So you’ve written a book and edited it until it sparkles. You’ve asked yourself questions about what your publishing goals are, whether you want to pursue print publication, electronic publication (e-publishing), or self-publishing and you’ve done your research into publishers and agents. Now you have a list of agents and editors you’d like to query. So what next? What do you send them? You’ve heard that you shouldn’t send the complete manuscript right off the bat, and some agents clearly list on their website what they want to see while others say nothing.
To better understand what to send and what agents and editors are looking for, let’s take a moment to consider the purpose of the most commonly requested items in a query package for a fiction novel.
The 4 main parts of a fiction query package are:
- Query Letter
- Sample Pages
- The Synopsis
- Self Addressed Stamped Envelope (SASE) if querying by mail
The Query Letter: this is your first contact with an agent or editor. If you have other material in your package, the query letter goes on top. It’s designed to introduce your manuscript and you. The goal is to entice the agent or editor to flip to your sample pages and start reading. Key points that go into a query letter are:
- A paragraph description (maybe two) about your novel: think back-of-the-book blurb.
- A paragraph with the basic statistics about your manuscript: this includes genre and word count (for example: “Most Amazing Book” is a science fiction novel of approximately 95,000 words).
- A bit about yourself: only include pertinent information such as experiences related to the subject of your novel and previous publications.
- Thanking the agent or editor for her time and mention that the complete manuscript is available.
The Sample Pages: this is what we all want the editor/agent to look at, this is your whole reason for sending the query out. These pages can range anywhere from five pages to seventy-five, but whatever the editor/agent asks for always send the beginning of the book. If they ask for the first three chapters and you have a prologue, send that as well or send your prologue, chapter one, and chapter two. The purpose of these pages is to demonstrate that you know how to start a book, that you can hook the reader on the first page and keep them turning pages. This is also your opportunity to show your voice and style.
The Synopsis: this is a present tense, dynamic summary of your story. It can come in a variety of lengths: short, medium, long, although short and medium are the most common. The goal of this part of the package is to show that you can finish a book with a satisfactory ending. A synopsis isn’t like a back cover blurb, it doesn’t leave the reader wanting more, it tells all. Don’t worry that you’re giving away your fabulous trick ending, that’s the point. The biggest key to writing a short synopsis is to find the heart of your story without side plots or over complication, and tell that.
Finally, and very important, is the Self Addressed Stamped Envelope (SASE). If you are querying by mail you will need a SASE. If you would like a response, you need to provide a means of responding. A SASE is exactly what is sounds like. An empty, unsealed envelope with your mailing address and postage on it so a response can be sent back to you. If you would like your pages returned you need to provide a large enough envelope and enough postage for this, however usually a simple, letter sized envelope and enough postage for a single piece of paper suffices. Whether you receive a request for more pages, or a letter passing on your project, the letter will likely be short and to the point.
The key to putting together a good query package is to give editors or agents what they are looking for. Remember to research who you want to query. Read their website, hit the social networks. And the final key to putting together a strong query package is to ensure your query letter, synopsis, and sample pages are as free of errors and typos as possible.
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