Wow! I just attended a terrific talk by Lisa Dale (www.lisadalebooks.com). Lisa writes in the romance genre and her third novel, Slow Dancing on Price’s Peer (love that title!), is coming out in April. Her newest book is being published by Penguin and she’s building a brand and a loyal following. She shared a raft of valuable advice about how to land and work with an agent, based on her own experience as a fledgling author and a stint with a literary agency. One “hot” issue she zeroed in on was the query letter. A few helpful tips:
It should be one page — and no longer.
The first paragraph should include: your book’s title, the genre (if appropriate), a word count (80,000-95,000 for mainstream fiction), and a one-sentence pitch for the book — why is it memorable/marketable?
The second paragraph (150-200 words) should give the agent a summary of the book. To spark interest, avoid talking about major themes. Instead, focus on your story’s big, overarching conflict and describe it through the lens of your main character. Cite one other character, possibly two, but keep these references brief and targeted.
In the third paragraph, give your bio (in first person). Emphasize your craft and experience. Cite published works, literary magazines, and formal training. Consider adding a personal note relevant to your book.
Closing: If you are submitting to multiple agents, then include this fact at the end of your letter (no need to give their names, just note that you are making multiple submissions).
For help in finding the names and specialties of agents, Lisa recommends Writer’s Market 2011 and Jeff Herman’s Guide to Book Publishers, Editors, & Literary Agents 2010. Trade groups (for example, Romance Writers of America) can also be very helpful. Publishers Marketplace, an online resource, offers up-to-date information on agents and their latest deals. Another useful resource: queryshark.blogspot.com — a site where you can submit a query letter for a helpful on-line critique by a demanding professional editor. Check it out! Kudos to Lisa Dale for her wonderful advice — and the best of luck with Slow Dancing on Price’s Pier.