The first letter you write to an agent is unbelievably important. It’s your first impression, and your chance to convince them of the following:
a) You can form a sentence and punctuate correctly. Oddly, these are important skills for writers, and most agents are turned off by a cover letter with spelling mistakes.
b) You can describe your work in 50 words or less – a coherant summary usually indicates that you’ve thought carefully about the plot, which is usually a good thing.
c) You’re polite, because you’re asking them to consider your work and hoping they have time to enjoy it. This is instead of arrogantly assuming you’re entitled to their valuable time and they’d be lucky to have you as a client (save this attitude for when you’ve sold more books than JK Rowling).
d) You’re not completely insane (this is the follow-on from the ‘don’t be more arrogant than God’ bit above). An agent won’t agree to represent you if you manage to come across as completely nuts in a 200-word letter. Try to hide this aspect of your personality for as long as possible; don’t open your very first communication to them with ‘may all your camels be bountiful’. And FYI, jokes don’t come across too well in letters. Neither does sarcasm.
The key thing to remember when approaching an agent is that you’re trying to convince them to go into business with you. You need to be polite, professional, a little bit creative, but ultimately, you have to look like a good investment. Hence the ‘don’t be crazy’. You might think it’s all just wacky fun, and that they’ll appreciate your zany personality as much as your drinking buddies do, but seriously, try to keep a lid on it. Would you go into business with you, if you met you in a bar? Didn’t think so.
Anyway, the point of this post was to direct y’all to a Query Letter template thing that Nathan Bransford’s put together. He’s an agent with Curtis Brown, San Francisco, so he knows query letters. And have a look around his archives, for more tasty tips on approaching an agent.
PS. Locus reminded us of another good point. Many, many people who work in publishing are women, so beginning your letter with ‘Dear sir’ is a bad idea unless you’re totally sure you’re writing to a man.