Posted by Rebecca J. Carlson
Three years ago when I began to venture into the world of book publishing, the query process seemed so unfair. How could an agent judge anything about my manuscript by a few paragraphs on a single sheet of paper? And after all that work of drafting a novel, revising, drafting again, rewriting the ending three times, revising some more, NOW I had this--this HOMEWORK assignment! Write a query letter? Bah.
Now I have a different attitude. What can an agent tell about my manuscript from my query letter? More than I thought at first. But equally important is what the agent can tell about me.
When you meet someone it doesn't take long to get an impression of who they are. A query letter is the same way. It's a first impression, and it can be very revealing.
Here's a few things I'd be looking for if I were an agent:
1. Is this writer competent enough to draft a good business letter? This includes conventions like grammar, spelling, and formatting. Writers who can produce great novels but who can't write a decent business letter may exist, but they've got to be extremely rare.
2. Can the writer explain the story clearly in a paragraph or two, and make it sound exciting? If the writer can't do this then I'm certainly not going to be able to do it. How will I get an editor interested? How will we sell this book to the public?
3. Do I like this writing style? Is it engaging? Could I read a whole book in this writing style?
What are some other things agents can glean from a query letter? I'd like to see some comments.
When it comes to a query letter, what's between the lines can be just as important as what's on the surface. It's a first impression, and I intend to make it count.