For those of you unfamiliar with the publishing industry, the process of getting a book published begins with a query letter. In the past, these went to editors and were designed to make them want to see a full proposal for the work, maybe even the full manuscript. Now that most publishing houses don't accept unsolicited queries from authors, these queries go to agents, coming from writers who are seeking representation for their work.
What does a query contain? And, just as important, what shouldn't it? Rather than giving my own opinion, let me refer you to a couple of professionals. My agent, Rachelle Gardner of WordServe Literary, has a great post today on how not to impress an agent with your query. The style of this post reminds me of the legendary Miss Snark, an agent who wrote under that pseudonym and dispensed lots of useful advice liberally laced with humor and satire. I think you'll enjoy reading it.
Now, if you'd like an example of a great query letter, check out this post from Jessica Faust at Bookends LLC Agency. She uses a query from one of her clients to suggest the right way to go about this process.
I'll add a comment to one point Rachelle makes. Don't EVER, EVER, EVER ask an agent or editor to open an attachment unless they have requested it. Even then, check what you send with your own anti-virus software--you do have that on your computer, don't you?--before sending it. Nothing says "I never want to hear from you again" like opening an attachment and seeing your computer freeze or display the Blue Screen of Death. Oh, and remember to back up your hard disk regularly. Got it? Good. Enough advice for now.