Querying tips for the modern writer

send a fiery query letter to land an agent and writing contract

So, you want to query an agent, huh?
It’s a gamble, yet an exciting one, dear writing, fishing with your art as bait. You must 1) catch the attention of an agent and 2) entice/persuade them into giving you a longer look as a potential client and money maker. The publishing industry is all about the money, but the more knowledge you have before you dive in, the better off your odds to win. I’m grateful for the California Writers Club, who helped me begin understanding the query process. I’ll do my best to give you the top 3 tips that gave me confidence.

1) Take great care in this letter
One of the first pieces of advice I realized is that a writer should not tread lightly when querying an agent. This is a fragile and important opportunity. Something like a spelling or grammatical error can blow the whole shot. I remember hearing about writers who spelled the agent’s name wrong in the greeting. The horror! Everything from why you are querying this agent (did you meet at a conference? Are they repping your favorite authors whose style you follow? Did they announce they are looking for a book that sounds exactly like yours?) to what market your book falls into (what comp titles is it like, who is your target audience, why is this book necessary now) needs to be clearly and perfectly presented. I advise having your final query read by another party before you send it out, as well as reading it out loud multiple times.

2) Tell them why they should care
If you think about it from the agent’s perspective, they have to search through thousands and thousands of emails and letters and calls, all trying to find the next IT book for their market. But, the fact that you know this going in should most definitely be a part of your angle when approaching them. They don’t have much time or energy to figure out if your book is a fit so it is to your advantage to make their job easy.
The query should concisely spell out why this agent should invest more time in you and your art. This should absolutely be personalized for every single query. I found referring to the agent’s online profile was a good way to start if I was cold emailing them. I’d say something like, “As you are looking for contemporary fantasy with a romantic twist, I am excited to present my novel, Today is Yours, for your review.” It clearly shows you are not trying to waste their time and demonstrates you have done your homework in querying the right agent for your piece.

3) Highlight the strengths of both you and your work
An agent will be representing your work to publishers while working long term with you throughout the process. If there are key pieces of information that make you or your work more valuable in the market, these should be detailed in the query. If you are writing a fiction work about a girl who time travels, and your writing is based on your real world work for NASA, oh yeah, that should be in you query. If your work is the first book unpacking secrets that have never been uncovered, state that value. If you previously wrote for a web series, and are now branching out with your debut novel, tell the agent this. They want to see why you are the author of this work, and that you have passion to go through the journey to publication without losing momentum.

Good luck! You got this, writer.

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Yodassa Williams is a powerful conjurer of black girl magic (70% Jedi, 30% Sith). A Jamaican American writer, speaker, and award winning performing storyteller, alumna of the VONA/Voices Travel Writing program and creator of the podcast ‘The Black Girl Magic Files’, Yodassa (Yoda) launched ‘Writers Emerging' in 2019, a wilderness writing retreat for women of color and non-binary people of color. In 2020, Yodassa's debut YA Fantasy, The Goddess Twins, will be published by Spark Press. She grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio and currently resides in the Bay Area.

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