The excitement of completing a novel can cloud our minds with pride. It's like how all parents know that their babies are way cuter, smarter, and more generally awesome than everyone else's babies. When you write a book, that's your baby. Writing a lackluster query is like sending your child to a pageant with mismatched clothes and food all over their face.
Put time and energy into your query. Research the agent, be familiar with their submission guidelines, the genres they want, and read other books that they've represented. When I did this and queried an agent after writing my first novel a few years ago, she responded with a request for the full manuscript (eeep!). Ultimately, it didn't lead to representation (doh! Here's why) but it gave me a lot of encouragement knowing that my query had done its job.
Here is the letter I wrote:
Dear Ms. DeChiara,
My 73,000 word novel, Like Steel, is the story of a scrappy fifteen year old that longs to be understood as she comes to terms with life's losses and contemplates the existence of God.
Similar to other poignant young adult novels, such as Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, Like Steel consists of intense inner and outer conflict woven through an adventure of self discovery.
Marie still can't understand why Rob, her best friend and the hero that helped her develop a mean right hook, was ripped from her life. All she has now is her memories and her most constant companion: anger. When Marie's fighting and drinking land her in the Redwood Lodge, an inpatient treatment center for troubled teens, she bonds with her anorexic roommate as they rebel against the staff and hatch a plan to escape. Of course, nothing goes quite as planned. Filled with raw emotion and a colorful cast of characters, Like Steel is an inside view of a hurting teenagers good but guarded heart.
While the story of Like Steel is distinctive I believe it will fit in well with your other titles, The Last Chance Texaco and The Geography Club. I began writing for pleasure at the age of seven, attempted my first novel at the age of twelve, and wrote steadily throughout my young adulthood. This is my first completed novel and I am beginning to form the sequel. My qualification on the subject matter is based on life experience.
If you are interested in seeing it, I would be happy to provide sample chapters or the manuscript. Thank you for your consideration.
If you've written a novel, critiqued and revised it, and are preparing to seek agency representation, congratulations. You've already accomplished something huge. The next step is to make sure you do everything you can to adequately exhibit yourself, your talents...and your baby :) If you'd like a second set of eyes to look over your letter, just email me. I'm happy to help!