Query Letters: Placing your work in the market

A few weeks ago, I promised more posts on the topic of the query letter. Previously, I discussed why an author should query and went over the basic 3-paragraph structure of the query letter. One paragraph of the query letter is typically devoted to placing the manuscript in the market. Let’s dig into that today.

For many agents it’s critical the author knows the intended market for their work. I’ve even seen agents claim they will not consider the query if an author gets the market wrong.

For me personally, placing my work in the market is intimidating. As an author, I focus more on the creative process than on marketing. I’m not always confident I fully grasp the differences between all the genres and subgenres that are relevant for my work.

For example, if my novel has paranormal elements, does that qualify it as a paranormal novel? What’s the difference between paranormal and urban fantasy? If my novel combines elements of thriller, horror, and suspense, which of these should I focus on when identifying the market for a potential agent? Is “dark fantasy” too general a term when describing my novel?

At the heart of these questions lies a central dilemma: Many of us write across genres. While this might create uncertainty when writing a query, writing across genres can also be used to the author’s advantage.

For example, if your manuscript combines elements of more than one genre, you can tailor each query to emphasize the genre that most appeals to that particular agent. It’s also true that many agents favor manuscripts that cross or bend genres. Look for those agents – they might be your next best friend!

An important point: Word count is part of genre. For example, romance tends to be shorter than epic fantasy. When designating your genre, make sure your word count fits within what’s expected.

In addition to knowing your genre, many agents ask you to identify novels similar to your own. Authors tend to grimace at this because we are convinced our manuscript is totally unique. While it’s true that no one else can write the novel that comes from your individual heart and soul, all of us should be able to identify works that share important characteristics with our manuscript.

To identify novels similar to my own, I raided my bookshelf. I pulled novels that have inspired me and looked for novels that generated the same mood I hope to create for other readers. Not only was this a fun exercise, the stack I produced became a list of works to include in my query letters. Sure, not a single book in that stack tells the same story I did, but at least I can give the agent an idea of where I’m coming from.

While writing your novel – that is, even before you begin to think about the query letter – it’s important to identify your ideal reader. Write for one person rather than a city, continent, or country. That one person you’re trying to reach can tell you about your genre and market. Who is your ideal reader, what kind of books do they prefer, and why? If you can answer these questions, you probably have a pretty good grip on the market for your novel, even if you aren’t always sure what genre label to use.

Once you have all these ideas lined up – genre, similar novels, and your ideal reader – the rest is just mechanics. Write a single paragraph. State your genre, word count, and totally awesome title up front. Then, provide a list of 2-3 similar novels and give a brief description of your ideal reader. Congratulations! You’ve just finished the first paragraph of your query letter.

In upcoming posts, we’ll dig into the second and third paragraphs. I also provide an overview of these paragraphs in a previous post.

Happy October and good luck with your queries!

4 thoughts on “Query Letters: Placing your work in the market

  1. It’s no secret that, for most, writing the query is harder than writing the book itself! Excellent breakdown, my love.

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