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.

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