Manic Monday: Writing This Query Letter Can Only Make Me Stronger

Sunday, August 7, 2011



The first edit of Light and Dark is complete. I've made all the changes my critique partner suggested. I'm tweaking a secondary character and waiting for my friend (a reading/writing prof) to edit for grammar, but that will hopefully be done in a couple of months. Which means query time is closing in on me.

I hate it. Yes, I know being able to narrow down 100,000 words into 250 is a skill every writer must have, but that doesn't mean I have like the process. Writing a query is HARD. And intimidating. So much is riding on that one sheet of paper. If it's not good enough to grab an agent or editor, it doesn't matter how great our book may be. They're not going to read it.

No pressure.

Gah.

The good news is that there's a ton of great resources out there about writing queries. One of my favorite is Queryshark. This isn't for the faint of heart, but it's a great way to learn what works and what doesn't.

Nelson Literary Agency has a great section on query letters here. Thanks to @JenniferKHale for the link.

Voice is a huge part of a successful query and one of the hardest elements to master. From The Write Angle has a great post on that here.

Scott Eagan of Greyhaus Literary Agency blogged about making your pitch and hook sell your novel, something the majority of query letters fail to do.

The wonderful Jody Hedlund talks about query letters and what to do after you send them here.

Finally, Kaye Dacus has a great post about the technical aspects of writing a query letter.

After reading about 957 different blogs and articles on query letters, I've discovered the following:

Voice is key. Write the query in the same tone as your novel, preferably the main character.

Your hook has to actually HOOK the agent. Think about when you're browsing the shelves or flipping through the marketplace on your e-reader. What makes you want to read the book? What are the parts of the blurb that make you download the book? That's the hook.

Make sure you include the title, word count and genre. One or two sentences at most.

Keep it at one page.

Make it personal. Do your research and make it clear you know what the agent you're querying represents. Don't waste their time by sending something generic.

So that's what I've got so far. I'm no expert. I'm just sharing what I've learned with all of you. I just wrote my first query letter yesterday. My awesome critique partner Catie Rhodes likes it, so we'll see what happens with it. I'm sure we'll be doing some more tweaking.

And that brings me to my final point: make sure you have a critique partner or an honest writing friend who will help you with your query letter. Just as they are with your MS, critique partners are a major part of creating a strong query letter.

Where are you all at in your writing process? Have you started a query letter? Do you have any advice for new writers?

24 comments:

catierhodes.com said...

You're doing a good job on your query. It is hard, though. I got so frustrated so many times when I was writing my query letter. It got so I wondered if my book had a plot at all, if I was just fooling myself. It's crazy-making, I tell you.

Stacy said...

Thanks! It is crazy-making. Luckily, I know my hook is the tunnels. At least, I think that's it. Writing queries makes you question yourself, that's for sure.

Thanks!

Donna Galanti said...

Stacy, thanks for all the resources here. I use most of these too but then the nail biting time comes when you have to sit down to write it - I know! And less IS more in this case..Angst!

I'd love to read yours when you've got a draft and are ready to stop biting your nails and put it aside for a breather! :)

Nancy MacMillan said...

I'm struggling with a query revision at this very moment, hoping for insite. My original Query, which has seen many agents, was posted on my blog in May or June . . . if you care to take a look. I'm now rewriting it for one specific agent . . . Good Luck! It is a challenge but will make you stronger! :)

http://blogofavetswife.blogspot.com/

Kelly Hashway said...

What really helped me when I was querying, was to write my query lettering in my MC's voice. Then I went back and switched it to third person. It allowed the voice of my manuscript to come through and got me requests.

Stacy said...

Donna - check your email soon:) Yes, it's full of angst. And there are a ton of resources out there, but again, you have to weed through them all.

Stacy said...

Nancy
I will take a look. Thanks for sharing. Writing queries is so hard, and when you don't get a good response, it's easy to figure out the issue is probably the query letter. But fixing that is tough. I think that's my biggest fear about them.

Kelly
That is a great tip for getting the voice down. Thanks so much for sharing it!

cynthiarobertson said...

Excellent links, Stacy. Thanks.
I found it wasn't that difficult once I just sat myself down and started working on it. But I for sure built it up in my mind and scared the heck out of myself first.
Sent two queries out in spring and got a rejection, and an ask to see the entire novel. The agent who read the entire novel sent back three pages of suggestions, so I've been working on rewrites all summer. Am going to begin the query process again this fall. A necessary evil. :-)

Stacy said...

Hi Cynthia!
Yes, I blew it up in my mind quite a bit and the writing went quicker than I thought once I made myself do it.
Good for you for getting working on the agent's suggestions. To me, that's invaluable. I expect a lot of rejections, but if I can get an agent or two to give me some guidance, that will be great.
Keep at it!

Jen J. Danna said...

This is a tough challenge, especially when you know that so much is riding on that one little letter. Also keep in mind that your query letter isn't written in stone. My letter changed over time as I got feedback and learned more, so make it as perfect as possible right off the get-go, but then make changes if you feel they're needed.

Querying is an an exciting and somewhat terrifying part of the process. Perseverance is really key - learn from the rejections but try not to let them get you down so that you can query again another day.

Good luck!!

Stacy said...

Jen
Exactly. So much is riding on the letter. Good point. They will evolve over time, just like all writing does. Thanks for the tip.

Yes, I'm dreading the rejections but trying to take a positive approach on them. Hopefully I can learn something as I go.

Thanks!

Angela Wallace said...

Ah yes, queries. That one-line hook and the one-paragraph summary. Then, as part of the submission package, it's important to have a one-page and a five-page summary on hand as well. The whole process is frustrating, but it is good to go through for the experience.

I've written so many query letters. I think it's also important to know that one rejection doesn't mean you should change your query right away. Maybe after several rejections...but the whole business is subjective.

I won a free query critique through a blog a little while ago, and one thing I was told was the query should only be about the main conflict. No need to include subplot information or characters. That was hard for me, because the subplots were so interwoven with the main plot, it felt like half the story was missing if I didn't mention it.

Stacy said...

Angela
Yuck. You're totally bursting my bubble, lol. Working on those summaries is next.

I'd agree, one rejection isn't a reason to change your query right away. Several rejections? Then probably something to think about.

Lucky you winning that critique, and that's great advice. My subplots are interwoven too, which makes things challenging.
Thanks for stopping by.

Beverly Diehl said...

Actually a query is NOT designed to sell the book. The query letter is to interest the agent enough to ask for more material to read.

As Scott Eagan who you've linked to, above, suggests, a query letter is comparable to a cover letter for your resume. A terrible one, bad formatting, unprofessional appearance, etc., will probably sink your chances of being called for an interview, but you already know that, so that's a mistake you won't make. :-) A resume/query that's well-done may get your foot in the door, but in the end, it's your BOOK that sells your book.

I found that it took much pressure off. I was multiplying everything out in my mind, so that if a query was rejected it meant that not only my query sucked and my book sucked and all my books would suck and my whole career was a non-starter and I should just shoot myself now!

A query has to hit points X, Y, and Z, but it doesn't have to compress every single byte of your book's awesomeness into 250 WOL. Simply interest the agent enough in your voice and ability to tell a story, (and don't hold back the ending out of being coy, they want to know it doesn't peter out at the end) so s/he wants more.

My suggestion - write a big long sloppy "meat" section for the query, then slash and burn and trim, rather than trying to "write tight" from the get-go.

Stacy said...

Good point, Beverly. I guess I look at it as selling because if it doesn't interest the agent enough, you're not going to sell it to them.

I'll try to look at it the other way. It's just tough when you read so much stuff about how agents decide on you within seconds.

Thanks for the tips!

Cat said...

I don't know why, but queries absolutely terrify me. TERRIFY me. I guess it's because I know that's the first thing an agent will see, and if they like it, hurray, but if they don't, boom. Down you go into the rejection pile.

Good luck on your query, Stacy!

Stacy said...

Cat
I'm the same way. But it's that kind of thinking we have to get past. We can do it!
Thanks for the comment:)

tiffanyawhite said...

Query letters are daunting - they're in essence you selling yourself to the publishing industry. GOOD LUCK with your query, Stacy. I can't wait to read your book.

Stacy said...

Thanks so much, Tiffany. You're exactly right. And you know, I was thinking about all this last night when I should have been sleeping. No matter what happens with the query process, I'm proud of Light and Dark. It's my second finished book, and it's 10 times better than the first one. My writing and storytelling has improved, and that's something to be proud of. Is it good enough? I don't know. But I still feel pretty good about it.

ozma914 said...

It's some kind of sadistic torture, making novel writers do a query. It's like taking a guy who trained all year for a marathon and forcing him to run a dash.

Stacy S. Jensen said...

You summed it up very nicely and great links. Best of luck in the process. Hooking the agent is key. Since I've been working on a memoir, I completed a book proposal and query too many months ago. Then, I decided to work on writing the book. So, I'm still writing.

Stacy said...

Ozma
That is a great analogy! Love it. Thanks for stopping by.

Stacy
Glad you liked the links. Interesting route you took, but I can see why it would be different for a memoir. Good luck, and thanks!

Stacy S. Jensen said...

Stacy, That's the confusing part about memoir to me. Some say - it's like a nonfiction book, so you do the book proposal first to see if you can sell it while others say - it's like fiction and you need a completed manuscript. Sigh. Happy writing today.

Stacy said...

It's sounds like a challenge to me. That's the hard part about all the writing resources out there - so many are conflicting. I say trust your gut. You, too!

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