Monday, December 6, 2010

You Lost Me At Hello - Why most queries don't make struggle

It must be that time of the year when I am just tired but I once again found myself struggling with a topic. But fortunately, my email in box with all of those submissions, (yes, I am still plugging my way through these) provided me a great suggestion. I figured this would also be a good topic considering the fact that I am assuming many of you have your query and submission ready to go when I re-open things later this month for submissions.

While we all talk about query letters, I think most of us spend more time with the format and the technical side of things with these little beauties. We have the arguments about where to put the basic information about your book (title, genre, word count). We talk about high concept. We cover how long they query should be. One thing we all tend to agree on is that there really isn't one right or wrong format.

The problem, however, with most query letters is the lack of the "sell." In other words, the author has included all of the necessary business, but in the end, the project simply doesn't sell itself. The hook of the story, the pitch the author throws at us simply just sits there instead of reaching up, taking us by the color and screams "read me!"

I think that many authors are feeling that the query is nothing more than a random cover letter that they slap on top of the manuscript. Why put work into the thing considering the fact that it's the story that the agents and editors are really interested in. That is true, but we have to get to it first and that query letter has to convince us it is worth the effort.

I have always said that a query letter is just another word for a cover letter or letter of application that you would include with a resume. It is a way to show the prospective employer, and in this case an editor or agent, that you are worth taking a risk on. The difference is that instead of having a resume to review, we have your story and synopsis.

So, what do I frequently see that doesn't sell?
  • too much metaphorical lanugage that talks about generic themes but nothing about the story.
  • too much simply telling me a plot
  • too much simply telling me about two characters with no plot.
  • no high concept to show me why your story is unique

As you look at your "pitch" try to figure out why someone would really want to buy this project. With the information you put into the query, if you saw this at a book store, and you didn't know the author or the story, would you really pick it up?

I should warn you, there is a danger here. You may find, and this is the worst case scenario, that it isn't the query at all, but the story. If that is the case, there might not be anything you can do. But let's think positively. Let's work on making that query letter sell!

One final note...

This will be a short week for the blog. I will be finally taking some time to breathe a little and focus on the family and not so much the work.

Scott

8 comments:

  1. Your blog titles always grab me when I'm on Twitter, and today was no exception.

    Terrific advice here, but I will say that every one of my writer friends obsesses over her query and tries to include the best hook possible. I can't think of anyone I know who doesn't.

    Enjoy your family time!

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  2. This is some great advice Scott, thanks for sharing. I completely agree that a writer ought to spend a lot of time writing, asking for feedback on, and re-writing their query. It can seem trivial in the long run, and a great query won't fix a poor story, but after all the time spent writing the novel, why not work on polishing the query as much as possible?

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  3. "taking us by the collar", not, "taking us by the color"

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  4. I think THAT many authors are feeling THAT the query is nothing more than a random cover letter THAT they slap on top of the manuscript. Why put work into the thing considering the fact THAT it's the story THAT the agents and editors are really interested in. THAT is true, but we have to get to it first and THAT query letter has to convince us it is worth the effort.

    Seven "thats" in one paragraph, if I counted correctly.

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  5. I agree with Annonymous. You lost ME as "color."

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  6. Bill and Donna DavisDecember 9, 2010 at 4:39 PM

    must be contagious...

    should be:
    I agree with Annonymous. You lost ME at "color."

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  7. That's my biggest fear when thinking about query letters: What if my query letter just sucks?
    You can tell an awesome story and have it go to waste if your query letter isn't as good. I think every author needs to understand how important query letters really are.

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  8. Great post! That query letter has to be good enough to entice you to read further. I think it's extremely important. Love your advice.
    Lisa ~ YA Literature Lover

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