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Query Letter Guidelines
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A good query letter is never, ever, more than one page, written in 12 point font, single-spaced. If you have to reduce the font size and adjust the margins to get your letter to fit on one page, it is too big. Smaller is always better in a query.
Carefully address your letter to a specific agent by name. Never say, Dear Sir or To whom it may concern (there goes that delete button). Begin with a polite request that the agent consider your book. Include the word count and title of your book.
Close by thanking the agent for his/her time and conclude with your contact information: name, address, telephone number and email address. Say you have a book proposal (non-fiction) or a completed manuscript (fiction) ready to send on request. Note: some agents will require a fiction manuscript (yes, there is such a thing).
Each agent has strict guidelines to follow when you query, including contact method (email or snail mail). Most agents prefer email queries. Do exactly what the agent specifies, nothing more and nothing less. Don't send your query letter as an attachment (agents won't open attachments). Embed it in the email. Then wait.
Many agents reply rather quickly, often the same day. A few won't reply at all, but only a few. Most will decline for one reason or another. That's why you need that rhino skin.
A few literary agents won't even consider you unless you already have one book published. (Sorry, self-published books don't qualify.) Look for agents who say they are open to receive queries from new or unpublished authors.
What if I hear back from an agent that requests a book proposal? It's time to break out the root beer, ginger ale, kickapoo juice, champagne or whatever you prefer to celebrate with. Agents don't respond unless they think your book could be a winner. That's agent talk for money, money, money.
If an agent does call you, don't blow it by talking too much. He isn't calling to offer you a contract... yet. The agent, more than anything else, will decide from the conversation whether he wants to work with you. If an agent discovers a good writer, he anticipates a long-term agent/author relationship, but few agents want to work with difficult authors. If he decides, after a minute or two, you are an EPR (Extra Patience Required) or a PIB (Pain In the Buttocks), he will politely decline further contact.
Let the agent direct the conversation. If he says he would like to send you a contract, that is huge. Now it's really time for the bubbly. If an agent does respond to your query, it is common courtesy to let all the other agents you have queried know you have received a request for a proposal. That will prompt a much quicker response from those you have not heard from. They will either compete for your manuscript or decline. Either way, it will get their attention.
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