Which is More Effective: Writing a Query, or Hitting Your Head Against a Wall?
by Cindy C Bennett
I have yet to meet an author who actually enjoys writing a query letter. There’s something not quite right about taking an 80,000 word manuscript that you’ve labored over for months, and then trying to condense that into about 300 words. Not only that, in those 300 words, you have to make your strongest sales point within the first 100 words. To give you an idea of how long that is, you are now reading the 78th word. If this were my query, I’d only have this one last sentence to make an impression good enough to keep you reading.
So how do you go about writing a query? Well, the first thing you have to do is research. There are many, many sites out there with great advice about writing a query. Read as many of them as you can. They are all a little different, with different opinions or “rules” for a good query letter. There isn’t any one that is the absolute right way, and that’s because it all depends on who you’re sending the query to.
That means the second thing you want to do is search out the agents or publishers that you are going to submit to. They all have different guidelines, and depending on those will depend on how you format it. You’ll want to make sure you’re submitting to the right agent. If an agent states they represent children’s books, your query for your adult thriller is going to hit the circular file beneath their desk, or the virtual one on their desktop (read: recycle bin).
Almost always you want to begin with a hook, something that peaks the interest of the recipient. You can read samples galore on the internet. You just have to figure out how to make your letter sound interesting in one sentence. And you thought 300 words was ridiculously few. Somewhere in there you need to get in the title, genre, and word count—all very important pieces of information.
Next you’ll want to give a very brief synopsis of the book. This is not the same as a blurb. Cliff hanger type sentences don’t work here: “Will she give the baby up, or decide to raise him herself?” Instead say what does happen: “She decides to keep the baby, and then must deal with the consequences of that decision, including trying to keep the baby’s father involved.”
Finally, you have to toot your own horn. This is where I struggle most. Why should this agent/editor believe that I’m the best person to have written this particular book? If you’re writing non-fiction, this is much easier. With fiction, it can get a little sketchy, unless you’re writing about something you’ve specifically had experience with.
Another option is to take an online class with help on how to write a query. I did this after so many rejections came in I was beginning to fear both my mailbox and my email inbox. And then, ironically, I never sent any of those out since I decided to self-pub. But it came in handy when I did decide to submit once again, and it was a positive experience since I received a “yes” from Cedar Fort.
Whatever, and however, you choose to write the query, just be professional, clear and concise, and make sure your grammar, punctuation, and spelling are absolutely perfect. One mistake there and they will likely not give it a second glance. If all else fails, go ahead and hit your head against the wall a few times. It’s about equal in the painful department. (Just kidding! Please don’t hit your head against the wall.)
For an interview with Cindy and a review of her book GEEK GIRL, head over to my book review blog Book Addict.