Sunday, August 9, 2009

DAN LAZAR: "How to Craft a Winning Query Letter: Secrets to Keep You Out of the Reject Pile"

DAN LAZAR: "How to Craft a Winning Query Letter: Secrets to Keep You Out of the Reject Pile"

Highlights from Dan Lazar, Writers House agent, panel on query letters:

-- Website recommendation: (his bio is listed here:

-- Want some of Dan's secrets to writing a query letter that ROCKS? Here are a couple tidbits:

1. "If you can write the Next Great American Novel, then you can write a great query letter. Period." Dan brought two real query letters to demonstrate what worked for him, and one "fake" letter to show what doesn't work. One letter showed the writer's voice, which intrigued Dan who wanted to see the writer's voice in the actual manuscript. So if your voice comes through in a query letter, that can help get you out of the "reject" pile!

2. If you have never been published and do not have any publishing credits, don't worry. No need to apologize or even bring that up. You don't need logos or colored paper to impress. And it doesn't hurt to open with "a specific familiar reference. "I'm a human being and I have feelings, so you should appeal to my vanity," he joked.

3. Do NOT start with "To whom It may concern"!

4. MAIN THEME: BE SPECIFIC. Dan cannot stress this enough. He says you should be as specific as possible in your query letter, from stating why you are interested in pursuing Dan as your agent, specific details about your bio, your manuscript etc.

5. Try to avoid "What if?" when describing your book's story in a query letter. It's a "good tool" he says for sparking plot ideas and brainstorming, but not for a query letter. He recommends being MORE SPECIFIC and using more original language instead of starting off with "What if..." when describing/introducing the plot of your book in the query letter.

6. For email queries: He says find out first if agents accept these - he does, FYI. Technical note: Do not include any HTML coding because that can result in inconsistent formatting and invite spammers.

And that's just the tip of the iceberg! Dan offered dozens of tips and secrets on how to write an effective query letter. It was a packed lecture hall and it was clear everyone appreciated Dan's helpful advice. Again, another reason to join SCBWI and attend these conferences for fantastic advice from veteran industry experts!

Posted by Paula Yoo


  1. Thanks Paula! Very apropos to our early conversation --

  2. Thanks for the info! I would have loved to hear all of this one!