Monday, June 24, 2013

THE MOST HORRIBLE, DISPICABLE, HORRENDOUS WORDS IN ALL OF THE WRITING COMMUNITY: SLUSH PILE


Yes, folks, those words are that loathed. Well, at least they were/are for me. How is it that we can birth an entire novel but find it laborious to produce 250 words that describe our manuscripts? It’s almost funny.

Almost.

But the query letter is serious business. Serious Business. Business - being the operative word. Not an opportunity for you to chat with the agent/publisher. It is an opportunity for you to make a great first impression. It is an opportunity for you to showcase your skills as an expert orchestrator of words. It is not the time for you to tell the agent/publisher how great you are. They can glean that information from how well you’ve written the query.

Show, don’t tell. Remember?

What are the keys to a great query letter? Gosh, that’s a hard question and I’m not an agent. But if I take into account what I’ve learned, the following list would be what I would include or not include in a solid query letter:

Query written in the voice the manuscript is written in. What I mean is it is not too safe. An agent doesn’t want to read a boring list of events.

·       Don’t list every major plot in the story…only the most important plot details. Remember it is a “letter” not an essay. So keep it to 200-350 – I think 350 is the higher range but every agent is different.

·       Don’t get bogged down by the details. Make sure to list the most exciting, interesting aspects of the plot - something that will make the agent want to actually read the story. The agent could care less that the MC had a pretty little dog…unless the dog dies then comes back from the grave and terrorizes the MC throughout the manuscript. No reincarnated Cujo – no mention in the query letter.

·       Don’t creep out the agent/publisher. How do you creep them out? By offering to babysit their children for a chance at representation…  By offering up your first born as a sacrifice for publication…. By cyber stalking their every keystroke…

·       Do list why you are seeking representation from this agent. Offer up why you choose this particular agent over the many others you could have chosen. Make sure to list a specific agent/editor when you query – no “Dear Agent/Editor” allowed. The query fairies will find you and sprinkle “you’re an idiot” powder over you as you sleep. People will begin to laugh at you for no apparent reason…but the fairies and the agent/editor will know…

·       Don’t get too gimmicky. Fun and quirky is good. But if you’ve written a children’s story don’t write the query from the perspective of your three year old MC… “Me want you to pick me… UM… not cool. If I were an agent I might recommend a good, tight, straight-jacket.

Have I left off any really great query writing tips? I was certain I would. Share your tips in the comments.

 

 

 

Have a great day. Read a book and laugh.

12 comments:

  1. Oh the dreaded query letter...Great post :) Sometimes query letters come naturally to me as they did after I finished rewriting my WIP. I would just say you know what your story is about so just get the main points onto the page, succinctly, and if you're having a major problem that might be a hint something's off/not finished with your story (as I have found out for me when I'm really struggling to write one).

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    1. Great point, Patrice about if you're having a lot of difficulty with the query it might be a signal that you need to go back to the story to find out why.

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  2. Great List. I would add to make sure you include the central conflict/stakes. I see too many queries that are all premise or set up with no description of the heart of the story.

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    1. Great tip, Sara! The central conflict of the story is the most important detail to add to the query.

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  3. I hated query letters at first but then I found myself actually liking them. My favorite trick for the book blurb is to write it as your main character would and then change it to third person. It really makes the voice come through.

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    1. That is a great tip, Kelly! I've never tried this but I will.

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  4. You captured it perfectly. I was terrified when I wrote my first draft, by the hundredth, some good editing, I figured it out. I think Kelly's advise is spot on.

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    1. I was terrified, too, Brenda. I hated writing them but the more comfortable I became with my story and writing in general, the better the query got.

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  5. You pretty much nailed the checklist!

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    1. Thanks, Catherine. It wasn't too difficult since "how to write a query" is plastered everywhere.

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  6. Your query needs a good hook IMO. A sentence or two that makes the agent/editor know this is a book that peaks their interest.

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    1. So true, Jessie! Great tip. You should have a good hook.

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