Query letters... and how not to write them

Which is interesting, because some of Miss Snark's advice goes counter to what the other agents are saying.

I think it's important to keep in mind, too, that agents who handle nonfiction or mainstream fiction are not looking for exactly the same sort of thing in a query as those who specialize in genre (and specifically SFF) fiction.

It's wise to find out what those differences are before querying.

Still, there are some things that they all agree on. The sad thing is that so many writers make exactly those mistakes when sending out queries.
Most of those points should be pretty obvious to anyone with half a brain (submitting only to agents who represent your genre, getting the salutation right, etc.). One that definitely does not apply to most SF&F agents is this:

"Don't tell us you are working on a sequel!"

According to John Berlyne of Zeno, the chances of him selling just one novel to a publisher is practically nil - multi-book deals are the norm, and in fantasy at least, trilogies/series are still what publishers want. Both the agent and the publisher who want to see my full ms have asked about sequels; in fact my next job after this set of revisions is to plan an sequel and submit a synopsis for it (along with the first book).

That said, your query should focus on pitching one book and doing it well, rather than presenting yourself as the next Robert Jordan :)

The consensus seems to be that each book in your fantasy series should have its own plot arc that is resolved in that book, because readers hate cliffhangers (I know I do!) but that the books should be linked together as well. If your worldbuilding is good enough to hook readers, they'll want more of the same, not something completely different.
The consensus seems to be that each book in your fantasy series should have its own plot arc that is resolved in that book, because readers hate cliffhangers (I know I do!) ...

I think this is true up to a certain point, but I think you can get away with it if you've a strong fanbase, and after a certain number of books in the series.
I'm a great fan of Jim Butcher's books, and after what he did to Harry Dresden in the last published novel of that series, Changes, I know that I'll be counting down the time until the next one's out, and straight to Waterstones on that day.
Interestingly I didn't think Stephen King's suggested query letter in the otherwise excellent On Writing was all that good. It seemed too familiar by far. Perhaps Britain and America approach this in different ways? I honestly don't know.
Well, for starters, On Writing is now ten years old - good writing may not have changed in that time, but the publishing industry certainly has. I haven't read On Writing though (shame on me!), so I don't know what format he suggests.

I would agree that Britain and America differ somewhat. A lot of UK agents still want partials or sample pages to start with, not query letters. I also suspect that the "hard sell" approach would go down less well over here. The important thing is to be polite, professional and concise, and to summarise your book in a way that piques the agent's interest. Easier said than done, of course!

A bit of formality never hurts when you're contacting someone you've never met - "Dear Mr Smith" not "Hi Joe" as your email salutation, for example!
This was a VERY interesting read. (I actually just added to my blog where I'm keeping track of my progress.) I admit I've been doing a TON of research about queries. I enjoy the QueryShark (Query Shark) site as well. What I find consistent across all of them? Nothing. :) If you write a good hook, then anything is possible. Condensing everything down to 250 words or so feels nearly impossible, but one day - maybe I'll get there.
Reading this makes me wonder how much rubbish Agents get per week.

When you read literary agents about what submissions they receive, they always underline how bad most of the submissions are.

In which case, the challenge is to be in the small percentage who gets it right - ie, correct agent for genre, required formatting, well-edited MS.

Heck, my internet business site even had someone submit a romance novel MS a couple of times for my consideration. No idea why, but it was clear English was not her first language. But if was any indication of what's out there, can really appreciate what agents face.

Of course, when I first submitted, I got everything wrong, too. Hopefully I will have learned from my own mistakes enough for the next time. :)
One piece of advice in the link provided by The Judge is:

Put something about your query in the subject line other than "query." When you get 50 a day, you are more likely to look at those that give you some indication in the subject line as to what they are about.

So what would you put in the subject line? Book title? Something about the book other than the title (but that can't be more than perhaps 6-8 words)? Author's Name/Title/Genre? 'A query on an SF submission'?

Any suggestions/ideas?
I put;

Query, my novel, Hand of Glory for your consideration.

It got requests for sample chapters, no wait that was the pitch in the email.... ;)

Do put query as often if you don't your email could get hit by the spam filter. Title of manuscript, genre and your name will do....
Just to jump in and share an interesting and marginally related link:

Stephen King, aged 14, submitting a story to Spacemen Magazine.

Letters of Note: My favorite feature is the Obituary department

As to subject lines - title and author name should be included, IMO. It's a pragmatic, sensible option that makes it easier to pick out from a block of emails in an inbox. Unless the recipient expressly states otherwise, it's what I'd do.

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