I'm slated to attend the Writers Digest Conference tomorrow, Saturday, 1/22/11 here in NYC. I'll be on the agents panel in the morning (and trying to keep a civil tongue in my head since I'm sure someone will be live-tweeting!)
In the afternoon I'm leading a workshop on Effective Query Letters. Here's what I'm going to say:
1. Electronic queries are the norm. Pay attention to the DIFFERENCE in format required in e-queries:
a. Address NOT at top
b. Importance of a subject line
c. No cc; no bcc; no "Dear Agent"
2. Single biggest problem in queries is they do not convey what the book is about.
How to fix: Circle EVERY verb in your query letter. Strike out all forms of AM, BE, WAS. What's left? Are they words that convey choice? Conflict? Stakes? If NOT, you'll want to revise
3. Don't waste words or space. Focus on the book. Everything else is secondary.
4. Never apologize for being new. Never apologize for sending me a query. Never apologize for not knowing something. You are not a beggar. Treat yourself and your work with the respect you deserve.
I'm also going to talk about how to pitch when you meet agents face to face, as conference attendees will on Saturday afternoon.
How to Pitch:
1. Don't be afraid. The only agent who will actually eat you is chaperoned, and been warned to behave herself.
2. Tell me three things up front:
a. The novel is finished.
b. the word count is X
c. What category you think it best fits (TWO words at the most here)
3. Tell me the main characters name (if you have a sweeping family saga, or a high fantasy with a gazillion characters pick the main character who appears FIRST in the book), and what choice or decision s/he must make. This takes no more than 25 words.
Then stop talking.
The agent will ask you questions.
You answer them. Keep your answer brief.
DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES do the following:
1. say "let me give you the backstory" or "you need to know this" Focus on the choice the character makes and what happens on page one.
2. Memorize and recite your pitch
3. close your eyes and recite your pitch
4. Don't ramble. Keep your answers short. This is a conversation, not a lecture.
5. Panic. All agents except that sharkly one who is being chaperoned for your protection are very nice people who are glad to see you. Smile and say hello.
I promise, it's just that easy.
I'll have a bottle of bourbon in my briefcase if you need a quick restorative belt after this. Bring your own glass.