Five queries finished, ready to be emailed first thing tomorrow morning.

I hold on to a superstition about sending queries, which are basically cover letters for the first five or 10 pages of your book. Like most aspiring novelists, writing fiction (let alone trying to find representation for it) isn’t my full-time job, so I write queries over the weekend or at night. But I only send them out on a Monday or Tuesday morning, during business hours, as part of a regular work week.

I want those emails to be taken seriously.

I read a lot of agents’ blogs and follow several agents on Twitter. They often offer advice about what not to do in query letters, like pitching five projects at the same time or addressing agents by the wrong name or using the word “menopausal.” (Ha, I love that.)

But even without making these major mistakes, it is so hard to write a good query letter. It’s like a little microcosm of how hard it is to push your way into the publishing world.

Every query letter is different, rewritten to appeal to that particular agent’s sensibilities, which you learned about by trolling the Internet for hours, looking at their existing projects and reading their submission guidelines and figuring out what they like and combing through every page of their website. For example:

  • You mention the book you read a few years ago by one of his bestselling superstars, emphasizing the similarities between that book and yours without sounding like an egotistical, presumptuous idiot.
  • You include the phrase “strong but flawed” to describe your female protagonist, hoping it will catch her eye because she said she loved books with those kinds of protagonists in a 2006 interview you found in some dusty corner of the Internet.
  • You explain why the hours upon hours of interviewing you did with an exotic-animal veterinarian mean you can write about zoos with a bit of authority, and you know he’s interested in zoos because he once represented a different book about a zoo. (But don’t worry, this one is different! But also just enough the same to pique his interest!)

Crafting these letters — doing all that homework — takes a really, really long time. It’s certainly possible that no, Gwen, you’re doing it wrong… but everything I’ve read suggests that these ultra-personalized queries are the way to go.

So! Once more into the breach, dear query letters. Good luck, and let’s hope that some of you come back home with requests to see full manuscripts.

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