Monday, April 28, 2014

Your Query Letter DOES Serve A Purpose

Recently, I have seen a huge trend when it comes to the submissions that pass through my e-mail. While there are times I can see the trend is from a new course being taught by someone at conferences, or a new book that was just published teaching all there is to know about publishing, this  is a trend that seems to come from a lack of thinking on the part of the authors. It seems that authors now believe the story is the only thing that matters. As for the query letter? It is simply something we tack on with our submission.

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.
  • 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 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.

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.


  1. Thank you for sharing. I appreciate your candor. Also, I think you've offered any desperate writer some crucial information that will help them get their book read and, hopefully, represented and published.

  2. Of course it's the book that matters, but how do writers expect for an agent or an editor to request more material if the query is poorly written/doesn't follow guidelines? Agents/editors can't read every book submitted to them or they'd never have time for actual clients. The query letter reflects on the author's writing style, professionalism, and abilities. Like a sample. Great post.

  3. I would quibble with one point: 'Writing a query letter is not that hard to do.'

    When the Golden Gate Bridge was constructed, Strauss revolutionized construction safety by stringing a net under the area. Only 19 men fell into the net when, statistically, 35 were expected. Why? The stakes. When you aren't fearful of falling to your death, you relax and are less likely to fall.

    A query is not a difficult piece to write, technically; however, because the stakes are huge, the difficulty is dramatically increased. Writing a query can be agonizing.

    The only way to reduce the difficulty is to reduce the fear, to use a net of sorts. For writers, who are virtually guaranteed to plunge into the sea of rejection, that belt is perseverance. There will be another agent, another publisher, another article, another novel. There will be another blank page. Like the net, perseverance doesn't stop the fall, but it stops the fear.