On this blog every Tuesday and Friday I write about story techniques, structure, and/or publishing. Comments and questions are welcome. I also have a personal blog, Amy Deardon, on which I write about a variety of topics purely as they catch my fancy.

I've written one novel, A Lever Long Enough, that I'm honored to say has won two awards. In my life BC (before children) I was a scientist who did bench research.

My book, The Story Template: Conquer Writer's Block Using the Universal Structure of Story, is now available in both hard-copy and e-book formats. I also coach would-be novelists and screenwriters to develop their story. YOU CAN CONTACT ME at amydeardon at yahoo dot com.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Getting Your Material Ready for Submission, Part 3: The Query Letter

The query letter is the first, and likely the last, example of your writing that the agent or editor will see. You must make this shine if you want to get that delightful nibble where he or she asks you for more.

The query letter can be sent to the agent cold, after a recommendation (say from a client of the agent's), or an invitation (say from a writer's conference). The first step is to research on the web to determine what, exactly, the editor or agent wants to receive. Some want to receive just a query. Some want to receive a query as well as a short synopsis and/or a few pages of the manuscript. Some want an email query, others snail mail, or they might not care. DO WHAT THEY TELL YOU TO. It's tempting to think gee, my book is SO good I just have to let them know more. No, you don't. Believe me, these people are overwhelmed with submissions, and won't thank you for adding to their work or recycle bin. See my entry about this HERE. If guidelines are unclear, this is a judgment call but I'd write a killer query and leave it at that. It's easier to deal with a one page letter than a stack of densely darkened paper.

Don't forget to make it easy for the agent/editor to respond to you if they want more. Include your email, snail mail, and telephone numbers. If you're mailing by snail mail, include a self-addressed stamped envelope so they just have to scribble *yes* on your query and pop it in the mail. If you email your query, make sure that hitting reply won't cause the email to bounce, or cause the agent/editor to go through machinations (prove that they're a real person) in order for the email reply to reach you. DON'T call the agent/editor to pitch a story. They don't appreciate being interrupted.

The purpose of the query letter is to hook the interest of your prospect. The temptation is to put in a lot of information, but you should instead make your query short and intriguing.

Think of it this way: suppose you've just met someone and need to chit-chat for a few minutes. Do you want the other person to start telling you his life's story? Or is it more interesting for you if that person throws out an intriguing tidbit and waits for you to ask a question (or not).

Literary agent Noah Lukeman offers a FREE book How to Write a Great Query Letter, available in Kindle or PDF formats, at http://www.lukeman.com/greatquery/download.htm. He recommends that query letters should have four general parts:

1. introduction -- why are you writing to this particular person? Target your reason.

2. intrigue -- tell a little about the story, enough to raise curiosity without killing it.

3. justify -- what is your background that makes you qualified to write AND SELL this story?

4. close -- state specifically the action the person can take if he is interested.

The query should be only one page, period. (Have I said that enough times yet?)

Needless to say, make sure this query is as polished as you can make it. The competition is fierce. You may have to send out 30 or more queries before you get a nibble, so put on your emotional armor before you start the process. This is the biz.

I like to include the logline and BCC (back cover copy) descriptions in the main body of the query letter. I talked about composing these in the last blog entry.

And just to show that not all queries have to be cookie cutters of this pattern, here is a sample query from Preditors and Editors:

What if the President of the United States committed a murder in front of you? What if you were a member of his Secret Service protection? Would you arrest him? Would you report the crime? Or would you cover up the crime to protect the nation because of an international crisis?

These are the questions Shari Nichols must resolve in my novel, All Fall Down. At the moment of the murder she professes allegiance to President Halverson, but she questions whether she has made the right choice. A quick promotion puts her into a job that consumes her attention and seems to support the President's action of murder. But within weeks a series of events makes Shari wonder if the President is as honorable as he seems. Shari Nichols digs for the truth and unearths secrets woven deeply within the infrastructure of the government. Secrets that touch even her family, but she may be digging her own grave.

The completed manuscript is available upon request. A SASE is included for your convenience. Thank you for your generous time. I look forward to hearing from you soon.



Queries are tougher than they look! Make sure you make yours shine.

No comments:

Post a Comment