Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Query Letters - Day 2 (The Content)

Whether it is a snail mail query or an e-query, pretty much the content of the letter will remain the same. Still, there are so many authors who I see that simply blow this. I know the letters are tough and I know the authors are probably really making an effort, but the first hurdle of getting your book to an editor, agent or bookseller is to "nail that query".

Before I go any further, let me stress, your query letter will not get you published. It is still the quality of the writing as well as the marketability of the book. The query letter gets you into the door and that is what authors need!

We have to first start and understand what the purpose of the query letter really is. This is simply your first impression you make with an writing professional. It is your chance to show your professionalism, to show you have done your homework and know what you are doing, and finally, to show that professional that your story is the "end all, be all" of writing. You will notice I keep stressing the word "show" here. You cannot simply tell us you have a good story. You have to show us. You cannot simply tell us your story has potential, you have to show us. You cannot just tell us you have worked hard at your writing. You have to show us. You do this with your writing - show don't tell - so do it in the letter.

Let's take a look at some of the things to focus on.

  • You book is what the professional wants 
I want to start with this one because so many authors are being rejected simply because the story is either A) not what the agent or editor acquires; or B) not the right fit for that particular agent or editor. Finding this information out is crucial for your success as an author. It is all about product placement in this business. Make sure to go to the source for this information. Do your research and know exactly what that editor or agent acquires. DO NOT live on those external websites such as Query Tracker, The Watercooler, Agent Query and so forth. Sure, this is a good starting point, but that information is often not updated and things do change.

Along the same lines, make sure your story is going to the right person. I may acquire historical romances, but there are some things that I am just not that interested in personally. If your story is one of those projects, then you need to make sure to not send it to me. We all have our pet peeves and our preferences. Learn those by visiting their blogs, attending conferences and asking questions (hint - the Spotlight sessions at RWA Nationals), etc.
  • You are someone who will be in this for the long haul
Agents and editors are not interested so much in those one-hit-wonders. Sure, it is great to get that one book that will make  your career, but for the most part, we want someone with staying power. Your first book gets you on the map, but your later books are there for the money. When you write that query letter make sure to demonstrate that you have more to offer. Other works planned? Other works completed? Contest wins? Professional writing memberships? These are all great things to demonstrate. The goal is to show us that you can see where you will be, realistically, in 5, 10 and 20 years.
  • Your story is right for the market
This is again where you need to know the business. You have to show that your story is right for the market at this time. It may be a great story, but if that genre isn't selling right now, then you might have a project that needs to be shelved for a while. Your goal is to get in on the start of a trend or a wave. Again, yes, it is great if you could be the one who starts the trend, but the odds of that are against you. In that query, it is up to you to show the professional why your story has that potential necessary to compete with all of the other projects they have on their desk.n
  • We know the major elements of your story
When it comes down to the query process, it all returns to the story. If we really don't know what the story is about, in other words the plot, there is nothing we can do for you. We will not just ask for material to find out what the story is about. It is up to you to show us this.

I do think too many authors get this section confused with the back cover blurb. We don't want a tease of the story, we want to know the general plot of the story. We need to know who the characters are, the conflict of the story and certainly the general story arc. Don't just leave us hanging with "Will Bob save the universe from the alien vampire bunny attack? Will he get the girl? You have to tell us he will and briefly how.

Finally, we have to know the basics. This includes the title, the genre and the word count. Surprisingly there are authors who leave this out. We use this for logging your information into your databases, but we also use it for making sure the story gets into the right hands. If you tell me your story is an 85,000 word contemporary romantic suspense, I will be able to read your story with a context. I start thinking of potential publishers it would fit with. If you told me it was 53,000 words, I would shift my focus to this being more of a series title.
  • We know who you are
Part of this is the information on the writing career. We talked about that already. But the other part that is so crucial is the basic information. We need your name (first and last name, no initials) and all of your contact information. If you are writing under a pseudonym, tell us but we will need to know your real name. This is not hidden information. Do not make us beg for it. Besides, professional business letters demand this information. If you have a blog, a website or other social media, then tell us. If you have previously published, tell us. You cannot keep secrets. We will find out eventually and that might make a world of difference to us as to whether or not we want to proceed with this business relationship.

So to sum up...

  1. The BASICS of the book - Title, genre word count and high concept.
  2. THE BOOK itself - We need that story arc, the conflict and the characters
  3. THE BIO - Who are you and why are you the next great author? 
You can do this people! I Believe In You! 

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