel special?
- Be aware of trends. If it’s a huge trend right now, chances are any editor or agent you’re submitting to has seen a bazillion queries on the same topic. So what do you do if you’ve got a teen dystopian vampire romance ready for submission when we’ve seen a gazillion vampires/werewolves/demons/angels or dystopian settings where one girl has to go up against a corrupt government?
- Make it different. Kiss of death in YA-land is feeling like you’ve read something before. Call it something that’s not a vampire. Can you angle away from the paranormal element so it feels more like a thriller? Take about 20 steps back—or get a critique partner you trust—to see how you can reshape your description of the novel. That’s what we call positioning. Dive back into the text to shift focus if you need to.
- Pretend you’re writing back cover copy. In the descriptive part of the query letter, keep it short, keep it punchy, make me want to know more. It’s exactly the mentality I have when writing descriptions for the back cover or jacket flap.
- Get connected. Having a Twitter account or a blog doesn’t make a whole lot of difference these days unless you have a seriously impressive following. But if you’re friends with other published authors—better yet, if one of them has given you a blurb—I definitely want to know about it.
You are now prepared to go forth and query!
Leah Hultenschmidt is a Senior Editor at Sourcebooks, where she acquires young adult fiction for the Fire imprint and adult romance for the Casablanca imprint. You can read more about Leah here or find submission guidelines here.