Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Show Don't Tell In Those Queries

We're going to return again to the concept of query letters and highlight a common mistake that many authors interested in having agent representation or going the traditional route of publishing make when writing those darn things. For many, the issue stems from a skill that is also necessary in the actual stories as well. We're talking about show don't tell.

Yes, we all have heard this comment before but it is an amazingly powerful tool as an author, and, one that certainly has to be mastered in that initial query letter.

Remember, the query letter is a marketing tool. This is a chance to sell not only the idea behind your book/project, but also the chance to sell the editor or agent on you as a writer. As I noted in an earlier post, the author/agent or author/editor relationship is not simply a one-shot deal; instead, it is a long term relationship that grows over time.

I want to focus on three different pieces of the query and highlight the things that need to be shown and not simply told. These will include THE BASICS, THE BOOK, and THE BIO

When it comes to the basics about the book, we are talking about the title, genre, word count and the high concept information. Obviously, the first three are pretty basic, but it is that last element that really needs to come to the surface. You need to DEMONSTRATE to the editor or agent in a line or two what it is about your story that makes it move to the top of the pile amid all of the other authors out there that might be doing similar work. What is it that makes this special? Why would the editor or agent really want to read this or work with you. Again, I should note that this issue is for writers wanting the assistance of the editors or agents. If you are doing this yourself, then you don't have to worry about it here. You will when it comes to marketing your book, but that is for another post.

The other piece of this puzzle is to DEMONSTRATE what it is about your project that fits the criteria of what the editor or agent likes in a story. This is where you need to do a little research. Reviewing their blogs and so forth will get you this information. We are talking about the characteristics of the stories they like. "I like heroines that are not wall flowers and the heroes that view women as equals." O.K. how does your story do this. And guess what? If your story doesn't do this, then you have a harder sell.

When we get to the book section, you have to show the main story arc and the GMC of the main characters. This is not a time to be witty or secretive. The goal is, through amazing word economy, to again, DEMONSTRATE the beginning, middle and end of your book; highlight the conflict that will get in the way; and most importantly, give us a sense of who the characters are.

Too often all we get is a shorter synopsis here. Sure, knowing plot elements is great, but we need to get a sense of the people.

In the last section, the bio, we need to know something about who you are as a writer. Please note I am talking writing here. As I said at the beginning of the post, you are selling your work as well as yourself. This is where you need to demonstrate that you have a future with this potential editor or agent. For many, they just stop the letter with a hope and a prayer. "I hope you are interested in my work." But what else do you have? Tell us about your writing careeer. Tell us about your works in progress. If this story is part of a potential series, then tell us what that series would focus on.

For this bio, do not take the time to discuss things outside of writing. Think resume writing here. We include the information relevant to the position we are applying for. The same here. Also, if this is your first book, that is fine. You need to focus more on where you see your writing going. And please, be specific.

The key to all of this is simple. Show us why the story is good. Show us you are a great writer. Show us we will regret wanting to work with you.

1 comment:

  1. I've received plenty of advice about query letters, but yours is unprecedented: the last sentence was a shocker, for want of a "not."