When I was pushing to get Tick-Tock traditionally published I spent hours agonizing over my summary and the query letter. It was a lot simpler than I was making it, but I thought since I spent so long on it, and so many others do the same, I would post my letter here for you, with my annotations in red. Although Tick-Tock failed to get traditionally published in the end, this letter was part of what got me a positive response and the opportunity to at least send in a full manuscript, so I must have done something right.
1. Now the first thing I did (and I know this sounds insanely obvious) but I structured it like a letter should be, my details in the top corner, the date I sent it and the agent details above the letter. I know it sounds strange but I know fellow authors who just write it as a word document, and to me that says there’s some thought lacking from the letter.
Dear AGENT 2. I put Agent here because I researched which Agent I wanted to speak to from each and every agency, so it changed every time. I went on their website and read all their profiles and found the one whose interests most matched up with my work. A fair few agency’s employ people to read what is termed to be the ‘slush pile’, so it may not reach the agent of your choice. But then again it also may, and even if it doesn’t it shows you have respect for their time and what they do and didn’t just put ‘BumbleTwins & Co.’ at the top of your query (or whatever, you get my drift).
Thank you for taking the time to read my submission. 3. Yes it’s their job, but you should be thanking them anyway, it shows you’re considerate of their time. If you seem pleasant to work with the Agent will just be more keen to do so. Please find enclosed a synopsis and the first three chapters for ‘Tick-Tock’, a 60,000 word fantasy adventure book aimed at girls between the ages of 9-12. 4. A quick run down of word count, demographic and the title you have in mind, this is standard operating procedure and any advice I’ve ever read on query letters tells you to do this – it will look very odd if this info is missing.
Vega’s stuck; she and her family live in the impoverished Earthfissure with no means of escape. Vega hates it, she doesn’t fit in at school because she looks and acts differently to everyone else, she doesn’t fit in at home because her Mum is so wrapped up in her own worries she has no time for Vega. There’s nowhere else for Vega to even try and fit in, because that’s all there is in Earthfissure, work and sleep; when she grows up all she has to look forward to is a life down in the mines.
But Vega refuses to accept that’s her lot in life and the only person who understands that is her brother, Rigel. Rigel, like he always does, finds a solution to their money problems, but Vega finds that it isn’t so simple; Rigel is trading his body away piece by piece. Vega finds herself unable to make Rigel stop trading his body away and he ends up dead. Truly alone for the first time, Vega finds out what it means to take care of herself when she finally leaves her home and promises to find out who’s really responsible for Rigels’ death. Perhaps an ill-advised adventure, considering she doesn’t even know who would want Rigel gone. 5. Now these paragraphs must come from you because it’s a quick run down of your book, a lot of people talk about their work more clinically than I chose to here. However Tick-Tock was a very character driven narrative and I felt the emotional weight suited it, a crime author, for example, would have probably written this part very differently to me.
6. Another thing to note about this little run down is it is not a summary, you have your synopsis to cover that, it’s just a little bite-size piece of what makes your books original, exciting and your own, for the agent to snack on while you intro yourself. You might notice I asked a lot of questions without posing any answers, that’s not uncommon in this part of your letter.
This is my first novel, 7. If it is your first it’s pretty standard to say, although if you have any journalism experience you’d be better talking about that. Personally my only profesional writing experience before this was writing chair catalouges, something I chose not to boast about for some reason. it’s heavily inspired by writers such as Jacqueline Wilson and Tamora Pierce who write very inspirational characters for young readers, while still remaining very relatable. 8. This is something that I found a lot of mixed views on while doing research for this, some people say you don’t want to reference influences, because it detracts from your works originality. Personally I think that is utter seaweed-mucus, referencing good work can give more of a flavor for what your book is about (as you can see, I reference character driven narratives to enforce a point about my own work) and at worst the agent will simply see that you can critically analysis your genre of choice. I unfortunately grew up with no maternal influence and found realistic characters with strong self conviction were the best guides I had, when all the other girls were being rescued by princes and swooning. 9. This is what I chose to put about myself. This sounds harsh but it should be a potential selling point, if you don’t have one (and most people do) you don’t have to put one, but the fact of the matter is with social media driving a lot of book sales now and authors personality can help to sell. Of course the book also needs to be good, but if you’re especially young, or you’ve written a book about a hot button issue you’ve experienced yourself then your life can make for a good sales pitch. Sounds harsh, but ultimately that’s what publishing has to be about for those guys. Having an abusive parent was a bit rubbish growing up, but now I’m one the best people to write books on the subject. Capitalize on your misery, is the lesson here. That is where Vega’s born from, she is a girl who might be a bit immature at times, she’s quick to get emotional and very defensive but despite all that she is loyal, determined and finds she can be brave when she puts her mind to it. I hope you find you love her as much as I do.
I’d be happy to send you a full manuscript and I would welcome any feedback you have. I hope to hear from you soon. 10. Most agents don’t give individual feedback, there are independent specialists for that, but ask anyway, if you show you’re open to improvement, and not an angry know it all, some agents might ask you to resubmit after a re-write.
11. Now I signed my name in this space after printing off, I don’t know if that did anything, but it was just another part of the effort I put into my letter to show that I really cared about my submission. Because that is the key here; if you’re slap dash, and there’s a coffee ring on page twenty of your sample you don’t look like you give a flying pig for your submission, and if that’s the case, why should anyone else care?
12. One last thing that I chose not to do in my letter because I think it’s rather brown-nosey, and that’s reference some of the agents’ other work. Magazine articles are different, they are short and snappy, but books, nah. I don’t believe that there is an agent alive that expects you to research them so intently, and if you already like them then if they choose to pick up your work you can talk about it at a later date, as an opening it does seem a tad desperate.
I hope anyone trying to submit a manuscript finds this helpful. Good Luck guys!