Can you get a literary agent through a query letter? That was the question I had before attending “Writing the Dreaded Query Letter” at the Writer’s Center in Bethesda. Alan Orloff answered the question in the affirmative. Not only has he obtained representation solely by an email query, he showed us how in this Saturday afternoon class.
The first point he made was perhaps the most important – a query letter is a business letter. It’s not a philosophical treatise. It’s a short, concise email communication that’s designed to get an agent to read your writing sample. That’s it.
Like a good business letter, a query letter has four parts:
Salutation: Address a particular agent by name. You can find agents online through resources such as AgentQuery.
Hook/Description: The hook is a catchy sentence or two designed to catch a reader’s interest. For example, “It’s Jaws in space.” Follow that up with a paragraph describing the plot of the book – what happens and to whom.
Biography: Mention your writing credits and any relevant experience you have.
Close: Thank them for their time and include the first five pages from your manuscript. No need to ask for representation – that’s why you’re writing them.
It was a workshop so I also received feedback on the query letter for my upcoming novel The Swamp, from the class and from Orloff (see above). He mentioned that he spends weeks polishing his queries. You only have one chance to impress an agent so you have to make sure that your letter is perfect.
The small class closed with participants exchanging email addresses and Orloff sharing copies of his book, Diamonds for the Dead.
I took this class because I’m working on another novel – The Swamp. In this satire, a drone lands on the White House lawn, setting in motion a chain of events that leads to the end of the nation as we know it.
With my previous books Murder in Ocean Hall and Murder on U Street, I skipped over the “find an agent” step and self-published, thinking the publishing business was based upon referrals. Orloff showed that it was possible to find an agent through a professionally written query letter.