Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Writing Tip #492 - The Query Letter

Here is a sample of the type of query letter you can use to guarantee a positive response from the publishing powers that be. Once your manuscript is in shape, sending out a letter like this is the next step, and I thought some of you might like to see how it is done.

Dear Agent/Publisher/Famous Person,
Note the use of the less traditional "famous person." Should your book capture the attention of a huge star, you might be able to sell the screen rights immediately, which is a great way to start a bidding war between publishing companies for the initial print rights. "Soon to be a major motion picture" is a sentence no reasonable publisher can resist. Try to select the type of famous person who can greenlight a project on his or her own.

I hope you are sitting down. You might want to take your shoes off as well, because the manuscript I am writing to tell you about is going to knock your socks off!
Standing and/or wearing shoes can cause severe chafing should one's socks actually be knocked off. Here you are projecting confidence in your ideas and kindness towards the person reading the letter, who may assume that your work is just another of the many in the pile. You are letting them know that yours deserves special attention.

Drawing on my experiences playing in the band map of july for nearly a decade, I have written a young adult novel about a lower-tier musical group who also solve mysteries and hunt for treasure. Our hero Maht—along with his friends Guitarist, Other Guitarist, and Drummer—comes across a strange map which purports to lead to a treasure chest carved out of rubies, and filled with even more rubies! Join the group as they solve clues and face danger in Map of July and the Map of July! Will the lads find the treasure and save Uncle Uncle's farm from foreclosure? What is the sinister Original Bassist up to? Will they make it back to the coffeehouse in time for their thankless, three-hour performance, during which people will talk loudly and no one will pay much attention?
Here you are stating some relevant personal experience and beginning your pitch. Obviously, your ideas will not be as good as the example provided, but you should feel free to jazz it up a bit to ensure that they keep reading the letter. The use of exclamation points creates an air of excitement, while all the questions help to convey the tremendous depth of your concept. The title itself shows both cleverness and an attention to detail, as rubies are July's birthstone.

It's an adventure set in ennui-filled coffeehouses, cramped rehearsal spaces, scary caves, the high seas (or possibly the distant past, I'm flexible on that) and filled with baristas, musicians, ancient wonders and pirates (or possibly dinosaurs). Is Maht the fabled "One" mentioned in the legends as the treasure's rightful owner? Is Other Guitarist in tune? Will they get past the pirates (or possibly dinosaurs) in order to gain the treasure and win the heart of beautiful Penelope Drinkwater? Find out by requesting a copy of the full manuscript (and a decision on the whole pirate/dinosaur issue)!
Again, it is important to build up excitement about the story and the characters. If the band angle or the chest of rubies failed to grab them, now you've added pirates (or possibly dinosaurs) and the possibility of romance. No one should be able to resist all four of these elements, which are proven moneymakers. Including the part about Other Guitarist makes it clear that all of the characters are fully fleshed out, not merely supporting characters to the protagonist. You are also showing some flexibility by waffling a little on the pirate/dinosaur thing, which tells them that you are serious about selling your book and willing to make changes in order to ensure success.

Mr Clooney, should you option the film rights to this work, you might consider playing the part of the lead pirate (or possibly T-Rex) who attempts to thwart the lads' grab for the treasure. He interacts hilariously with a talking parrot (or possibly Pterodactyl) and is a meaty role, which can be expanded considerably in the screenplay.
This is an optional paragraph for the celebrities you have chosen to woo with your ideas. In this example, I have chosen George Clooney, because I think he can greenlight a picture himself. Also, he has probably never played a pirate or a dinosaur before, and actors like to stretch. This particular pitch would be less successful to, say, Johnny Depp, unless one was willing to simply commit to the dinosaur story from the beginning of the letter. It is important to tell the famous actor which part you think they would be right for, especially if it is not the central character, as actors are not in general very bright and will assume they are playing the protagonist unless told otherwise. In this case, George Clooney would be somewhat too old to convincingly play the lead singer of a struggling band without raising a few eyebrows, so I have simply chosen the pirate/dinosaur role as the largest role within his age range.

I'm sure you can see that this idea is the closest legal thing to printing your own money, and I look forward to hearing from you soon. On the decidedly unlikely chance that you do not see the potential in this book, I also have a manuscript currently available entitled Henry Parker and the Chamber of Other, Smaller Chambers which is about a young boy with glasses training to become a powerful sorcerer at a magic school. I have seen books like this do well in the past, and my lawyer assures me that I have not infringed any copyrights in this manuscript.
Here you are giving the reader a chance to say yes. You are restating the confidence displayed earlier, and also showing that you will not be a one-trick pony should they enter into contract with you. By giving them a taste of other wildly original ideas you have around, you are conveying that you will be around for a long time, and will make them a ton of money. Notice also that I have mentioned specifically that you will make them a lot of money. Not all of the people who receive your letter will be good at reading between the lines on this matter, which is one of the most important issues to them when considering a manuscript.

I look forward to hearing from you at your earliest convenience.
Short and sweet. If you haven't hooked them by now, that's their problem.




Unknown said...

I think you've got it cracked. You only forgot the sexual favours you would be willing to bestow.
No agent in their right mind is going to ignore this one!!!!!!!!!

Caroline said...

This is genius! You sooooooo need to send this off with your manuscript. It can not fail!

Vesper said...

This is perfect, Mr. Maht! Ha! Ha! Ha! Very sweet!!! I'll make sure I'll be using your advice! :-)
Thanks for the best laugh of the day!

Jon M said...

Love it! Such advice! I will henceforth model all my pitches thus.

The Moon Topples said...

Minx: You raise a valid point, but it is not recommended to offer sexual favors with an initial query. Such things are to be included (along with a picture of yourself) with the manuscript once requested.

Caroline: Ah, yes, but I have no manuscript at the moment.

Vesper & Jon: Thanks, and I'm glad that I be of help.

Unknown said...

I don't do requests.

Wanderlust Scarlett said...

Moon Topples,

This is fabulous. Hands down the best query letter I've ever seen; were I in the position (non-sexual) to publish it and produce the movie, I would.

One quick request ~sorry Minx... ;o)-

Could I get George Clooney's email and phone number from you please?
I look forward to hearing from you on that at your earliest convenience.


Scarlett & Viaggiatore

The Moon Topples said...

Minx: Phooey.

Scarlett: Mr Clooney can be reached at his exclusive Italian villa:

9 Bruchetta Ave.
Clooneyville, Italy

Nova Ren Suma said...

This is truly brilliant! Next time I am writing a query letter I must have this at my side for guidance. The pirate/dinosaur details were especially fantastic. (And important! Pirates or dinosaurs? I mean really!)

The Moon Topples said...

Nova: Just remember that the pirates/dinosaur idea used in the example is intended only as a sample idea. No fair using it yourself!

Unknown said...

Bloody hilarious! Now that's what I call a query letter.

The Moon Topples said...

Cailleach: Thankya.