Thursday, January 8, 2015

Tighten Up Those Queries

I wanted to take the time today to talk about those nasty little query letters. I know these are tough to write, but your impact you make with that initial impression can make a world of difference. The query will certainly not sell your book, but it will be that thing that gets the editor or agent drooling to want to see more.

Before we talk about tightening up the queries, I want to again remind you of how much time an editor or an agent is going to spend on that query. If you have ever been fortunate to sit in a workshop that does this, it is pretty amazing. These are sessions where the editors and agents have someone read a query out loud and we tell them to stop reading when we have made a decision. It is amazing to the participants that we stop within 30 seconds. It is for this reason that you need to make a statement and make it strong fast. Remember that editors and agents are reading these projects during off hours most of the time. Their "office hours" are spent working with current clients, working on current projects and so forth. In many cases, they might set aside a block of time to "power through" as many new submissions as possible in a short period of time. Writers with query letters that ramble on and on and don't make an impact get those rejections pretty fast.

One way to improve those query letters is to "tighten them up."  This is probably something that you have seen or heard when we talk about manuscripts. The idea is to get rid of that useless material and just get to the heart of what you are trying to say. We talk about this when we discuss things such as the use of adjectives and adverbs in our writing. Your goal is to find a single phrase that covers exactly what you want without the added verbiage.

There are some phrases that I see authors put in that can easily be eliminated. While this might only be a single sentence, when you start to add these up, you end up with a full paragraph of material that can be used for something useful, such as giving us the GMC of the characters or more details on the plot and setting. Let's talk about a few of these.

The manuscript has been professionally edited.
In all honesty, we are hoping your manuscript has been edited. Telling us you paid someone to do the work for you doesn't really make us think the story will be better. In fact, (and this is just my personal feeling) I do believe saying that you had to go out and get someone else to fix the grammar and punctuation in your story tells me that you might not really be that strong of a writer. In any case, we are assuming you aren't sending us an unedited project.

The manuscript is complete.
Um, no duh. You shouldn't be sending out a project that isn't finished in the first place. If you are contacting the editor or agent, you are saying you are ready to move on with your career.

My novel is an easy read with a great plot.
We hope so. I know a lot of people are trying to address the voice of their story, but making a statement like this is again a "no-duh" statement. I have seen the same thing when people say their story has characters a reader can relate to, or the setting for a romance is one that evokes a great romantic feel.

This novel will draw the readers in.
Really? I was hoping you would have a story that made me not want to read. Again, here is one of those "no-duh" statements. And before you start thinking this, just explaining how the story is going to draw readers in does not fix the problem.

Adding "interrupters" and "parenthetical statements"
The query letter is a business letter. This is not a place to showcase your actual voice in the writing. If we want to see that, then we will look at your writing. But, when you start adding phrases that make it sound like you are talking to your BFF, you have moved from that professional tone and are now sending the wrong message to the editor or agent. Some of the phrases could be:

  • Beatrice finds her husband having an affair (I know, right?).
  • And then she finds out that (spoiler alert) he is a donkey.
  • When his Jaguar crashes into her Lexus (now that totally ruins your day).
  • But who knew they would face such challenges in their adventure (and of course I create a happily ever after)

I am planning on devoting a lot of time to assist in the marketing.
Telling us that you plan on creating a website and helping with marketing is certainly not necessary. It is fully assumed that you will be devoting A LOT of time to market your own book.

I would be honored to have you read my project.
I know you might be trying to bring closure to the query letter, but you did send a query letter to the editor or agent. We are assuming that you did want to work with that person. Why else would you have sent it.

I am open to revision should the manuscript need your professional guidance. 
Again, another "no-duh" statement. You have contacted and editor or agent and the odds are, that story is going to get a good dose of revision before it heads out. You dang well better be open to revision.

Now, while each of these statements may be only a sentence, I want you to think again that those are words that could be used for something much more important. Before you send out those queries in the coming days, take the time to review the words and phrases you have used. Not necessary? Then CUT 'EM!

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