Monday, September 23, 2013

Tell Us About Your Story, Not How Amazing You Are

Query letters are tough to write. I hear this all of the time from authors and I fully understand. As agents, we too write those darn things when we sending out proposals to editors. I think the tough part of query letters is finding the balance between too little and too much. How much of the story do we tell? How much about the author do we include? How much bragging about the amazing qualities of the book do we include?

I am writing this after a really long week of reading new submissions. Each round of submissions I go through provide a new batch of similarities of submissions. Sometimes all the submissions are one genre. Sometimes it is a round of submissions of projects I don't even represent. This last week, it was all about queries that were showcasing the author and not the project in question. Ugh.

Let's start first with the intent of the query letter. This single page document is designed to do roughly three things. First, tell me about the project you want the editor or agent to acquire. Secondly, it is to showcase that you are someone who should be viewed as a strong potential and someone who can be successful. And finally, it is to get me so excited about you and your work that I want to drop everything and work with you (and yes, this goes for editors and potential book buyers). There needs to be a strong balance between all three of these elements.

But here is the problem. If that balance isn't there. If we are missing information from one of those areas, then we really don't have much to go on in terms of wanting to read any further. Yes, it would be great if we could read every project from cover to cover, but in those early queries, we simply cannot do that. This is not unlike what we see in other employment situations when the human resource departments state that they will only respond to those people who are potentially candidates for the position. The others? No news means a no. I don't personally like this, but that is the reality.

What we see, more often than not, are writers who hint only at their story. They toss out a few vague terms about their story that are more of "general themes" that we see in almost all the books. We get the title, genre and word count. But then, we get a ton of information about the author.

Dear Mr. Eagan,

I am submitting for your consideration, my 90,000 word Inspirational Paranormal, FINDING THE DIVINE HEART OF AN ALIEN VAMPIRE BUNNY

This story explores the issues of morality and differences, set in a point of view that is accessible to everyone. These characters embody the everyday struggle to be good in the face of evil. But their morals come into conflict when they face a difficult decision. This decision will haunt them for the rest of their lives? Can the hero build a new future without disclosing his past? Can the heroine look beyond her on moral issues to accept him for what he is?

I have been writing since I was in junior high when my creative writing teacher told me I would become a great novelist. Since that time, I have explored every avenue available to perfect my craft and would bring to your agency a talent and professionalism worthy of the New York Times Bestseller list. This particular project, as well as the 3 other stories that follow have been professionally edited by my mentor, Edgar Alan Poe. It was on his advice that I pursue this professional career and approach you for representation. Along with my mentor, this has been reviewed by numerous other professional writers and editors, including, most recently John Steinbeck, Kate Duffy, Barbara Cartland and James Michner. Their comments have been very consistent:

  • "Scott has a talent that hasn't been seen since the time of Shakespeare and Marlowe in terms of telling a true story."
  • "I was completely blown away by this story so much so that I have decided to quit writing and take up a career as a Fuller Brush Salesman."
  • "I cried, I laughed, I farted. Scott so pulled me into this story that I ignored my personal hygiene and household duties until I finished the story."
These are just three of the comments, but if you visit my website, you will see the comments from my Beta readers who show how this story truly is the next Great American Novel

I know your submission guidelines only ask for a query, but I am so confident in this story, I am attaching the full manuscript of all 4 projects. I haven't attached a synopsis for each because the writing will truly pull you in as it did for all of my prior readers.

Yes, I know I went overboard here, but you get the idea. At the end of this query, we don't know squat about the story. Even the comments in the second paragraph are nothing more than general statements that could truly be attached to any relationship story out there. Heck, you could probably find an episode of FAMILY GUY or THE WALKING DEAD that would have the same themes. We need to know something about the plot of the story. For example: This story follows the events of Sarah Plainentall after she comes across an alien spaceship in her Kansas cornfield. AS-1-Mov, the Alien Vampire Bunny from the planet L-Guin is lost and needs her help. As they search for a way to get him home and keep him hidden from the members of her church, they learn more about their own beliefs and morals.

But the real issue is the information about who the author is. Yes, I said this went overboard, but you would be surprised how many people really do go to this level.

What we need to see about you is pretty basic: Tell us about your professional fiction writing career. This could include mentioning prior books that have been published. Tell us about your memberships in professional writing organizations such as The Mystery Writers of America or the Pacific Northwest Writer's Association. Tell us about other projects either in the completed or work in progress stage. This person has hinted at that in this query but be clearer. In other words, show us what you bring to the professional relationship with this editor or agent.

Hope that helps!

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