Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Query Letter Mad Libs Designed to Melt the Hearts of Heartless Agents

Ah, query letters! They're the bane of every would-be writer. It doesn't make sense that a one page meet-the-author/story summation should be harder to write than a complete, six book, urban fantasy epic, yet somehow it is. Perhaps it's the delicate blend of hubris and humility that is required when setting oneself up as an author to effed with. Or maybe it's the bizarre blend of detailed description and almost poetic brevity that most agents ask for in these twisted, three or four paragraph pleas for representation. Or maybe it's just that most authors are wallflowers, when what's really needed in a query letter is confidence, coolness, and a bit of what The Game author Neil Strauss describes as, well, "game."

After all, a successful query letter should effect the agent being queried in much the same way as a successful opening line in a singles bar effects its tipsy target. It ought to alert them to this new and interesting person, to their sharp wit, to their winning way with words....and make them want more. Try to think of the query letter not as a formal introduction, but as a seductive tease of what's to come -- if only they'd ask you for your manuscript. It's a high-wire act of modern mating rituals and social graces, the majority of which -- let's face it -- you as reclusive writers are wholly inexperienced in and/or woefully ill-equipped to enact.

But do not despair. For I am here, like Moses from the mountaintop, with a couple of free, field-tested query letters that are guaranteed to get you the attention of that agent you've been stalking on Twitter. Hell, I've even gone so far as to write them in the For Dummies-approved, Mad Libs format, just to make it that much easier for all of you future Michael Crichtons (the success part, not the death part) and Stephenie Meyers (the success part, not the Mormon part).

First up, the basic, no frills query letter:

Dear (agent's name),

I am seeking representation for (the title of your as-yet-undiscovered magnum opus) a (page number) word (genre type) aimed at the (target audience/gender/age group) market.

(Title, again) is the story of (In the second paragraph, you'll want to jump right in with a four or five sentence description of the characters, plot, themes, etc. As this is basically the paragraph you hope to one day see on the back cover of your professionally published work, you may want to take a look at the backs of a few of your favorite books to see how their authors/publishers/marketing staff constructed those. Remember to keep your sentences short and succinct. Four or five sentences crafted from ten or twelve sentences and a sh*tload of commas is not four or five sentences.).

As you’re active in the (genre listed above) field, having previously represented (the name of an author in that genre that this agent has repped), I believe this would be a good match for your list. I have (Here, you'll want to briefly list any stories or books you've had published professionally, as well as any writing awards you may have won. Note: Do not list self-published works! They don't count for sh*t in the real world!). Per your website, I have attached (whatever it is the agent's website's asks you to attach...and nothing more). Thank you for your time.


(Duh -- your name.)

Okay, so that was the basic, run-of-the-mill query letter template, a favorite among dullards, dimwits and schmucks. Sure, it's the sort of 'just the facts' query that'll keep you off of this year's #queryFAIL, but it won't do much to make you memorable to the agent reading it. And -- going back to my Neil Strauss/singles bar metaphor mentioned above -- if you wanna get laid (i.e. land an agent), you gotta have game (i.e. a query letter that'll set you apart from the pack).

Here's one such query letter:

Dear (color of agent's eyes)-eyes,

Put a big red heart around today's date on your calendar, cuz from this moment on, today will be known as your lucky day. That's because I'm offering you the once in a lifetime chance to rep my new book, (book's title), a tour de force of unbridled brilliance and eloquence that my (family member's title and/or encouraging teacher's honorific) is calling, "The next (title of current bestseller and/or established classic)." Clocking in at around (page number) words, this (genre type) is aimed at the (target audience/gender/age group), but would probably also do well with (the polar opposite or the aforementioned target audience/gender/age group) if I had a good group of ad men and publicity people in my corner.

The story? Well, it's pretty complicated stuff, maybe too much so for a simple four or five sentence synopsis. Instead, howzabout I throw a few adjectives at you that'll help you to feel the power of the piece. Mood words. Verbal brushstrokes. Are you ready?





And that's just the Bs! (Note: If you feel bad about cribbing this list whole, simply open your thesaurus to the words 'great,' 'grand,' or 'totally awesome' and copy the synonyms listed.)

While scanning one of those books that lists every agent desperate enough to list themselves in one of those types of books, I saw that you repped (the name of an author they represent -- any ol' author will do). Take it from me, my sh*t is (number greater than 9) times better than (same author's name)'s, and I'm a helluva lot handsomer. (Attach your author photo here. Note: Make sure it's a photo from before you started writing, back when you still exercised occasionally.) While your website says that you only want writers to send (whatever it is that the agent's website requested), I thought I'd better go ahead and send my entire manuscript. In my opinion, my story doesn't really get going until the halfway mark, so only sending a few (pages/chapters/whatever the agent's website requested) just didn't seem to do the book justice. I'm sure you'll agree. I have self-published over a dozen books of erotic poetry and a pop-up book documenting my repeated rape at the hands of a well-meaning neighbor. I figure I can give you a month to decide whether you want to earn 15% of my future millions. After that, I'm going to have to move on to another agent. This is the moment you will look back on for the rest of you life. If you choose to take me on as a client, you will get (If it's a male agent, write "a total boner." If it's a female agent, "mega-moist.") every time you think of it. If you make the stupid, career-killing mistake of turning me down and losing me to a smarter, hipper agent, you will do so with crocodile tears of eternal regret.

Hope to hear from you soon,

(Your name)

a.k.a. (your pen name)

a.k.a. (your hip hop name)

a.k.a. (your porn star name)

And there you have it. Two pre-fab query letters just waiting for your applicable insertions. But remember -- if you should use one of them (*cough-cough* the second one *cough-cough*), and you manage to land yourself an agent...and then a publishing contract...and then an actual release date, you'd better include my name in the dedication section. Preferably before God's.