Monday, July 09, 2007

Query Letter Confusion

I am writing because I am a little confused about the whole query letter thing.

Let me start by saying, I did not write a book for anyone but my daughter. I wrote her a story of her own because she hated Harry Potter, not because she read it and did not like it but because her brothers loved it.

After I wrote, “Anna and Her Amazing What if Machine” something odd happened. My daughter started passing it around to her friends. Much to my surprise, they loved it. Then my daughters teacher read it and she loved it. Together they pushed me to get it edited and ready for publishing. I did, and now I am stuck. I have read every website, and I have seen so many different variations on the query letter, my head could spin. I have sent out a few letters and no takers so far.

I could use some good advice…..Can you help me?

Hmmm, well, I'll try. To begin with, I'm not sure what "a few letters" means, but most folks have to send far more than "a few" to land an agent. I've rarely heard of writers who have sent out fewer than, at least, a dozen, and most send out five times as many. If you're serious about getting an agent, then you have to keep pitching and pitching. I started with my top twelve or so, then kept sending out a new letter every time a rejection came in.

As far as query letter format, yes, there are some variations, but in general, there are also some rules.

1) Limit it to a page. If you can't sum up your book in that amount of space, you need to figure out how to hone your writing.

2) Imbue the letter with the same voice that you use in your book. Don't just make it an, "I wrote this book and I'm sure it will top the charts" letter. Agents get that all the time and honestly, there's nothing unique about that at all.

3) Toot your own horn but depersonalize it. What I mean by that is that I would emphasize your professional accomplishments, but I wouldn't let them know that your friends and family endorse your book. That screams amateur, and frankly, agents don't care if your mother thinks it's the greatest thing since sliced bread. That's part of a mother's job.

4) This isn't a rule, but I like to set up my letters in the following format: opening paragraph is a brief, snazzy, grabs-ya summary of the book and what makes it unique. Second paragraph is a real push for why readers will love it. Third paragraph is my bio. (See last week's posts for my query letter for TDLF)

Hope this helps. Anyone else have other query letter tips to help out this reader?


Anonymous said...

I'm a huge fan of attending a writers conference if possible. Not only is there almost ALWAYS at least one workshop on query letters, but there is also the chance to meet and greet others going through the same process.

If all else fails check your library- mine had a few books on query letter writing in the writing/publishing section

Katie Alender said...

A common piece of advice on agents' blogs is to personalize the query by mentioning why you are submitting to this particular person. Typically because they rep a book similar to the one you're submitting. You can use the Publisher's Marketplace website to look up agents and who they represent.