Looking for a literary agent is a lot like looking for a job. In both cases, your task is to create a short, compelling document that will persuade your reader to look at a longer one. If you want an agent to represent your novel, you must write a single page letter in which you have about a paragraph to describe your novel and about a paragraph to describe yourself. Add a few sentences of introduction and a closing and you are done. Sounds easy? It’s not. The full synopsis of my novel, Fly Up into the Night Air, is three and one half pages, and covers only the essential points of plot and character development. In order to boil that down into a paragraph, a great deal must be left out. What are the most essential, most compelling parts of the story? For many writers it can take a little distance before the answer to that question is clear. Writers speak of the narrative hook: the action, idea, or description at the beginning of a story that grabs the reader’s interest and won’t allow him to put the book down. Your goal in a query letter is make the prospective agent want to read your novel. But since you must also convey some specific information about the novel (genre, length, etc.), you generally have only a few sentences to set the hook. Your fly must be very bright and shiny, indeed, to land the fish.
Similarly, when you are looking for a job, your task is to write a cover letter that will get your prospective employer to look at your résumé. Once again, you are likely to have only a very few words in which to describe what it is about you that is so compelling that the prospective employer should select your résumé from among the many she has received for a closer examination. Add to that the difficulty most of us have in speaking about ourselves without sounding either vain or dry to the point of barrenness, and you have another difficult writing job.
I’m supposed to be working on queries and covers, right now. The blog’s more fun.