What I Want on my Pizza

…or in my queries.

The hubby and I have been eating a lot of pizza lately. Namely because it is rather okay to eat when cold, and new babies often necessitate cold-food eating. My favorite pizza is Hawaiian–Canadian bacon and pineapple. Yum! Although, I won’t turn my nose up at pepperoni or mushroom and black olive. Still, even the thought of a Hawaiian pizza makes me drool a little bit.

Similarly, while a well-written query letter is edible, there are certain queries that make me pay a bit more attention, that make me email the author back asking for a partial, a proposal, or even a full manuscript.

I have had several conversations with authors about what stands out to me when I am reading through the slush pile. Sometimes it’s a certain spark–something in the tone of the actual letter. Or sometimes it is in the fantastic writing, itself–the story, a certain character, the beautiful language. However, there are also a few tangible things that really impress me, as well.

1. Numbers Both online and in person. In other words, platform. An author needs to be connecting online via Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, his website, his blog, his online newsletter, etc. If all of those overwhelm you, pick two or three that you can grow consistently. Start with ten minutes a day. He also needs to be speaking (and keeping track of how many people attended each event) as well as writing for print publications. If the author is a nonfiction writer, then he needs to focus on non-fiction articles. If he is a novelist, then aim for literary journals.

2. Names I often request a partial or a full if the author mentions that a certain celebrity or high profile person is willing to endorse her book. If that person has the endorsement included in the email, then I am even more impressed. Obviously, most of the endorsements come after the book already has a publishing house, but it never hurts to have those connections ahead of time.

3. kNowledge 🙂 When authors mentions things I like, information gleaned from my biography, I take a closer look at their query letter. I don’t mean that you should be a creepy stalker for the agent you are interested in (that would probably have the opposite effect), but you should research the agent. Know what she wants to read; know what interests her.

4. Names Oh, I mentioned that one before? Spell the agent’s name correctly in the query letter. My name has an ‘h’ at the end. I have rejected authors because they spelled my name incorrectly. All right, I am not that cruel–I did read through the query letter before rejecting, but it did nothing to gain brownie points, and speaking of brownies…

5. Nuts I don’t like nuts in my brownies, but I do like chocolate chips. So, you know, if you really want me to take a look at your query, be sure send me some. I’m kidding. Kind of.

Just like most people will eat any kind of pizza, every person has his/her favorite. Each agent has certain things that he looks for in query letters, but building your platform, connecting with high profile people, and doing your research about that particular agent will definitely help your query letter stand out among the hundreds in the slush pile.

Questions: What tips/tricks have you learned to help your query letter shine? Did they work? What hasn’t worked for you?


8 Replies to “What I Want on my Pizza”

  1. Delicious ingredients for a query, Sarah! I’m with you on the cold pizza and the chocolate, too! I hope that wonderful new baby is allowing you to squeeze in a little sleep. God bless!

  2. Sarah, I think the key thing in a good query is to really understand the market and clearly pitch not only the idea of your project, but how your project will meet the market need. Demonstrate your understanding of your target audience, and highlight as well your own particular authority for this topic. And nuts? Yes, must have them in the brownies—but not the query!! Thank you for your post ( and reminding me how good pizza is for breakfast!)

  3. Thanks for sharing with us today. You’ve stirred my creative juices and given me courage to try another query.
    Pizza is always good, no matter what time of the day.

  4. Sarah, this is amazing. Melissa and I just presented on how to wow an agent at the Renewal conference, and we mentioned all of your tips. Oh, all right, we kept the pizza and brownies to ourselves. I recommend Ghiradelli’s triple-chocolate brownie mix. (Totally worth it.)

  5. At the risk of sounding uber-spiritual here, I did everything on your list, except send cookies, plus one more. For months before signing with WordServe, I prayed for God to connect me with the right agency.

    Don’t get me wrong, I did my part in the process while I waited for that answer. Research, platform building, query letter practice, and cautious use of spelling/grammar were all very important parts of preparing. So when God blessed me with an introduction to WordServe, I was ready.

    Prepare. Practice. Prepare some more. Practice some more. We never know when opportunity will strike. 🙂

  6. Thanks for sharing this list. For my own part, I learned a few big things from the process of getting my book published (wish I’d known them a bit earlier, but anyhow):
    1) Make sure your query (and especially your proposal) capture the voice of the actual book itself. (Especially if it’s nonfiction/inspiration, as it was in my case.)
    2) A blog is a very good calling card. Because I hadn’t done #1 as well as I had thought I had, it was actually my blog that sold the publisher on the project. If you blog, make sure that it represents your best writing, too.
    3) What Anita said. I totally believe that there is an element of luck or serendipity or the Holy Spirit involved in terms of the connections we make and timing and all of that. It’s frustrating because we can’t control it, but it’s a chance to practice faith and openness.

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