Thursday, August 23, 2012

Query Letter: Your Key To The Kingdom

I started talking about the need for a powerful query letter when I started this blog. I said I could not tell you exactly what a perfect query letter is. What can I tell you several months later? Same thing.

Writing query letters is an inexact science. It becomes exact science only when you hit the right agent with the right words at the right time.

Do you want evidence to show just how important that query letter is? It is the method by which most writers get to enter the kingdom of the publishing houses. It is a very exclusive kingdom, by the way. Forget the scores of books you see on the shelves of a Barnes and Noble or any other bookstore you enter. Those scores of books hide millions of queries that authors fastidiously crafted but ended up being kicked to the curb.

What main things have I learned? Let's try these:
  • Know your material. Be so in tune with what you have written that you can detail it and give a glimpse at the reasons you wrote it. That in turn casts light on another fact: Know yourself as a writer. Be honest with yourself when you are weighing that last question. No b.s. allowed.
  • Be creative. Agents don't want to be sold an idea; they want to embrace an author and why he or she writes. Is your novel, well, novel? Let that show in your query letter. Write in the same style as you do in your most creative moments while lovingly building your characters and plot.
  • Have thick skin. Every author talks about piles of rejection letters he or she received. Some of those now-published authors keep those rejection letters, which have turned yellow, in order to remember what it took to get where they are. Some authors talk about the two or three early projects that never got off the ground, but something clicked after that and they were accepted. It takes time. Sometimes time and circumstance hurt. Learn from it.
  • Recognize the time constraint you face. When an agent picks up YOUR query letter, you have a minute or less to grab attention. Agents talk about being pitch perfect in your query. Translation: Make me want this project within that allotted time.
  • Write well and get better. Every agent boils down what it takes to get accepted to one golden rule: Write a great novel. A lesson I finally learned: Read other great authors, learn from them, take those lessons to the pages you write.
Do I have the answer about writing that great query letter? I'm getting better, both in my query letter and my novels. I know I have the answer when an agent says he or she wants to represent me. Only then can I write something "definitive" about the art of writing a query.

Keep going. Be creative. It's a wonderful ride. Enjoy it.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Finding Time? What's Free Time?

I have not been bad about writing lately. I have been absolutely terrible about blogging. So, here goes a quick update.

I have stepped back from sending out queries about my second novel, at least for a couple of weeks. I saw two agents post items on Twitter or their blogs that changed my thinking. One agent, Evan Gregory, said the number of agents who actually work in August is usually down. It's a big vacation period, and even agents need vacations. Fancy that!!! Agent Kristin Nelson in Denver gave a short note in a recent blog about loving to tackle that big workload in the winter. Summer brings thoughts of good things to do -- other than dive through queries, read manuscripts, etc. Heck, I understand that. Give me swimming pools and barbecue grills over streams of unedited copy every day of the week. So, take those two agents' comments together and I made a decision to wait.

My writing has been going great. I am tweaking former works here and there. I am full speed ahead on my latest novel. I have one completed novel on the back burner, where there are two other works that I started but decided it just wasn't the right time to roll out that type of material. Later, later, later ...

My new day job is busy, interesting and a big change from my previous tasks. For those who aren't "in the loop," this is my new gig: I am managing editor of the YourHub sections for The Denver Post. YourHub consists of 10 regional publications in the metro area that are published once a week -- with online and social media components as well. It has kept me occupied, to say the least.

Time. Time. Time. Can I please have more hours in the day?

I have been writing a lot lately. I just haven't been blogging much about it. My bad. Have to correct that oversight. Be updating you again soon.