Okay, you’ve finished writing and polishing your young adult manuscript. Now what? Let’s say you’ve decided to go the “traditional” publishing route–then your next step is to query agents. Sure, it is possible to sell a YA manuscript without an agent, but it’ll be much harder (and usually happens when an author makes a connection at a SCBWI conference or something like that, and is invited to query an editor directly). Need to know how to write a query letter?
Compile a list of agents you’d like to query.
Where do you get this list? Several places.
Try reading the acknowledgment pages in young adult books that you’ve enjoyed. Often, the writer will specifically thank their agent.
Which agents are for you?
Basically, there are two types of agents who rep YA books: Agents who specialize in children’s literature (YA is generally a part of children’s publishing), including young adult, middle grade, and possibly picture books, too; or agents who represent both YA and adult fiction (often romance). Think about what you write now, or might want to write in the future. If you write both young adult and adult romance, then an agent who reps both might be a good fit for you. If you’re likely to stick with YA or even move into middle-grade fiction, then an agent who specializes in children’s fiction is probably a better fit.
Okay, you’ve made your list, checking to see if the agents you’re interested in are currently open to submissions and that they are looking for manuscripts like yours.
What to send?
Next, check their submission requirements. Sometimes they’ll ask for a query letter only. Other times, they’ll request sample pages (often pasted into the body of an email). Whatever their requests, follow them to the proverbial ‘T’!
But how to write a query letter?
Now it’s time to start your query letter. There are several necessary elements to include. Some are obvious; some less so.
Keep it formal.
Your letter should be written as a formal business letter, addressed to a specific agent (not “Dear Agent,” but “Dear Ms. Simpson,”—if you are unsure about the agent’s gender, Google them—you might find a photo or a forum discussing him/her).
Keep it short.
Keep your query to ONE PAGE, regardless of spacing.
* Your novel’s title, genre, and word-count, plus your assurance that the novel is complete ( i.e., “THE CHEERLEADER’S REVENGE , a YA thriller, is complete at 65,000 words.”)
* Your reasons for querying this particular agent (i.e. “Because you represent several YA realistic fiction authors with strong female protagonists, I thought you might be interested in seeing my novel.”)
* A short blurb about the book (one or two paragraphs, similar to a back cover blurb—can employ “voice” and does not need to reveal the ending—think of it as a teaser designed to make them want to read it!)
* Comp titles —helpful but not necessary, but don’t overstate! (Ex: “THE CHEERLEADER’S REVENGE might appeal to readers who enjoy Ally Carter’s Gallagher Girls novels” is perfect, but not “My novel can easily stand up against such classics as A WRINKLE IN TIME or LITTLE WOMEN.”)
* A short bio, including any writing/publishing experience and related professional experience/organization memberships, if applicable (for example, “I’ve attended several writing workshops, and run a review blog dedicated to the young adult reader community.”)
* An offer to send sample pages/chapters/full manuscript, and a thank-you for their consideration
* Your contact info—full name, email address, telephone number.
DO NOT Include:
*Actual pages from the book itself, unless the agent has explicitly asked for them in their submission guidelines –in most cases, you will include the pages after your signature.
*Grandiose claims, i.e. “This book is definitely going to be the next Harry Potter!” Or “My novel is assured to be a huge bestseller.”
*Statements that insult the publishing industry or specific authors, i.e. “My novel is far superior to all the dreck getting published today.” Or “Unlike that YA trash written by authors like Jane Doe and Mary Smith, my novel….” Or “My novel accomplishes what Jane Doe’s GOING ALL OUT should have, had it been better written.”
Okay, now let’s say you’ve sent out your queries, and have started getting some responses. Be prepared for a lot of waiting. In the meantime, here’s some agent etiquette to consider:
*If the agent has taken the time to offer you some specific feedback, it’s okay to reply with a brief thank-you, but don’t attempt to engage the agent in any back-and-forth after that.
*If they offer suggestions and an invite to resubmit after you’ve revised based on their feedback, then feel free to do so. When you do, make sure you reference this when you re-query. If they don’t explicitly invite you resubmit, then you probably shouldn’t, unless you later make massive revisions. In that case, you should mention this in your subsequent query—but do this sparingly. You should NOT be querying until your manuscript is in tip-top, as-polished-as-possible shape.
*Do not EVER, under any circumstances, respond to a rejection negatively, not even if you think you’re just being funny! (i.e., “Thanks a lot for nothing! Clearly, you wouldn’t know a great book if it bit you on the butt!”).
*If they request further material from you (a partial manuscript or full manuscript), congratulations! Follow whatever instructions they give you, and reply promptly (but that doesn’t mean you have to reply in a matter of minutes–take a few days, if necessary, even a week or two if you have to).
And I’ll leave you with one last resource–and this is a fabulous one! This comes from Chuck Sambuchino’s Guide to Literary Agents Blog in Writer’s Digest–a series on how to write a query letter. Each entry includes the text from a query letter that landed an author an agent, as well as comments from the signing agent on what made that specific query stand out to them.
So if you need more information on how to write a query letter, check it out HERE!