Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Query Letters - Day 1 (E-queries)

I wanted to take the time this week to look at the concept of query letters. Yes, I understand there are a ton of people out there blogging about this, or writing articles on this, but A) we can always use a good reminder; and B) I have seen a huge wave of, frankly, sloppy query letters. Today, we begin with the e-queries.

I do have to say, I am happy we have moved to a more digital approach to the query process. I remember when I first opened Greyhaus, one editor commented at a conference that in her office, there was a constant 3-4 foot stack of submissions she was working her way through. Sure, we still get the same number of submissions, but now, they are hidden away in our INBOX and we can just pile up our desks with other projects.

When it comes to e-queries, there are a few rules you need to stick to. Make sure to take the time to review the basic material found on business correspondence out there. For me, I am providing the information from two sources today. The first is A WRITER'S REFERENCE, by Diana Hacker and Nancy Sommers. The other is from the Colorado State University Writing Center.

First and foremost, publishing is a business. You may approach your writing from a hobbyist standpoint, but once you start sending out those query letters, you are now a professional. The letter must have a tone of professionalism. This is not a casual letter. This is not a chance for you to be cute and funny. This is your first impression you are making with that editor, agent or book seller. The tone of that letter says a lot!
Although we might not think of it, our email address and what we use for a name does say a lot. hotmamatamale@yahoo.com is probably not going to send the right message. You might want to go back and re-think that email. I'm just saying. The odds are it isn't going to hold you back, but our goal is to eliminate all of those chances that you might get ignored.

This information is directly from the Colorado State University website.
  • The subject field is very important and needs to be precise and brief. It should say something compelling about what your business email contains and your reader should be able to grasp its importance at a glance.
  • Capitalize all the key words. Articles, conjunctions, and prepositions should be capitalized only when they occur at the beginning or end of your subject line.
  • Leaving this field empty is not an option. Not only does the content of your subject line provide a clue to your reader about the email that follows, it also provides spam-detecting clues to the server (email provider) that handles its transmission from one cyberpoint to another.
  • Most email is scrutinized by anti-spamming and anti-virus software before being put into a recipient's inbox. An empty subject line will most often be interpreted as spam. If it is, it may be marked as "possible spam" and delivered, or it may simply be kicked off the server and not delivered at all.
This is where your standard query is going. Everything that you would normally put in a query doesn't change at all when we move to an e-query.

  • Keep it focused on the task at hand. There are three things we need to know in that query. 1) The basics of the book including title, genre and word count; 2) the main story arc (1-2 paragraphs); and 3) information about you and your writing career.
  • Do not just attach the query letter. There are many editors and agents that will simply not open it.
  • Do not cut and paste the full synopsis and the first three chapters into the email. Yes, the page goes on forever but this is not a letter.
  • Follow the rules in the submission guidelines. "Doing what you want to do" just means you cannot follow directions and sends a wrong message.
  • Keep you important information to the top. Many of us can read the submission in the "reviewing pane" of our email program. We shouldn't have to dig for that information
This one is a pet-peeve of mine. Use your legal name. Use the one you want us to call you by if we are so excited about your project we want to acquire it. You may write with an pseudonym, but make sure to keep that clear. The second twist of this is to please include your FIRST AND LAST NAME. Sorry, no initials here.

Think about it... if we want to write back to you and you sign your  letter S.C. Eagan how do I answer?

  • Dear Mr. Eagan, Dear Mrs. Eagan, Dear Ms. Eagan??????
  • Dear S.
  • Dear S.C. 
  • Ugh!
All business guidelines say to use your first and last name. We can talk about you using your initials IF and WHEN you get a contract.

Include all of the contact information. Again this comes from CSU

A signature block should contain all the contact information a recipient might require in order to respond to an email. It should begin with the Senders Name, Title, and Business Organization. A Physical Location, Phone Numbers, Email Address, and Web site should follow. Here is an example:

Peter Connor
Owner/Managing Editor
The Write Company
Bellvue, CO 80512
Voice: 970.493.84XX
Fax: 970.493.84XX
Email: peter@write-company.com
Web site: http://write-company.com

The point of all this is pretty simple. Be professional and don't try to get cute. If you want to be taken seriously in this business then start being serious. And yes, if you are new to this and really don't know what to include in business letters, take the time to learn it. Find the resources out there and learn it before you hit SEND.

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