Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Effective Language In Your Queries Will Make A World Of Difference

Recruiters often state that they look at a resume for 10-20 seconds before making a decision. Of course many out there think they should clearly spend more time on the resume  to "really see what the person has to offer." While this sounds like a great idea, in reality, those recruiters don't need that amount of time. They can see whether or not that person is going to be right for the job or not. 

In publishing, the same goes for those query letters. We can tell in an equally short time whether or not that project is going to work for us. In many cases, it is the premise of the story, or simply a genre we aren't representing. Unfortunately, there are also a huge number that get passed on simply because the written communication skills of the author are not there. If we struggle to get through your query letter, or it would take more than one read through just to figure out what your story is about, the odds are it means you will be seeing a rejection letter. 

I am doing a presentation next week discussing just this idea. One of the elements we are focusing on in the workshop are 6 elements of what effective language skills look like.
  • Concrete and Specific - This is really a big one in query letters. Since you are limited by the amount of space you have to provide all of the information, you have to be crystal clear for the editor or agent who is seeing this for the first time. We need those specifics about the characters, the plot, the conflict and their motivations. We need the specifics on the genre and so forth. A good example of this last one would be authors who try to put their novel into multiple genres in the hopes that A) it will appeal to everyone; and B) at least one of those genres might stick with the editor or agent - "I am pitching a 90,000 word women's fiction, inspirational romantic suspense with paranormal elements." If we struggle to grasp where you are going to with this project, consider it a reject. 
  • Concise - This element, like the first one deals with the amount of space you have. Query letters, synopsis writing, pitches - these all deal with word economy. Again, remember we aren't spending a lot of time on your query so you have to get to the point, Eliminate the fluff, eliminate all of those secondary characters that aren't really part of the central story arc. Don't drag it out!
  • Familiar, not obscure - I see this a lot from authors who, I believe, are trying to impress us with their literary knowledge and background. While editors and agents read a lot and are familiar with a lot of different texts out there, making references to bizarre titles and authors, or ideas that only a few would understand isn't going to help you.
  • Precise and clear - Word economy, word economy, word economy. Make sure all of your words mean exactly what you intend them to mean. Make sure you are very clear what your genre is and where it fits. Make sure you are crystal clear about all of your biographical information. Don't try to hide the fact that you haven't been published for over 30 years, and try to make it sound like you are a current author. 
  • Constructive - This one is really an issue of your personal voice. Don't come across as negative. Don't downplay your work. Don't try to make excuses. Stick to the point and SHOW the editors and agents you are ready to play the publishing game.
  • Appropriately formal - This is a business people. This means your letter needs to reflect that same professional tone you want to be remembered for. You are not sending "a txt to ur BFF" and you certainly are not here to self-disclose all of your personal problems, hang-ups and baggage. 
In simple terms, think of what you are "communicating" to that editor or agent. 

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