Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Writing the Perfect Query Letter -- Before You Quake in Your Boots, Read What Writer Luanne G. Smith Has to Say About It

I recently read a very interesting entry on Luanne G. Smith’s blog, Prophets and Bards, which outlines the process Smith is taking toward querying her unpublished, debut fantasy novel, The Hearts of Dragons, to agents. I thought it would be interesting to hear about Smith’s process, since I am sure that so many of you aspiring writers out there will benefit from what she has to say.

Find Agents Who Deal With Your Genre
It sounds so obvious, doesn’t it? But I bet there are a lot of writers out there who make the mistake of just blasting out a bunch of queries to whatever agent, without taking into consideration first whether or not the agents they are contacting are even open to their particular genre.
In Smith’s case, her genre is speculative fiction. The Hearts of Dragons takes place in a futurist society and chronicles the tale of Cira Conway, a queen without an heir, in a primitive, post-apocalyptic Wales.
Smith thus targeted agents who were open to stories “that went beyond the paranormal and urban fantasy that is so popular today.” Smith used Querytracker.net, Agentquery.com, and Publisher’s Marketplace to “triangulate my way through the information and pinpoint agents I think would be interested in what I write.”
 How Does One Query?
In Smith’s experience, querying in “small batches” works best. “Five to ten queries at a time seems to be a good number to have floating around. Even though there are well over a hundred agents who claim to represent fantasy, really only about forty percent are viable agents. That means I have to carefully evaluate feedback, including the number of form rejections, to determine if my query letter is as strong as it could be. Doing this in batches means I don’t blow all my chances in one big shotgun blast of queries. Once a rejection comes in, that’s an opportunity gone; so it pays to go slow and constantly reevaluate not only the query but the work itself.”  
 Resources to Write the “Perfect Query Letter” 
According to Smith, one of the best places to study query letters online is at Queryshark.blogspot.com, which is a blog run by agent Janet Reid. “There are two hundred queries on the site with specific feedback about what works and what doesn’t. It’s brilliant. Also, Nathan Bransford’s blog has some basic ‘query mad libs’ advice about how to piece together the necessary components of a good query letter. Beyond that, getting feedback from other writers on forums and blogs is a great way to test the query before it has to actually go into battle.”
Attendance at Writing Conferences is Important
Attending writing conferences is another way Smith has been able to access agents.
“I’m fortunate to live in [Colorado], which has an active writing community. Both Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and Pikes Peak Writers of Colorado host annual conferences, and I usually go to both. In April, I pitched to an agent at the PPW Conference and got a request for my full manuscript. Both groups also sponsor writing contests with agents and editors serving as final judges. This past fall, my story, The Hearts of Dragons, won the fantasy category at the RMFW Conference, which resulted in a full manuscript request from the agent/judge. My story is also a finalist in the Crested Butte Writers Contest, another great writing organization here that has a conference.”
Querying, a Soul-Sucking Experience? 
Of course, no one likes rejection, and much less writers, who have often poured their hearts and souls (and hours of their life!) into their novels and short stories. Smith has something to say about what she calls the “soul-sucking experience” of querying.
“Querying can feel like a soul-sucking experience, especially when you start to measure your worth as a writer by the number of rejections you receive. It’s so important to remember that it only takes one yes, and if you stop querying at number twenty-one, and agent twenty-two is the one who totally would have ‘got’ your story. Over and over again, you’ll hear successful writers say at conferences that the only thing separating most of the published from the unpublished is perseverance. I have to believe that’s at least partly true.”
Great advice, Luanne!


  1. great interview! Witty questions and amazing answers from our dear Luanne whom we love heaps and then some more :)!

  2. Great interview L.G. Keep up the querying!

  3. Great information! It seems a lot of people go to both conferences. Maybe I should be considering the RMFW this September.

  4. Thank you guys. And Lara!

    And Shannon, absolutely go to RMFW if you can. Another great conference with a little different vibe than PPW.

  5. Yes, I am thinking I want to go to these awesome Colorado conferences as well. Thanks for the tips, Luanne!

  6. Great tips. Determination is the key to victory. You are right on so many levels. Editing can be key to anything. Janet has some great advice, as does Nathan. They have some articles.

    Thanks for the great little interview. Great post.

  7. Hi there,
    Thanks for this great advice. I picked it up from the Definitive Serious Writers group on LinkedIn.

    I have one more recommendation. Writer's Digest offers an online class called "2nd Draft Critique Service One Page Query Letter." It's only $39.95. I plan to run my query by them before I send anything out. Just thought others might be interested.

    Thanks again for a great post.

  8. This is such an informative post, thankyou for hosting Luanne here! I do agree that it is a harsh thing to put your "fate" in another person's hands (agents). My best wishes to you!

    Can Alex save Winter from the darkness that hunts her?
    YA Paranormal Romance Darkspell coming fall of 2011!


  9. Good advice L.G.

    I'll have to give that querying thing a try someday. ;)

  10. I'll be posting more about the querying process soon, so stay tuned!

  11. Great interview and great advice. I sent out queries in small batches too, and I'm glad I did, even though I wanted to send them all out at once! And perseverance really is the difference. It just takes one yes.

  12. I think the 'small batch' advice is really good, and not something that necesssarily occurs to us naturally. It does give us a great way to monitor and correct and steady our course, though. Few things in this world could be worse than realizing the query just wasn't quite there, but you've already blown through all fifty agents on your list in one mass mailing.

  13. I totally agree about the small batches. I thought that was excellent advice!

  14. Thanks for sharing this interview with Luanne, I really enjoyed it. Great advice!!

    I'm looking forward to reading more of your blog!