Thursday, January 29, 2015

Does Your Query Bring Out Your Professional Side?

We know you can write a great story (or we hope so). You have the ability to craft amazing characters, great plots and some outstanding dialogue. You spend hours in front of your computer bringing your stories to life. But now it is time to move from behind the computer and go out into public. It is time to take your story out to meet the public. It is time to let other people see your work and hopefully, move that passion for creative writing into a professional career.

For many however, this is really tough. Not so much because of the demands you would now face being a professional writer (deadlines, speaking engagements and so forth). It is, instead, the things the writers do when approaching those editors and agents. Although your story may be the next amazing story out there, if you screw up that first contact with the editors and agents, it really doesn't matter how good the story is. The only person who will look at it will be your significant others, your cat or your dog.

It is important to remember that your query letter is the first impression you make with the potential editor or agent. In many ways, it isn't so much about what you say, but how you say it and how you present yourself that can make a world of difference. Let me say, before I go any further, you cannot believe those stories that authors spread like gossip, that a query letter will get you a contract. It WILL get you in the door, but in the end, it will still come down to your story. But that is for another day. Let's focus on that letter and initial contact.

That query letter, whether your are doing the old snail-mail approach, or the email approach needs to be
professional. It has to represent someone who comes across as someone who is viewing this move as a business career. This is not just something you "crank out" that really doesn't matter. It IS important. Unfortunately, I do believe many authors think differently. They do simply see the cover letter or the synopsis as simply a "hoop to jump through." Of course they would think that! How often have we heard
editors and agents say they don't read the synopsis, or they are really only concerned about the story. While this is true, that first impression the author made with that query letter did have an impact.

Your first contact needs to demonstrate a strong command for professional writing. The formatting of the letter, the use of proper grammar, punctuation and spelling all need to be the number one priority when putting that letter together. If you can't demonstrate you know how to use a semi-colon, or your letter is full of fragments, run-ons or other basic mistakes, what does this say about that 300+ page story you want us to read?

If you are unclear on the format of business letters, you might want to check out a few reputable sources that can walk you through the basics. Try the Colorado State University Writing Center for this great step-by-step approach for e-mail business letters. You can also try the University of Wisconsin Writing Center for a standard business letter.

Now that you have the format figured out, let's talk about the language you use. Again, remember this is a business letter. This means the conversational tone you would normally include in your Facebook posts, emails to friends or phone conversations will go away. It is time to be professional and demonstrate you are here for business. You don't include information about your personal family life, your cats or your general excitement about life. You focus on your writing. Get to the point and make it clear.

It is also important to remember that editors and agents really don't have a lot of time to linger over the great wording and phrasing. We need to see the basics of the story so we can decide quickly. We have all heard the statistic that business people are only looking at this correspondence for less than 30 seconds. We're talking word economy here! Make it count.

I think I said this earlier this week, but it is always a good reminder. Don't give the agents and editors a reason to say no. By approaching your first contact with the professionals in a business like manner, you set us up for needing and wanting to see more of your story.

Will it get the sale? Again, we can't promise that. But what I can say is IF you are submitting to someone who is acquiring and is acquiring your genre, and you make this professional, at least we might say we want to read that great story you crafted.

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