Now, I will say that maybe part of this is the fault of the editors and agents out there. We are always stressing at conferences that "we really need to see the story to make a determination." Some editors and agents openly admit they don't read the query letter or the synopsis. Personally, I have a hard time believing this, but hey, that's what they say.
But here is the thing. That query letter you write is BEYOND crucial in the submission process. Let me also add here that if you are taking the route of self-publishing, you too need to listen. Your letter to potential booksellers to get your story on their shelf is the same thing. The query letter, in simple terms, is your first line of marketing.
When your email hits my mail box and I click on your name, your query letter is what I see in that preview panel. From that moment, I am already making judgements, not just about your story, but you as a professional writer. I am deciding if you are demonstrating the competence of the business side of publishing. I am looking to see if you are simply mass mailing your query or you have done your research and know your story is a right fit for the Greyhaus Literary Agency. Your query letter is my first impression of you.
What am I seeing? What is going on right now that prevents me from going to your actual synopsis and requesting more material?
- Query letters that spend more time discussing the author and their hobbies and never getting to the point of their story.
- Letters that are nothing more than a Copy (CTRL C) and Paster (CTRL V) of their entire synopsis.
- Letters that tell me of all the people who they have sent the project to that passed on the project but now they are coming to me for representation.
- Authors that tell me of all their failures on the self-publishing market with this book.
I think you get the idea here. Instead of being a professional business letter or email that sells their project, the query letter becomes a negative blemish before we even get to the actual project which may or may not be a good read.
- Authors who tell me of their highly successful writing career until the agent closed their business but never told the author. What is interesting here is the author doesn't find out until a year or so AFTER the agency was supposedly closed.
I will be very honest. Writing a query letter is not that hard to do. As you put together this cover page, think about how you are selling yourself and your writing to this person on the other side. What is the image you are sending to this person that would make them say, "Hey, this sounds interesting." If you received your letter, exactly the way you wrote it and sent it, based simply on that letter, would you sign that person.
In reality, there are three things that have to happen in that query letter. We need to know the basics of your book. This would be the title, genre, word count and why this story is what the editor or agent is looking for. Secondly, we need to know what the story is about. What is the central story arc. Finally we need to know about you and your writing career. This would include prior writing in that genre as well as other projects you have planned, you are working on or complete. It is just that simple.
I know that many of you are frustrated from the rejection letters you get from editors or agents. I do have to say, the odds are it might not be the writing that is getting rejected. It might simply be the image you sent to the editors and agents that led to that rejection letter.