Query letters for an Agent

For me, the query letter is much harder to write than the book.

First, last clichés:

Not to mince words – To speak plainly, avoiding giving offense. This expression, also used as not to mince matters, dates from
Shakespeare’s time (see Othello and Antony and Cleopatra) and in effect transfers the cutting into small pieces of some object, like meat, to moderating or softening one’s language.

Get into Hot Water – Get into embarrassing situations, or get in trouble. Probably the allusion here is to water hot enough to burn one. Lord Malmesbury used it in a lette in 1765. However the term appeared in print more than two centuries earlier. In 16th and 17th centuries it was put as “to cost hot water.” Possibly already a clichè by the time it appeared in Richard H. Dan’s Two Years Before the Mast (1840).

Shoot yourself in the Foot – To hurt one’s own cause by mistake. This phrase calls up the image of someone holding a firearm pointed down and accidentally discharging it. Although the effect is similar, it must be distinguished from injuring oneself intentionally in order to avoid military service (or to be sent home from the front).

So, how many did you find?

Can you submit to more than one agent at a time? Yes. First you comprise of a list of all of the appropriate agents you could send your query to. Then submit to them no more than 8 to 10 agents at a time. Why? What if your query letter is not an eye catcher? If you’re rejected the first set, you have a way to revise your query and try again.

What is a query letter? It’s a written one page pitch to catch an agent’s eye to want to read your manuscript. You don’t want to still be wet behind the ears regarding a query, so go to www.guidetoliteraryagents.com/blog and read the query’s Chuck Sambuchino as for references.

A one page query letter has three parts: 1.) The introduction paragraph. You want to make this short and sweet. The first sentence should have details about your work; i.e. genre, word count, title. The second sentence is your connection line which is why you chose the particular agent. For example: I saw you speak at the xyz workshop and I think you would like my manuscript because… 2.) The pitch itself. Talk about your story in a brief, descriptive way (3 – 10 sentences), which will include the tone of your work and conflict. However, do not reveal the ending. This paragraph is similar to a DVD back or book jacket flap. Don’t use questions in a query letter. Remember, generalities sink a query, specifics light it up. You want to paint pictures and illicit emotion in an agent’s mind. More about pitches below. 3.) Your biography paragraph or if you have nothing to say, just close out the letter. Your biography would include writing associations you belong to, ever paid to write, short stories you’ve written and received payment for, your platform (how you would market the book), if you have a platform. A non-fiction query can go over one page if your biography forces it to do so with a list of your credentials.

A verbal pitch to an agent is your logline. A one sentence summary of your work.

There are seven parts of a Fiction Query Pitch in a letter:

1. – Introduce the main character(s); 2. Let us know something unique about them and what they desire; 3. Show us the inciting incident; 4. Tell the basic plot of the book – the major conflict; 5. How does the plot get complicated (must get worse before better); 6. Have an unclear wrap-up – leave them with a cliff-hanger and don’t tell use the ending of the work. Do not use anywhere in your query rhetorical questions. And do not end with a question for sure. 7. Throughout make sure the stakes are included – What can go wrong? You can have the stakes in the beginning, middle, or end of your pitch section of your letter.

You don’t want to just write this happened then this happened because this would be dull as dishwater. You want your query letter to let the agent know an example of your writing and to want to read your work. So study other queries and write and re-write and have it critiqued.

More about the Nov. 22nd workshop in the next blog. Until then,

Keep Writing,


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Back to querying…

Well, I’m still working on that all important query letter.  A never-ending project for me.

But first:

Last cliches:

All-time High– A record achievement , never before surpassed.  This is an Americanism, early 20th Cent.  This term has been applied to economic matters ie production, recreational example golf scores and lots of other areas.

Have a Finger In Every Pie — Be involved in numerous activities, usually in the sense of meddling.  Dates from 16th Cent.  Shakespeare used it in Henry the VIII (1:1) where Duke of Buckingham complains of Cardinal Wolsey, “No man’s pie is freed from his abitious finger.”

Gift of Gab — Fluency of Speech, tendency to boast.  Gab-both verb and noun-believed to come from Gaelic dialect word gob=”mouth.”  Appeared in Samuel Colvil’s Whiggs Supplication (1695): “There was a man called Job…He had a good gift of the Gob.”  Next century it became gab=William Godwin’s Caleb Williams (1794): “He knew well enough that he had the gift of the gab.”  In later years, “the” was dropped.

Well, I guess I have to grin and bear it and continue working with trying to write the perfect query letter.  I read one before my Calistoga critique group.  They gave me some pointers, then rewrote it and submitted it to my on-line critique group.  They gave me more ideas and one even rewrote it for me.  His sounds great.  My dilema–do I palm his off to some agent?  I mean I can change it a bit, but wouldn’t that be cheating?  Can one send in a query about one’s own book if someone else writes it?  I’m not sure about that.  I’m horrible at trying to “sell myself.”

And isn’t that what a query is?  Sell you and your book to someone?  I wouldn’t want to rub the agent in the wrong way.  Any of you have any advice on the subject?  Write my own, or use someone else’s great query written for you?

Well, either way, I should get back to the salt mines and Keep Writing, Reading, and doing what I love.

Until next time,

Julie A. Winrich
Helping Readers Enjoy Sleuthing and Solve Puzzles!


Pitches ….

Hi everyone! Can’t believe a week has passed already. Time flies when you’re having fun!

First things First–last week’s Cliches:
There You Go – has multiple meanings: you’re right, you’ve done well, asked for, answer, etc. Dates from first half of 1800s. A different meaning when Ronald Reagan said, “There you go again” in a debate with Jimmy Carter during 1980 campaign and meant: “You’re wrong again.” This usage meaning, repeatedly says something wrong or misleading, remains current.

Get a Handle on it – Succeed in dealing with a difficult problem. From mid-20th century, this slangy Americanism -coping with a cumbersome object by attaching a handle to it. “Handle” used both figuratively and literally in several ways for many years.

Back to the Drawing Board – or back to square one — start again from the beginning, because failed or reached a dead end. Term probably came from a game i.e. snakes and ladders or hopscotch. Adopted in 1930s by British sportscasters when printed radio programs would include a numbered grid of a soccer field to help listeners follow the game broadcasts.

Well, did you work on queries last week?
I signed up for an agents day in June through my Redwood Writer’s where we’ll meet different agents and be able to pitch our story to them. So, I took a look at my old queries and tried writing a few pitches. Every little bit helps I suppose in working toward the end result.

So what are pitches? Two to three sentences that grab the agents interest and want him/her to read your book. I’m going to a “pitch session” on Sunday, so next week I’ll tell you more about them.

After looking at my queries, I think they work, but will put them on-line for my critique group to read and see what they think.

Keep Writing until next time,


More about Queries..

Hi everyone! Hope you’re writing, writing and writing some more!

Last Cliches:
Like it was going out of style — describing something being done with extreme urgency, last chance to do it. Date from about 1970.

Do Tell — Is that really so? Expresses disbelief or sarcasm, around since early 19th century. John Neal used it in The Down-Easters (1833).

The Fact of the Matter — Truth. Empty phrase newer than as a matter of fact = in truth. Both cliches since 19th century. But matter-of-fact, an adjective has quite different meaning and a matter of fact without as means something of an actually factual nature and used in 16th century.

There you go with the cliche meanings and hope you’re enjoying them.

Well, last time I talked about querying. How many have you tried to write your query? I’m still trying and finding it quite daunting.
Now that you’ve written your query, do you have your critiquers review it? Have you gone to query shark? Checked on-line for how to write one or read books on how to?
We sure post our stories for people to critique. But do we post our queries and or synopses? That’s the first thing we should do. Get someone else’s opinion on our query.
I haven’t posted mine yet–I keep procrastinating as I can’t get a handle on it to satisfy me.
Why do we find it so hard to sell our stories? Not for money, but to show what they are about.
I took classes for query writing, and then listened to agents at a conference. Everything I learned in my class is what they said they don’t like! So now what do I do?
Back to the drawing board, reading what agents/publishers want in a query and trying to come up with a good sales pitch.
A one paragraph blurb about my book that hooks you into wanting to read more.
Sounds easy–Me, I’d rather write a novel!
I’m going to work on my queries this week and submit them to my critique group. See what they have to say.
Join me in doing that.
Keep Writing and Enjoy!


Hi everyone!
Hope you are all writing like it was going out of style.

First things first–Past Cliches:
Movers and Shakers: Individuals with the power and/or influence to effect change. First, they alluded to God, but in 19th century started being applied and compared to human beings. Check out A. O’Shaughnessay’s Music and Moonlight (1874).

Snow job: Exaggerated flattery used to cover up some real issue. Term probably came from – to be snowed under, meaning overwhelmed.
Originated among GIs during WWII when they talked to a superior officer with elaborate fiction to excuse some misdemeanor.

Did you find the cliches?

Now, on to Querying..
How often do you write your piece, whether short or long and keep editing and don’t attempt to write a query letter? How hard do you find it to write the query?

The novel, for me, is the easiest part of my writing. Trying to condense my novel and myself down to a page is the hardest part of writing to publish. That and the synopsis.
We won’t go there at this time.

So, do tell, how many query letters have you written and sent out? I have several written. As a matter of fact, I have a query for each of my novels, but have sent out only two, and that was way too early, before I knew what I was doing.

I took a couple of classes in query writing. Think I learned anything? Yes, that it is very difficult to write one. Why? Because each agent or publisher wants something different. What I learned in my query writing class, the agents that have lectured, don’t want. Very confusing.

But, that does not mean the writer gives up. He/She studies and writes and re-writes. Just like the novel. Then the writer should have a critique group look it over.

Main thing is we shouldn’t be afraid to send it out when we think it’s ready.
Again, it’s write, write, and write some more.
Give it a try.

So how many queries have you sent out and received a reply on–other than a standard rejection? Let me know.

Keep Writing until next time.