Michael discusses the basics of writing a query letter.
What follows is by no means dictating the only method a writer should use to query us or any other agent. There are as many ways to write such an introduction as there are writers. As with any advice, use whatever seems useful, discard whatever is not, and try to find a way to make the letter you send as vivid with your own voice and style as you can make it.
I see the cover letter as a way for me to get context about the book, sure—but also about the writer: who she is, where she comes from, and why this manuscript matters to her.
Address it however you address letters. Obviously, email requires different treatments. What you see here is more traditional. All that matters is that the contact information is clear.
I always like for the first paragraph to:
(a) tell me of any personal connection (you know someone who knows me, saw me at a conference, or read an interview);
(b) to quickly tell me what kind of book is being submitted (genre, age range, any other positioning); and
(c) a sense of the writer’s accomplishments and memberships, if any.
Why? Because the things listed above let me know of a writer’s seriousness. If you’ve been at it a while and been serious enough to take part in conferences, then you are serious about your work indeed.
The second paragraph is where I look for a short summary of the story itself. People will advise you to write this like the back cover of the paperback your your book, but that can be a difficult art. Mostly what I look for is a sense of where the story is going, what sort of goals the book has, (do the author’s aims fit the genre? is the author moralistic? and so on).
If I like the first 20 pages, this is where I go for reassurance that the rest of the book follows through.
I look for the third paragraph to tell me genre and length of the manuscript, whether or not I have it exclusively and for how long, and how the author prefers to hear from me.
Don’t forget to proofread! Is it Archie or Artie? If you’re serious about your work, you’ll be serious about presenting it and yourself well.
And that’s it. Really, the letter is what most agents read after they’e read the pages and decided whether it works for them. The letter is where we find out more about someone we’re interested in representing.