Why a query letter must be great

Literary agent Nathan Bransford has a contest on his blog this week. On Monday, he posted 50 query letters from real writers. Five are from published works (with the names changed, of course) and the rest are either fake or real from writers who volunteered their queries for the contest. The game is Be An Agent for a Day, and readers must read all 50 query letters, then post their reactions to them. The “agents” who correctly choose the five that were of published books (i.e. the best query letters) will win. This way, participants can see what’s it’s like for agents when they’re reading a bunch of queries.

I haven’t participated yet and probably won’t, even though the deadline is Saturday night. I’m just too busy right now.

But here’s what was interesting: In Nathan’s follow-up blog post yesterday, he said he read 76 query letters the day before. When a reader asked how many made him request more, his answer was two! Two requests out of 76 queries.

When we submit our work to Nathan or any other agent, we have to understand that on any given day, they’re going to be reading through as many as 76 query letters. That’s a lot of words. To stand out in that crowd, our query letters mustn’t be good — they have to be great!

I would venture to say that if an agent can have some kind of emotional response to your query, you’re in the great arena. That emotion should depend on your story, but I think that’s what we should strive for. If we have a funny book we’re trying to sell with this query, the agent should laugh or at least chuckle with the query. If the book is sad, the agent should see that in the query.

Think of a movie trailer. Our query letter won’t have the soundtrack, but it should be just as compelling.

Check out my recent posts on query letters here and here, especially this one about Jackie Kessler’s query, which made me laugh (the query, not the blog post).

Don’t be in a hurry to write your query letter. Take your time and make it the best it can be. It has a lot of competition that it needs to shine through.

Write On!

What do you think?