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Query Letters Revisited (in Two Parts)
"Musings" for March 2007
by Margot Finke
It is about a year since I wrote a column on query letters, and considering the chatter about them on various lists, its about time I wrote another one. Not so long ago, when editors and agents welcomed your first few chapters, and often accepted complete manuscripts (gasp!), a good query letter was important, but it didnt make-or-break your chances of acceptance. Lets face it, all that has changed. Many larger publishing houses are closed to submissions, with the exception of authors already published by them, or those who are represented by agents. Smaller publishers, often give us writers better odds. They will accept queries from the unwashed. . . . er, I mean unpublished masses.
This makes your query letter almost too hot to handle right? Every word youve written, rewritten, and agonized over, depends on one page of perfectly written and impeccably chosen words. How nervous making is that? Ive heard writers say that writing their book was a snap, compared to crafting one page that would decide the fate of all their writing dreams. Okay, now, get a grip, take a drink if you must, and lets write that sucker!
First Things First
That one pristine page needs to be filled with words, potent and powerful enough to lure an editor into asking for MORE.
* Research likely publishers, their websites, their current list of books, and their editors.
* Study their Submission Guidelines: find them on the publishers website.
* CWIM (Childrens Writers and Illustrators Market) is a good source of publisher and agent information and URLS,
* Send exactly what they ask for no "extras."
* Make notes of the many snippets of publishing news that flow through the writing lists you are on. Keep them in a handy file.Third:
* Make a list of your writing accomplishments
* Gather any relevant clips.
* If you have qualifications or upbringing that bring a special depth and insight to your plot or characters, add these to your query.
* If your book fills a particular need, make sure you include brief details.
* Boil your story down to one paragraph. This paragraph must waft the essence of your plot, and the dilemma faced by your main character, under the editors sensitive nose, and hook her into wanting more. Piece of cake!
Distilling thousands of words into a few lines is one of the most difficult tasks a writer can tackle. Think if it as deglazing a hot, buttery pan with wine, and allowing it to simmer down into a delectable, though minimum amount of sauce. What you serve up to editors in this paragraph tells them a great deal about your story, and your ability as a writer. With this in mind, I suggest you dissect your plot, keeping only the vital elements and turning points, for inclusion in that all-important paragraph.
You cant please everyone. I have listened to many editors and agents talk about what they like in a query letter. A few love a little personal information. Some like you to add how youll promote your book, should it be accepted. Others want information regarding similar books out there, and why you feel yours is better. All of them love when you mention a book they edited, or a book their publisher published. Considering we mostly know nothing about the editors and agents we query, include whatever of the above you can fit onto one page, plus that crucial paragraph.
Query Letter Resources
Query Letters for Children's Books Fiction - Musings - April 2003
Query & Cover Letters: How to Get 'Em Right - Musings - March 2006
Writing Chat for all Seasons Query Letters That Worked + Lousy Rejection Letters.
Fiction Writers Connection Query Letter Dos and Donts
Rites of Submission: Cover Letters and Queries by Jacqueline Ogburn
Dos and Donts How to make the Perfect Query Letter by Gail Eastwood
FAQ Query Letters by Tara K. Harper
Writing the Actual Query:
- Use plain, good quality white paper, no clip art or fancy colored text.
- Do not send an e-mail query unless the Submission Guidelines approve them.
- If you met the editor/agent at a writing conference, mention this first one brief sentence.
- Then, include the books title, the word count and the genre.
- Ta Da!! Add the paragraph that encapsulates what is brilliant about your book.
- Follow this with a mention of any clips, previously published books, or special qualifications you have for writing the book.
- Add anything else that you feel necessary. Keep it brief and to the point.
- Thank them for their time.
- If they want the first three chapters, or a synopsis, make sure they are mentioned as being enclosed, along with your stamped and addressed SASE.
- Give your three chapters and the synopsis one last look for typos and formatting problems.
- Check your query for typos, spelling mistakes and formatting errors for heavens sake, spell the editor/agents name correctly!
- I like the idea of telling a publisher at the end of your query letter, that they have an exclusive on your manuscript for three months - or whatever time you fancy. After that, you plan to send your manuscript to a few carefully selected publishers. However, you hope they will continue to consider your manuscript.
- Put everything in a manila envelope, address it and add stamps post it off.
NOTE: Editors do not come knocking on your door. Published writers are the ones who regularly send their manuscripts out to earn their keep.
Part Two: Query Letters That Worked
HAPPY WRITING MATES!
Margot Finke's biography and index to Musings.
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