Friday, May 14, 2010

Avoid the Dreary Query

Query letters are an essential element to getting your book/article noticed by the people who matter. The ones who make the decisions to publish or toss your agonized-over words carelessly in the slush pile . . . agents, editors and eventually publishers.

Don't take queries lightly.

Basically, a query is a 1-page pitch that should reflect the tone, content and your thinly disguised passion for your piece. It must display your writing skills (NO typos, use perfect grammar and punctuation, "show" don't "tell" by NOT stating the obvious, etc.) and in short, give the editor a juicy taste of the delectable fare yet to come when they request part or all of your manuscript.

Did you catch the part about passion? Very important: NO dreary queries.

You must stand out head & shoulders above the other hundreds of queries the agent scans that day - you have about 7 seconds to make your impression before she moves on to the next one. So without overstating your case ("This is positively the Harry Potter series!"), throw out your baited hook in the first sentence (the distinguishing feature of your book), include genre and title in the first paragraph, a brief bio in another paragraph (remember, this isn't about you, it's about whether your book is marketable or not) and exit your book description quickly by way of a clever but subtle cliffhanger.

The trick is to make her want more without appearing that you're trying too hard.

Spend hours, days, or even weeks reducing your story to one or two powerful sentences that will make the editor or agent sit up and take notice. Anything but brief is just plain grief to an overworked, underpaid agent or editor, so KISS (Keep It Short & Succinct)!

Be sure to address the recipient correctly (NO Dear Sir or Madam or To Whom it May Concern), include a SASE and NEVER utter the #1 novice faux pas: "I have written a fictional novel." You will get nowhere but the slush pile by repeating yourself. (Wouldn't that make a great name for a rock band: Repetitive Redundancy?)

You have either written fiction or a novel, not both. It's like saying I'm a female girl.

Remember, your book is judged by your query to determine it it'll ever get a chance to be judged by its cover. So make your query work for you rather than against you!