Monday, January 12, 2015

Short Queries Are Not Vague Queries

We spend a lot of time talking about query letters. We know these are authors evil nemesis but these are necessary evils. We also spend a lot of time telling you that agents and editors really don't devote a lot of time to queries. These are just like cover letters and resumes you would write for jobs outside of the publishing industry. Knowing this, we talk to you about keeping things short and to the point. But you have to be careful with this.

You see, writing query letters is not so much about keeping it short, but more about word economy. It is about saying the right thing in the shortest amount of time. Still, you have to get all of the essential information out there for the editor or agent, so they can make an accurate and fair decision regarding your project. Lately, I have seen some people writing query letters that have gone so short, when we read the query, we are left with far too many questions. In the words of one of my colleagues, if we are stuck with the decision of "maybe", it will be come a "no". In other words, do not give the editor or agent a reason to say no.

There are essentially three major things that have to be included in the standard query: The BASICS about the book, the information about the BOOK or the story, and the BIO of the author. For most of you, the basics about the book- the title, genre and word count - are good to go. The major issues are coming in the next two sections: THE BOOK and THE BIO

When it comes to the information about the book, we need to simply know the story arc. We need to know the beginning, the middle and the end. We talk a lot about keeping things similar to those back cover blurbs, but please note, we are saying similar. The difference between these two is the amount of information we provide the reader.

In the case of a blurb, we want to tease them with something exciting but not tell them what is going on in the story. We obviously don't want to tell them "who dunnit" if we want them to read the book. So we leave that information out. But for the editors and agents, we need to know if this is a story line that is complete, logical and holds together from page one to the end. You have to give us everything.

Now, within this section, we need to see some individual elements. I am going to focus on a romance for this one to show you the set up.

  1. We need to know who the hero and the heroine are. This is not just their names, but highlight what their Goals, Motivations and Conflicts are. Give us a sense of the person
  2. We need to know what is bringing them together but what is standing in the way of their becoming a couple.
  3. We need to know what the outside conflict might be.
  4. We need to know how they resolved it. 
This is where you focus on the word economy and keeping things short and simple. We don't need to know about best friends. We don't need to know "and then they made love the first time". We don't care about their entire past histories. Just focus on the main plot and that is it.

I would also recommend not using interrogative sentences to make your points but keep it to declarative sentences. In other words, instead of using a question to answer you question, "But will she come to love him after finding out he is an android?" Answer it using (ask your kids on this one) the IQIA format (Include Question In Answer). "She learns that falling for an android is a good thing because, he will never fall asleep after a great time in bed and is always ready to go again."

The information about the bio tells us what you have to offer in the business relationship. Unless your book is a "knock your socks off" book that will end up in the Canon of American Literature, and you will be able to retire from this one book alone, you have to demonstrate you can do more. Tell us what else you have to offer.

  • Are you already published? If so, tell us where. Don't keep this hidden from us. We will find out and then we have the issue of wondering what else you will keep hidden.
  • What other things do you have written in the genre you are submitting to the editor or agent. We care about the things we would represent.
  • If this is your first book, what else do you have planned? We don't want to know this is the only book you have written and don't plan on thinking about another book until this one is sold. Show us YOU see a future.
  • And for me, please tell us your know. This is actually a professional courtesy, but writing a letter back to you, either a rejection or request is hard when you are someone who only refers to yourself with initials. I seriously doubt ee cummings friends wrote to him, with, Dear ee,
The point of all of this is simple. Yes, keep it simple. Yes, keep it to the point, but you have to give us something to consider. And I guess I also need to note here, just attaching the whole novel and synopsis, or just pasting it in the email is not appropriate either, UNLESS the editor or agent tells you to do so. We aren't going to read it if we didn't request it.

No comments:

Post a Comment