Queries are queer
It's Monday, I'm feeling saucy, so time to change the weekly topic for this blog. This week we'll each be discussing the much dreaded query letter. Ooh spooky... just in time for Halloween!
What to do, how to do it, where we've gone wrong, what mistakes we see others make. Here's a few of my thoughts on this elusive beast, drawn from my years working inside a large publishing house. Hope you find something useful, although some of these may seem like no-brainers to our super-literati LRA readers!
Be polite and be reasonable. Don't write that your book IS THE END ALL BE ALL BOOK THAT U MUST PUBLISH OMG WTF BBQ!!! IF U MISS OUT ON THIS GRT OPP, YOU ARE AN IDIOT EDITOR/AGENT AND I HATE YOU FOREVER!!! While writing is an art, it's also a business, and if you plan on selling your work, treat it as the latter.
Get to the point. Don't be overly creative/clever with your query letter. A lot of fledgling writers gut reaction is to stand out from the pack this way, but fight this at all costs. Be businesslike and let the work speak for itself. The more professional your approach, the better.
For instance, don't submit your work using wacky fonts. A query sent in with the Star Trek font will get noticed all right, but in the bad straight-to-the garbage or hey-come-over-here-and-see-what-this-whack-job-did way. Also, don't send gifts-it only comes off desperate and kinda creepy. You don't know the editor or agent. Be honest with yourself... it's a bit suck up, don't you think? You want to stand out, but for all the right reasons. Being clever in your letter with tricks or gimmicks isn't one of them.
Editors and agents have a very clear idea of what they want to know about you and your work so do your homework. Check the criteria they ask for at their websites and follow it. Most of the major publishers list what they want to see at their websites, as I believe Jessica Wade mentioned for Ace and Roc in my Sept. interview with her (go find it, slackers!) Don't think that you'll stand out if you break their submission rules to get noticed. You will stand out, but only by pissing them off.
If you're wondering how you're ever going to summarize your book down to just a paragraph or two for your query letter, pick up any book you own. Read the jacket copy on the back where it describes the book. Succinct, to the point, and probably starts with a nice hook line to, well, get the reader hooked. Read a bunch of them to see how some of your favorites have been boiled down. This is what you need to do when summarizing your own work, although it may seem unfathomable to distill your 600 page epic down to a paragraph or two. Tough. You have to do it.
Also, mention any writing credits you may have, even if they are in another arena. Okay, I suppose if you’re applying to write for the 700 Club newsletter, you could probably skip mentioning your Mulder/Ash from Evil Dead slash fic, but don't feel bad saying that you won the creative writing award for your school newspaper senior year. Editors and agents know you might not have the best (or any) resume. The first time author might not have a lot to put down as a n00b, but any writing accolade is usually good to mention. At the very least it shows that you can complete a piece of work or make deadlines, and that makes you come across as far more serious about your writing.
That's enough out of me. I'm sure we're gonna see some other great ideas from the rest of the League this week, so stay tuned, y'all!