Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Query Letters and First Impressions - Would you hire you?

I was just teaching a workshop on the submission process and I wanted to touch on a small element that came up in the session. Many of the writers (a lot were brand new at this process) were shocked that editors and agents didn't read all of their submissions. They were even more shocked when they heard some of their projects were never read at all. How could this be? How could an editor or agent make a decision on their book without even laying eyes on it.

The answer was simple - It was their first impression.

When I (or any other editor or agent) open a submission, our mind is already making decisions as to whether this person is right for the job or not. Is this someone we are going to want to work with, over time, and on many different projects. These decisions are being made from that query letter.

The tone, the voice, the grammar, and the structure of the letter all say a lot. This is a business letter and if it doesn't reflect that business tone and style, but reads more like an email to a BFF, then we are likely going to pass on you.

We know that your project is out to multiple editors and agents at one time. We get it! But when your letter makes statements such as "After reading the information about you on your website" and then pitch a story that isn't close to the submission guidelines, it not only becomes clear you aren't doing your research, but you are also trying to suck up to this person.

We already know from hiring managers that resumes (and initial cover letters) are reviewed in less than 30 seconds. We also know (and this is important for pitching to an editor or agent at a conference) that decisions are made in the initial 7 seconds of seeing you. When we open that email on our computer, or read your submission you sent via mail, we are making decisions that fast.

I have said this before and I will say this again. A good test is to look at your submission material and ask yourself if you would hire you based on what you are seeing. Don't think of the story. Don't think about how good you look in a mirror. This is a first impression.

So, if your story is THAT GOOD (and maybe it is), shouldn't you take the time to make sure that first impression lives up to the quality of the story?

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