Wednesday, March 6, 2013

You Simply Cannot Be Vague In Your Query

I just wrapped up doing some critiques of some query letters for writers and I wanted to highlight one of the biggest things I saw in most of these letters. In simple terms, the writers were too vague.

I think, for many writers, they have heard that the query should include a "blurb" about your book and to think of this as something we might read on the back cover of a book. While this idea is essentially correct, there is a big difference between that back cover blurb and the blurb you would put in a query.

When we think of that back cover blurb, you certainly do want to keep things vague. We certainly don't want to pick up a book and find out who did it. We want that sense of suspense and mystery. But we do need to have a sense of what the story is going to be about, the setting of the book and the theme of the book. We might even want to get a sense of the voice of the book. Is this going to be a light book or a dark book?

In the query, however, we do need to have more of a sense of the story. You have to remember that agents and editors are reading a lot of submissions on a daily basis. For this reason, the more precise you can be in the query, the better those people can make a decision on whether they want to pursue the project, or if there is someone else within the company that the project is better suited for.

I have talked about this before here, but it is always good to refresh our thinking when it comes to query letters. There are essentially three things we need to see in a query:
1) The BASICS about the book. This would be the title, the genre and the word count.
2) The information about the story iteself. In this section, we need to know something about what makes your story special. What is it that makes this story stand out amid all of the other projects out there? We also need to know who the characters are beyond the plot level elements of the character. Who are these characters? Telling me this is a 15 year old boy isn't much to go on. Finally, we need to know what the story is really about. This is the basic plot of the story. We need to see a beginning, a middle and an end. We  need to see what the conflict is and how the characters are going to work out of the conflict. If this story takes place in a unique world, then we need to have that world building element.
3) Finally, we need to know something about who you are. What is it that you are bringing to this potential business relationship? You need to demonstrate that you have something to offer and that you are exactly what this agent or editor is looking for.

I think the thing to remember here is that agents have a lot of people to choose from. You don't want to simply throw something out there and hope there is a nugget of something you mentioned that would make them want to see more. In many ways, think of what we talk about with your writing all of the time - SHOW DON'T TELL!

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