Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Query Letters - Once Size Does Not Fit All

I do believe this is a concept taught to us in our early days of writing resumes. I know that many of the high schools today really do promote this, and unfortunately, they are sending the kids in the wrong direction. In essence, they have they kids write one resume and tell them they can use this for all of their jobs. I do understand that part of this lesson is to teach resume writing. I also understand that they don't have much in terms of a career background so there isn't much flexibility with what they put in those resumes. However, the message of an all-purpose resume misses the mark.

I bring this up because I do believe many authors out there truly believe they write one query letter, slap their partial and synopsis to it and start sending it out to all of the agents and editors out there. The problem with this approach is the lack of sense of marketing. Not all query letters are alike, and what you put in those query letters will depend on each person.

Now I understand that many of you think you are doing this.
  • Of course I address the letter differently.
  • Of course my salutation is different.
  • Of course, if this is a request, I will say so
  • Of course, if I met them at a conference...
Yes, you will certainly change that, but there is a lot more.

Your job in that query letter is to demonstrate you are the right fit for that editor or agent. This means showcasing the elements of your project, or your career that directly matches what that person believes is a great project, or what they believe they want to see in an author. This is also where you tap into that skill you are supposed to be using in your writing of "SHOW AND DON'T TELL". The idea here is that, as the editor or agent reads the letter, they feel as if you are already a perfect match, even before they read the manuscript.

Let's say you are getting ready to submit a project to me for a given Harlequin line. It is up to you to do several key things in that letter.

      1. Demonstrate, using the key terms and concepts you see in the Harlequin submission guidelines when describing your story. If, for example, you are wishing to submit a project for DESIRE you need to tap into these descriptive ideas:

Harlequin Desire Key Elements
Powerful, passionate and provocative contemporary romances set against a backdrop of wealth, privilege and glamour

  • Intense, dramatic storylines with a highly sensual, passionate feel
  • Classic romance hooks mixed with juicy, unique elements
  • High-stakes conflicts (emotional and/or external) drive the plot
  • Every story includes the sense of a bigger world—extended families, corporations, brotherhoods, best friends, partners, secret societies
  • Stories are primarily set in North America but can be set elsewhere; they should not feel exotic. The author's voice sets the tone for each story
  • Sexual language is euphemistic and romantic, not explicit
  • The reader should feel swept away from the everyday
  • Characters should have believable, sympathetic motivations
  • An emotional payoff befitting a powerful, passionate and provocative read
  • No paranormal or romantic suspense stories; no sheikh or royalty stories at this time
  • 50,000 words in length 

Use some of those key words they are using in their description. I have highlighted a few of those in BLUE for you to see what I mean. Also, note that in the description, Harlequin is telling you what they DO NOT want. There are no exceptions to this.

      2. Demonstrate you know what Greyhaus Literary Agency is looking for in an author or submission. This means reviewing things I have posted here on the blog, as well as my descriptions. I have noted for example:
  • Being more than a one-hit wonder
  • Probably having more than one story written for this given line (or at least well planned)
  • Prepared to write 3-4 stories a year
  • Ready to be professional
  • Having a strong sense of the business.
      3. You also need to directly state exactly what you are sending to this person. Again, the submission guidelines are very clear. If you think submitting something different is being proactive, please understand you have just given us a reason to reject you. Follow the directions. This is not simply because we are being anal about this. We ask for these things because this is how we make decisions, or how our system is set up to read the queries. Please also remember, not following the directions gives us a reason to wonder if you would even follow the directions for revisions.

Look, I get writing query letters is not fun. It does take time. I also understand there are many editors and agents who claim they don't read the query letters. You know, maybe they don't really read the letters, but a poorly written query will get read and you just made our lives much easier to reject you.

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