1. TomDriscoll
    Offline

    TomDriscoll Member

    Joined:
    Jul 25, 2012
    Messages:
    16
    Likes Received:
    0
    Location:
    United States

    Queries/Submissions Query Letters!!

    Discussion in 'Publishing' started by TomDriscoll, Aug 2, 2012.

    Hey guys, I'm sure this question comes up a lot, but I'm looking to sort of revamp my query letter for my latest novel I gave up on publishing for a while. I haven't written one of these in quite some time, so I was hoping someone had some tips for the best ways to go about these things.
    Thanks y'all!
     
  2. Crystal Parney
    Offline

    Crystal Parney Member

    Joined:
    Jul 30, 2012
    Messages:
    90
    Likes Received:
    3
    Location:
    Michigan
    Hi. I dread the query letter, because you have to squeeze what your book is about in three to four paragraphs, and have it be interesting enough to catch the eye of a publisher or agent. In my experience don't be fancy. In all my research and learning about the query letter I've found to make it simple and to the point. I also found that in the last paragraph, which is about the author, toot your own horn. Don't be afraid to hone in on your accomplishments.
     
  3. mammamaia
    Offline

    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

    Joined:
    Nov 21, 2006
    Messages:
    19,316
    Likes Received:
    1,014
    Location:
    Coquille, Oregon
    i'm sorry to have to disagree with your well-meant advice, crystal, but it's really off the mark and i don't want to see the poster sent in the wrong direction...

    the summary part of a query letter should be no more than the single middle paragraph of 3 that should make up the letter [first is why you're querying that agent, plus title, genre, market and word count of the ms]... if the plot is so complex it can't be distilled down to 1, then 2 medium-shortish ones are okay, but 3 or 4 is way too much...

    the only accomplishments that agents want to know about are relevant paid writing credits... they don't want to know if you're a member of this or that whatever, or what your schooling has been... if you don't have paid credits for relevant writings, it's best to say nothing about yourself at all...

    tom...
    i have lots of advice from the pros on writing query letters that i'll be glad to send you if you want to drop me a line... welcome to the forums!

    love and hugs, maia
     
  4. Crystal Parney
    Offline

    Crystal Parney Member

    Joined:
    Jul 30, 2012
    Messages:
    90
    Likes Received:
    3
    Location:
    Michigan
    Yes your right about it being one paragraph for summing up your book, I don't know what I was thinking. When I said toot your horn I meant such as writing acomplishments, like winning writing contests.
     
  5. mammamaia
    Offline

    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

    Joined:
    Nov 21, 2006
    Messages:
    19,316
    Likes Received:
    1,014
    Location:
    Coquille, Oregon
    winning writing contests won't impress anyone all that much, unless they're the most prestigious ones... what they really want to see is if any reputable publishers have liked what you write well enough to pay you for the privilege of publishing it...
     
  6. tiffanylyn
    Offline

    tiffanylyn Member

    Joined:
    Aug 29, 2012
    Messages:
    54
    Likes Received:
    8
    Location:
    Pacific Northwest
    After the first sentence or two about why you are querying the agent you researched, and telling them about your ms (word count etc), I was told by a lit agent to have a gripping and memorable first line to the summary paragraph about your book. I've yet to send out even one query (will soon), but I plan on quoting my female character: "I was happily asexual until this guy showed up and destroyed that comfortable existence."
     
  7. mammamaia
    Offline

    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

    Joined:
    Nov 21, 2006
    Messages:
    19,316
    Likes Received:
    1,014
    Location:
    Coquille, Oregon
    that won't do it, imo... i'd strongly advise not using dialog...
     
  8. tiffanylyn
    Offline

    tiffanylyn Member

    Joined:
    Aug 29, 2012
    Messages:
    54
    Likes Received:
    8
    Location:
    Pacific Northwest
    Very good to know (not using dialog). Thank you.
     
  9. cabbage
    Offline

    cabbage Member

    Joined:
    Feb 2, 2013
    Messages:
    40
    Likes Received:
    0
    What I’ve read about query letters makes me think that mammamaia gives a very sound advice. I’m led to believe that agents are these very tired and bored people who receive too many letters and want to go through one as soon as possible. They don’t appreciate if somebody wants to puzzle them or catch their attention. What they appreciate is simplicity. What I’ve read reminded me the advice I’ve given to beginners in the law faculty: don’t make it hard on the examiner. If he has to make an effort to follow your train of thought he is already irritated by you and that decreases your chances of passing the exam.
     
  10. cabbage
    Offline

    cabbage Member

    Joined:
    Feb 2, 2013
    Messages:
    40
    Likes Received:
    0
    Well, all this is easier said than done. Despite all redactions, my own query letter is still puzzling, so I haven’t mailed it to anyone yet.:(
     
  11. EdFromNY
    Offline

    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 13, 2010
    Messages:
    4,683
    Likes Received:
    2,534
    Location:
    Queens, NY
    I think you are misusing "redactions", which is usually used to mean removing names from documents, such as cases or governmental rulings, to protect privacy. Did you perhaps mean "revisions"?
     
  12. cabbage
    Offline

    cabbage Member

    Joined:
    Feb 2, 2013
    Messages:
    40
    Likes Received:
    0
    That’s not what my English-Bulgarian dictionary says. Just in case, I entered an online English dictionary and found the same thing:
    Redaction
    1. The act or process of editing or revising a piece of writing; preparation for publication.
    2. An edited work; a new edition or revision.

    In other words, redaction is defined as revision. Still, I would never argue with a native speaker. After all, a native speaker is the ultimate authority on a given language. However my editor was an American and he used ‘redaction’ as a synonym of ‘revision’. So I’m confused. Perhaps I’ve misunderstood him.

    Am I wrong to use ‘redaction’ in this context? Yes, I meant revisions.
     
  13. EdFromNY
    Offline

    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 13, 2010
    Messages:
    4,683
    Likes Received:
    2,534
    Location:
    Queens, NY
    Being a native speaker does not make one an expert on definitions, and if, as in this case, you are right and I am wrong, then you are well-advised to argue. I stand corrected.

    Serves me right for using my own experience of narrow usage as a general rule.
     
  14. cabbage
    Offline

    cabbage Member

    Joined:
    Feb 2, 2013
    Messages:
    40
    Likes Received:
    0
    Thank you for your advice. I apreciate people who correct me.
     
  15. The Tourist
    Offline

    The Tourist Banned

    Joined:
    Mar 27, 2012
    Messages:
    1,089
    Likes Received:
    28
    Location:
    Wisconsin.
    I must admit that I'm with you here.

    First, I think it's great that a writer has a creative idea and wants to run with it. But the answer is "running," not the asking of "permission to run."

    And in essence, that's what a query letter is. It boils down to, "Should I run with this idea?"

    If you feel passionately about your story, then write it. If the plot has holes in it, do some researh, or spew gibberish all over the keyboard and then tighten up you prose.
     
  16. jwideman
    Offline

    jwideman Senior Member

    Joined:
    Feb 14, 2013
    Messages:
    130
    Likes Received:
    0
    I always heard that you tell how the book begins, how it ends, and how you prevent the protagonist from going directly from one to the other. If you use a familiar trope, like vampires, say what your unique approach is. Tell as much as you can using as few words as you can get away with. The longer it takes for the editor decide if he likes your book or not, the more likely he's going to decide he doesn't.
     
  17. mammamaia
    Offline

    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

    Joined:
    Nov 21, 2006
    Messages:
    19,316
    Likes Received:
    1,014
    Location:
    Coquille, Oregon
    not that at all... you've obviously already 'run with this idea' or you wouldn't have a book ms to be querying about...

    what a query letter boils down to from the author's side is, 'can my summary make you want to represent this book?'...

    cabbbage:
    why do you have an editor?... is s/he in the US or the UK?... while 'redaction' is technically a synonym for 'revision' it's not used in the US and i suspect not much used in the UK, either... so, if you want to be understood by the vast majority of folks, it's best to use the more common terms, 'revision' and 'revise'...
     
  18. The Tourist
    Offline

    The Tourist Banned

    Joined:
    Mar 27, 2012
    Messages:
    1,089
    Likes Received:
    28
    Location:
    Wisconsin.
    I see a distinction without a difference. If the letter is a pre-approach to a publisher or insider, then the purpose is to sell books.

    What difference does it make how the professional responds--or why? Either the deal is struck, or it's not.
     
  19. swhibs123
    Offline

    swhibs123 Active Member

    Joined:
    Dec 28, 2011
    Messages:
    132
    Likes Received:
    23
    Location:
    BC, CANADA
    I think you need to go look at agent blogs where they talk about successful query letters. Then talk to some authors who recently snagged agents and ask them to critique your letter.

    In my opinion, start with a brief note as to why you're querying that particular agent. Then give the genre/wordcount/title of your work.

    Next, you want to think about who the MC is, what their challenge is, what the stakes are, and how those stakes are overcome. Don't be afraid to reveal the ending to your book in your query, in fact, I suggest you do reveal it.

    Understand that agents read a lot of queries. We're talking thousands a year. I think short and sweet is good. A wordy query might be indicitive of a wordy manuscript, so consider that carefully.

    End with a "thank you for your time" and a professional salutation and that's it.

    Good luck
     
  20. Show
    Offline

    Show Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 25, 2008
    Messages:
    1,495
    Likes Received:
    30
    Look at the agent's website and tailor it to their needs. Keep it brief and professional. Beyond this, most advice is not widely applicable. I've not seen much agreement on what goes into the bio. Maia says only paid credits count and otherwise say nothing at all, and yet if we followed that, most of us would have to leave out the bio every agent I've seen requests. I've heard advice outright contradict this. Who is right? Who is wrong? Maybe neither side is absolutely right or wrong. Successful queries really have only 1 thing in common: they got the agent's attention enough to request to see more. While there is a loose "standard" on the matter, I've seen so many contradictory things from actual agents, editors, and other supposed professionals. And most seem to think their way is THE way. While some things are obviously a must, some things labeled as absolute really aren't. Part of the growing experience of a writer is learning to find which is which, regardless of how much somebody insists one way is the only way. (this applies to writing in general and not just the query)

    The agent will usually tell you what he or she wants. And if you look at successful queries, most violate something somebody says is a query absolute. There're few real general rules beyond basic common sense and professionalism that are applicable across the board. Sure, thank them at the end. Keep it short and sweet. But as for what goes in the bio, exactly how short your summary needs to be, stuff like that will vary agent by agent. And what one loves, another will hate. Follow one editor's advice and you violate another agent's, and vice versa. The more I read on the subject, the more I see that there is a lot of contradictory views about what makes a good query letter. It really will all depend on the agent.

    There's a lot of advice out there. Developing a strong query will require being able to sort through it and not just listen to one person. I tried that and it was a disaster. You need to write a query letter that adheres generally to the guidelines, but that is also still you. And as has been said, you really have to make a personal connection and so what works for 1 agent won't work for another. Don't be afraid to change it up from agent to agent based on their guidelines. And don't give up. There's a lot of discouragement out there. And little of it is constructive to aspiring authors. Keep at it and keep learning. :)
     
  21. cabbage
    Offline

    cabbage Member

    Joined:
    Feb 2, 2013
    Messages:
    40
    Likes Received:
    0
    EdFromNY,

    I was just watching a documentary and in it the word ‘redaction’ was used in the meaning you suggested. The phrase was ‘heavily redacted’ and the person using it meant that a lot in the official documentation has been deleted. Apparently there’s more than one English language.:) I would have never noticed it if it wasn’t for your posting.
     
  22. cabbage
    Offline

    cabbage Member

    Joined:
    Feb 2, 2013
    Messages:
    40
    Likes Received:
    0

    Thank you for the advice.

    I don’t have an editor in the sense this word is used in the publishing industry. A retired American lawyer, who lives in Sofia, influenced the way I structured my book, added some notes and was kind enough to edit the final draft. He doesn’t work for a publishing house and has no vested interest in the project. He also discussed the content with me and thus made me see how what I’ve written sounds like and how it is objectively construed by outsiders. He has the perspective of a westerner and that’s what I needed. A lot of things, that I considered obvious, were not obvious at all. His help was very valuable not only because of the language barrier, but because of the cultural barrier as well.
     
  23. madhoca
    Offline

    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Dec 1, 2008
    Messages:
    2,527
    Likes Received:
    88
    Location:
    the shadow of the velvet fortress
    Apart from a short traineeship, I do not have experience in working for a publisher. However, I have worked as a journalist (low down on the scale) and a university teacher for many years. I can tell you that after a while, my eyes started to skim over fancy "hooks" and self-congratulatory stuff, and now I just try to find what the writer is saying as quickly as possible. When I have a pile of 40 papers to read through, all I look for is the facts and way the writing is structured. Back when I was at the newspaper, I sometimes got letters (I was the first person to open them; if they looked the business, I sent them on to someone higher in the pecking order) from freelance writers that read like film posters: "You'll never know it's missing until it's gone! This in-depth look at blah blah blah" or letters addressed to "Dear Sir" (they went to the bottom of the pile).

    The more the writer attempts to be creative, the greater the concentration and TIME needed. I can't help picturing the first reader in a publishing office having a similar attitude, so I always stick to the point in a query letter and rarely write more than one page. If requested in guidelines, I attach a one page synopsis of the story as well. It seems to do the trick.
     
  24. mammamaia
    Offline

    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

    Joined:
    Nov 21, 2006
    Messages:
    19,316
    Likes Received:
    1,014
    Location:
    Coquille, Oregon
    sorry to be so dense [it's early in the am], but what is the relevance of your comments to what i said in that quote?...
     
  25. cabbage
    Offline

    cabbage Member

    Joined:
    Feb 2, 2013
    Messages:
    40
    Likes Received:
    0

    I can relate to what you say. Being a lawyer, I’ve never received as many letters as an agent does (2 per day has been my all-time record). Still, I am irritated if somebody sends me a long letter about his life-long story, how unjustly he has been treated, how craftily he has been deceived, and how awfully he felt about it, when all I need is a couple of lines stating his legal problem so that I may determine whether I’m interested and, if I’m, how long it’ll take me to answer, and subsequently what I should charge for this. Reading query letters is a job for the agents, not a hobby, and therefore I imagine that it is tedious for them. I’m also irritated if somebody addresses me with ‘Mr.’ such and such because this shows he hasn’t read what I’ve written on my web site. Is it important how he addresses me? No, but it is important whether he has read the instructions. If he hasn't, working with him will be time consuming in the future. Therefore I should either ask him for more money or refuse to work for him.

    All this reminds me of a story about Ford, the automobile maker. Ford had two mentally challenged clerks working near-by his office. Whenever he received a report from one of his employees, he gave it to the idiots. If they couldn’t understand it, he – without reading it – returned it to the sender to be revised and made more comprehensible. I don’t know if this story is apocryphal or a true one, but it doesn’t matter. It makes sense. If a text is not easy to comprehend, it usually means one of two things: either the author is hiding something or he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.
     

Share This Page