Sunday, July 25, 2010

Query that

After my rather humbling experience recently, I realized I want more info on the elusive query letter.

Writing a query should be easy, right? You just scribble out a short cover letter introducing yourself and your work, cuz you know your work is marvellous and should sell itself.

Wrong.

Even if your work is bestseller material, a fumbling query letter is going to get you into the ‘rejection pile’ and no where near the bestseller list. This is your opportunity to sell yourself -- to make the agent sit up and take notice.

So, how do we write the most amazing query letter possible?

Let’s break it down.

First – research, research, research. Even though there’s a basic format to query letters, don’t write one generic query and send it to a bunch of different agents hoping to strike it lucky. That’s like playing Russian Roulette with your career. Read up on your choice of agents. Follow their guidelines to the letter. And don’t forget to browse their blogs – this is where the real nuggets of information are gleaned. Maybe they might even give you an example or two of what they consider a great query. (Yay!)

Next – write a query that’s tailored to the agent you are submitting to. What does that mean? Give ‘em exactly what they ask for; nothing more – nothing less. This can include attachments versus inserting manuscript material into the body of an email. Or, even a paragraph synopsis versus a full-page synopsis. Deviating from their provided instructions just tells them that you can’t follow directions. That’s fast-tracking yourself right out the door.

Another next – the query itself. I like the way writing-world.com sets it out. Though the author is referring to article pitching, I did find this site helpful. It talks about the five basic components of a query:

• The hook
• The pitch
• The body
• The credentials
• The close

Each component is crucial. The author at the above site breaks it down well and is a good read. She even includes links to related articles – check out the sample query letter.

Another site fictionwriters.com has some good do’s and don’ts.

This website charlottedillon.com has a bunch of examples that landed the authors agents. Note that they are all quite different.

What I find interesting is that the above samples prove that queries need to be agent-specific. Note that one letter may start out with a hook, while another starts with an introduction. It would seem that while there are rules, these rules can in some cases be bent a little.

This too can be said for the do’s and don’ts as well. During my research I came across an agent who actually liked a little butt-kissing. (Say what??) Yup, I kid you not. In this instance -- to submit or not to submit -- is the question. Remember, you need to comfortably work with this person. Do you wanna work with someone you have to brown-nose?

Nah. Gimme a professional any day.

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