To query, or not to query? That is the question.

Happy Friday friends!

Today's topic is the query letter. The more I am involved in the writing process, research for how to create the best novel I possibly can, and publishing said novel, I find that the answer to the question above is this: QUERY. AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE.

What is a query letter, you ask? Good question.

A query letter is, in its most basic form, a document that details who you are, what you've written, and why it is the most fabulous piece of artistry that will ever be created. Queries are important because a successful one could ultimately be the bridge between your novel gathering dust on your shelf and becoming a must-have at Barnes and Noble.

After you've finished your novel (I'll get to non-fiction in a second), and only AFTER you've finished (I'm including edits, final edits and, yes, more editing), you'll want to put together your letter. The most important pieces of information to include are your writing background (any published work, degrees, what-have-you), a short summary about the book (title, word count, basic plot), and why this book is relevant and/or will be a success. Think about why you want to read a book. What would YOU expect readers to want from YOUR story? Sell yourself! Because that's exactly what you will have become at this point: a salesman (woman, person, whatever...). And if you don't believe in your story, who the heck will?

Nicholas Sparks, bestselling author of, well, just about every tear-jerking love story in the last fifteen years, actually posted his original query letter for The Notebook (his first novel) on his website. It is a treasure, people! Pay attention because this is the query letter that led to signing with the talented agent he has been with for his entire career, as well as a million dollar rights deal with Warner Brothers (and, let's not forget, one of my favorite movies with one of my favorite wish-they-would-get-back-together-couples: Rachel McAdams and Ryan Gosling).

You can view Sparks query here.

Once you are ready to send out your letter, do your research. There are plenty of excellent guides out there for top literary agents, and most of them include a little bio, what they agent, as well as contact information. An agent is going to be the person who reads the letter and, if interested, contacts you to see your book. This is why you have to be finished with your novel first; you'll want to get it sent out as soon as humanely possible, which means you won't have time to finish editing. You'll probably get rejected. Many times. This is okay. It's never happened to me because I'm still editing but, honestly, I'm looking forward to it. Why? Because I can't wait to know that all my hard work is paying off and, at the very least, I am receiving feedback. If you've been following me for a bit, you know I am planning on framing my first rejection letter (and, of course, my first letter of interest!). I'm most excited about knowing that other people are reading my work and that it has become a tangible thing. But enough about me...back to queries and agents...

Once you've been accepted (it WILL happen!), it is up to YOU whether you want to work with that agent. You might have a few who want to represent you, which is a great place to be. Figure out who really understands your characters and believes in your potential to not only make money (let's face it: agents only make money by selling your book, so money is essential here), but to continue to create stories that people love. When you've found the right one...CELEBRATE! Do a victory dance. Drink some wine, go out with friends. Call me! I'll be excited to hear about your success.

Now it's up to the agent to sell your book to a publisher. Lots of people send their manuscripts directly to a publisher, but this is not a good idea. Publishers don't want to sift through unsolicitd manuscripts to find something worth reading. Agents do that leg work, and publishers (for the most part) respect agents because they have already made sure the novel is up to standard before they see it.

Non-fiction (how-tos, memoirs, cook books, etc.) work a little differently. In this case, you don't have to have the book written, or even started. But you do have to have a good idea about what you want to write and why. You'll put together a proposal to send to agents, which will be a detailed synopsis of the book, chapter by chapter, in addition to a letter that looks much like a query. A proposal usually runs about twenty pages. This is not a simple thing to do and it requires a good deal of time and effort. The final process is mostly the same (send proposal to agents, get rejected, then signed) but then you'll have to write the book. The good news here is that you'll have your agent before you write, so you'll have a great support system in place to do the work.

Leave comments or questions, if you have any, and I'll be glad to get back to you!


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