The Perfect Query Letter
If you are like me you have pondered over the perfect query letter time and time again. Let me just start off by saying I am not an expert at query letters. If I was then I would have tons of requests. But like you, I need help. My writer's group is currently having a query night for one of our meetings. To say the least, just the thought of it made my teeth ache and my neck stiffen in horror. The dreaded query letter. Just how the heck was I going to put together a query letter that would work? Okay, maybe not necessarily work, but not suck? How is that? Perfectionist that I am when it comes to letting people read my work, I usually go over my stuff again and again until I let someone read it because I am afraid they will read it and say "What makes this chick think she can write?" I have written dozens of query letters over the years to editors and agents and sometimes I got requests and sometimes I did not. What was the magic formula? I have read may query letter books. How to Write Irresistible Query Letters by Lisa Collier Cool sits on my bookshelf, as does The Writer's Digest Guide to Query Letters by Wendy Burt-Thomas. I have gone over them with a fine tooth comb and analyzed my own query letters. Each time I was positive I had mastered the query letter, I wrote them and sent them off. Limited success. Okay, what was the problem? My writing? My letters? Not quite sure. Like you, I followed their guidelines but I'm still seeking publication.
Now we have the internet. There are even more resources for writing the best query letter out there. I think I may have finally struck gold with the perfect place to find information about query letters. Have you heard of The Query Shark? I recently discovered it by reading Bookends, Literary Agency's site. I have been going over the Query Shark's advice, reading each query and her advice to the authors. Wonderful advice. Some of it applies to me, other times it does not because the genre of writing is different, but the basic advice is always the same. You have to hook the agent or editor in those first few sentences. You need to use your voice and the voice of your characters to get across your novel. Writing bland, formulaic letters will not draw the attention of an agent or an editor. Just like your story must capture the attention of the reader within the first sentences, the same is true of the letter. Here's the main difference – you only have one page to get the job done in a query letter. In only 3 paragraphs you have to tell about your hero and heroine's journey, tell about the basic plot of the story and make it sound unique enough for them to be intrigued, and you must tell them about your writing experience. Easy, right? Nothing is harder for a novel writer than to condense their story into a few paragraphs.
My advice – talk to a friend. Tell someone about your book in just a few sentences and then ask them to be honest – would they pay for that book? If they pause, you're in trouble. Because if they pause, they are going to tell you yes, but they have to think about adding enthusiasm into their response. So, start with a hook – in only one sentence – tell them why your book is unique and they should read it. An example - With a warning of "will shoot on sight" which man would be foolish enough to approach her? Are you intrigued? Do you want to know what will happen? I would. So, now you have their attention, you have to keep it. Make every sentence sharp and to the point. Don't add in extra words. Cut them out. One piece of advice from the Query Shark that I loved was – once you think you have the perfect query, put it aside for one week. Pick it up and then fix it again. I love this advice because it is so true. How many times have you written something and thought it perfect? Then you reread it and went "what was I thinking?" Happens to me all the time. I always find something to fix. My next piece of advice, ask someone else to read your letter. Ask them if it's clear and understandable. Take their advice to heart. You may still want to keep most of it, but there may be some golden gems in their advice that will make perfect sense to you.
Okay, so I have given you my advice on what to do with your query letter. Now get to work on it. And check out The Query Shark. I found so much information I could use I know you will too. Most importantly, be honest with yourself. Even when you think it's perfect, there still might be something you can fix. Good luck. Tomorrow night I have to bring five copies of my query to my meeting and share with others. I'll let you know how it goes. Wish me luck.
Posted by Vivienne Courtoise