Saturday, August 16, 2014

Query Letter 101

The last time I wrote on this topic was in 2011, so I figured perhaps a refresher blog might be handy.

SO, you wrote then next big thing, huh?

That's awesome! You could let it just live on your hard drive forever, maybe preserve it in the Cloud where it will be safe for all time or at least until a gamma ray burst knocks out the grid, leaving the world in a post-apocalyptic hell in which no one has the time for reading since they're too busy trying to find their missing eyeballs because of the mutations and...

Author Fuel
No? You want to send it to agents and publishers? Are you sure? Because that means you can get rejected, even if Aunt Sally said it was the best thing she's ever read that wasn't written on a recipe card. It also means that if you do get published, some people are going to love it, sure, but others are going to call you a hack. You know all that? You still want to publish? You LIKE Ramon noodles?

Well, okay then. If you're sure.


Scary stuff. Okay, I'm lying. Writing a query letter is like riding a bike. The first time you do it, you're afraid you're going to scab your knees, hurtle over the handlebars and eat pavement, whatever. With time, you just sling your leg over the seat and away you go.

The first time I sent one, I actually looked up what is a query before I started writing. My earliest queries, even with tons of hours logged researching good ones, were terrible. Do I have it down now? Meh, I'm not too shabby. More importantly,  I'm not afraid of writing them anymore, and you shouldn't be either.

What is a query?

A query (also called a query letter, book solicitation, literary prostitution, or spam) or is a a one page introduction to your work and you written to a publisher or a literary agent (or Bob down in the mail room.)

Think of it as something like,"Hello, there. I'm Sam. I write books!"

(Author's Note: If you send those exact words out to an agent or publisher and they reject you, yeah, don't blame me. If they contract you for being so concise, please remit 5% of your royalties to me. kthxbai)

In one page, you have to present a compelling book blurb, include a catchy hook that will stick in their brain like flea on a dogs bum, recite your writing credentials (if you have any), explain why you think you are a good person to have written this book, and list the vital statistics of the manuscript.
No 7pg queries!


No one is going to read a seven page query. To be realistic, they probably don't have the time even if they wanted to try. If you find someone willing to read seven pages of query letter, please correct me in the comment section below.  

(Author's Note: I posted this same offer in the original blog in 2011. No one commented that they'd found the magical acquisitions editor who would read that long of a query. I will add, now that I'm older and wiser, that if you do manage to find such an editor, you might not want to sign the contract they offer. My adopted dad likes to say that you don't take your car to a mechanic who is available immediately, you want the busy mechanic. His reason? The busy mechanic is busy because he does good work. Just sayin.)

But, wait, they want a synopsis, too?

They sure do. A synopsis is the one or two page condensed version of your book. Yes, it took you thousands of words to tell this story. Now you need to find a way to tell all of it, including the ending, in a couple pages. Good luck with that.

The bit about your book in the query letter is like the part of the iceberg sitting above the water. The editor/agent understands that most of the iceberg is hidden in the mysterious depths of the sea. However, if you want them to strap on some diving gear and plunge into freezing water to see the rest, the visible part in the query better be good. I often just use my planned blurb for the query.

Ask yourself these questions when deciding what to include in the query:

1. Does it capture the reader?
2. Does it sum up the basic premise and tone of your story in just a paragraph or two?
3. Do you read it and want to know more?

If it doesn't, edit it.

But I don't have any writing credentials!

Do you think anyone does when they start? That said, you probably don't want to do this:

Dear Editor,

I have never written anything before this manuscript, yet I sat down and wrote a bestseller!!! I know my book is not only going to become an international success, but it will also become a blockbuster movie within, I don't know, a week or two? Because of this, I created a line of action figures to go with the book. I used my own hair and I'm sending one with the query!!!


PS. I write books!!

We haz magic spoodles
Being overzealous won't win you any bonus points with an editor/agent. It will, however, give them something to talk about at the water cooler. 

If you don't have writing credentials, be honest. You don't have to list every book report you ever wrote in an attempt to look like you have background experience. You also don't have to lie.

(Author's Note: They will know, by the way. This industry looks big from the outside, but everyone seems to know everyone, so being labeled a joke or a liar? Won't serve you well.)

Try something more like this:

This story was inspired by my years as a fry cook--greasy, hot, unrewarding work, but it gave me a flexible schedule and enabled me to pursue my writing dreams.

You're not saying you're not published, but you've established your expertise regarding your topic. If you're honest, you will not irk the person reading the query. Showing them you know all about fry cooks when you've written a book about alien fry cooks who take over the world with magical spoodles... That is okay.

You mentioned vital statistics...?

I did. Yes, thanks for bringing that up. You need to include the meat and bones of what you are trying to get them to buy.

For example:  
Note to self: Write Alien Legal Assistant Fry Cook Story

Greasy Accountants--a 90k sexy, paranormal, legal suspense--includes elements of comedy as the aliens work their night jobs as fry cooks. That said, the story is a legal suspense with a strong murder mystery at it's core.

In that little passage, (please don't write a book about an alien legal assistant fry cook) we get the genre of the story, the word count and any crossover elements.

Can you give me an example?

Why sure! But I am making up another fake plot because I'm sick of the alien fry cook legal assistant one.

16 August 2014

On the icy streets of Juno, evil has a name. Robert Badguy searched for women to slake his unholy thirsts, leaving a trail of bodies in his wake for more than a century. Hard-boiled detective, Janice Goodcop, is close to proving whodunit. When a handsome stranger tries to distract her from her mission, she refuses the temptation and redoubles her efforts to stop the killer. A blizzard blows into town and strands Janice in a dingy cabbage factory with Badguy, the very demon she seeks. Will Janice stop the bloody rampage, or will Badguy slake his thirst on the one woman who could have saved his soul?

Chilly Vampires is an 80k paranormal romance. These vampires don't sparkle, they chomp. A few steamy sex scenes heat up the cold Alaskan nights, but the romance is largely behind closed doors.

As the editor of my high school newspaper, I learned early on the value of comma placement. I went on to college to become the head of our monthly publication, The University Magazine. After college, I took the occasional creative writing courses at our community college, Community College. Now that the kids have grown up, I returned to my first love, writing. I hope you enjoy Chilly Vampires. Please find attached the manuscript, per your submission guidelines, as well as a two page synopsis.

Ima Writer

That simple, but mine was all made up. Please don't make stuff up on your query letter. Well, other than plot and such.

Take your time.

If they don't like the query, they aren't going to read your synopsis. If they aren't intrigued enough to read the two page summary of your book, they're for sure not going to read the three hundred or so pages of the manuscript.

If you spend tons of time on anything, make it your query letter.
 Edit and edit and reedit.

Some links I think you might find handy besides mine:
Nathan Bransford's How to Write A Query Letter
Kristen Nelson's Blog (Includes sample query letters that landed agents)
Query Tracker (a great site for finding and keeping track of who you are sending these to)

Happy writing!

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