Thursday, June 9, 2016

Don't Assume Anything In Your Query Letters

I have always argued that query letters are no different than cover letters you would include with your resumes you send in to future employers. The agency, or that publisher is your future employer. This means that your query letter is a marketing tool. Unfortunately, I see far too many authors who treat the query letter as simply an informational brochure. When authors do this, they are assuming the editor and/or agent will understand what you are submitting, why it is important, and why you are the best person for the job.

Now, don't get me wrong here. Agents and editors are not idiots. We know when we get something that slightly resembles a query letter, that this is a submission. But, you cannot assume that we see the same things about your project or your writing that we do. It is your job to sell us on your project and you as a writer. Why is it that we need to invest the time and money on you and your writing.

If you think of a cover letter, when you apply for a job, you don't just shove a resume of CV in front of an employer and say, "See? I'm qualified." You have to show them and explain to them why you are the perfect match and why their entire existence depends on you being hired. Even in the descriptions on your resume, you take the time to not just highlight what you did with the company, but to focus in on the RESULTS of the work and the OUTCOMES you achieved.

For the query letter, you need to do the same thing. Why is this story an important document for me to want to read? Why is it that this story, out of all the other projects is a must for the editor or agent to acquire? If all you can come up with is that the story is set in Mongolia and no one has written about a setting like this before, then don't expect anything amazing.

Consider this. If you are writing a women's fiction piece about a woman who has struggled with her identity her entire life. Maybe she was married before and things just didn't work out. She and her husband divorced simply because they fell out of love. But the real issue is that she is now realizing that she really identifies with the LGBT community. Marketing this in a time of this change might be just the thing people are looking for. You have a timeliness factor on your side and, if you can demonstrate that the story is not preaching a position, but looking at this from a real world approach, you might have something unique.

It is also important to realize that editors and agents are reading a lot of these submissions on a daily basis. The odds are, they aren't sitting there and giving every query letter a huge block of time for contemplation and reflection. We wish we could, but the odds are, it isn't going to happen. For this reason, you need to clearly spell things out for the editors and agent.

Let me finally say that some of you might say this is why you have gone with the self-publishing approach. You don't need to sell  anyone. In fact, it should be up to the agent or the editor to sell you as the author on why we need to work with you. The problem though, is that you are still off the mark. If you are self-publishing, which is perfectly fine, it is your responsibility to sell the readers on Amazon, Barnes and Noble or even your local book store that they should invest in your project. A pretty cover, or that fact that your friends all got you to a 5 star review is not enough to convince the reader. You have to do the thinking for them.

So, before you hit send with this next round of query letters today, stop and examine what you have written. Is this an informative document or a persuasive document? Are you truly marketing yourself to that person on the other end of the email?

1 comment:

  1. "Is this an informative document or a persuasive document?" Great distinction, and spelled out very well. Thanks for another good tip about querying. I have a cozy mystery almost ready to submit, and I'm thinking about the whole query thing now.