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Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Litsoup gives the lowdown on query letters

If you haven't been over to Litsoup in the last few days, Jenny has a great post that shares her advice on query letters. She's got all the detail over there, put here are the topics she touches on (with my comments under the topic):

1. Be professional
In every query advice article I read; in each book on writing; everywhere it seems - this topic is always touched upon. It has to be an issue if it's mentioned so many times - right? Is being professional in a query letter really that difficult for people to manage? Nut jobs and drama fiends aside, hmmm maybe there are just too many nut jobs and drama fiends. Maybe that's our problem. Perhaps we need a plan to weed them out somehow....

2. Space is at a premium
Again, to me this is a no-brainer. I think of this the same way I think about cover letters and resumes: keep it short and to the point. If I was applying for a job I'd make sure my creds match the job requirements and then tailor my cover letter accordingly. Most people know that a cover letter should only be one page (on occassion two - but never more) - same with the actual resume. Don't they teach some resume basics in high school these days?

3. Have a hook
This is where it starts getting difficult. Anyone who participated in Miss Snark's CoM knows how difficult it is to write a hook to grab an agent's eye (at least to her taste, anyway). But then again, the blurb on the back of a book is also a hook - one to grab a reader and it's completely subjective. To me, this is where it is critical to know your agent. No, I don't mean stalk him or her until you know what kind of toilet paper he buys and whether she eats twinkies or ding dongs. I mean to find out who they represent and what kind of books within the genre. The genres are still pretty darn big and ambiguous - not all romance are alike, not all horror are alike, etc. etc. The agent may say "I represent horror" - but what kind of horror? Stephen King kind? Does the agent have a strong anti-zombie streak? (Course, everyone knows zombies rock and we all love them! Go Max Brand!) There is nothing wrong with having a couple versions of a hook, just like you'd have several versions of a resume. Once you have the basis of a good hook - tailor the hook to the person reading it. You want them to like it enough to go to the next step and that's all that matters in the query.

4. Themes are extraneous information too
Less is more and all that. I guess I combined my thoughts and stuck them all under 3. :)

5. Writing credits can be both good and bad.
Until the day that agents say, "YES, this writer is a blogger. Wow. That rocks. I've got to sign her up" - I'll be keeping my writing credits to a minimum. :)

6. Leave out the bacon.
Another reminder to keep the query on target and focused. No need to share your recent experience with athlete's foot or the time you went to New York and drove through Central Park. Unless, of course, either item is a pivotal plot piece or a focal point of your novel. Agents don't read your letter to get a new friend. They don't really want to know your personality type or what you like to do in your pajamas. All they care about is if you have something that interests them and they think they can sell. Perhaps the motive behind adding in personal tidbits and "blah blah" is because we think it makes us stand out, it makes us seem more like a person, and it lets the agent know who we are... but the sad fact is, they don't care who we are. At least not yet. If the writing is good and marketable to them, then they care.

I thought Jenny's points were good. I've certainly heard all the points before, but apparently writers seem to forget them enough that we need the constant reminders.

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3 Comments:

Blogger S.M.D. said...

I can personally attest to the importance of having short but sweet query letters. I've submitted several short stories over the years and found that the more direct to the point the story is, the more likely you're going to get valuable feedback from an editor. Granted, most editors will send you a rejection form letter, but I'm lucky to have been given some helpful tips and in some cases an actual review of my work, which has encouraged me to continue.

Good article here!

12:52 PM  
Blogger Sabrina said...

I've read a lot about query letters, and I agree some of this sounds like commonsense. I like to think I know the gist of writing a good one, but there are some things I wonder about. For one, the agents whose blogs I comment on. Would it be appropriate to mention "I read your blog" or put the url for my own at the bottom of the letter, or is that something to avoid until they show some interest?

1:42 PM  
Blogger Bryan D. Catherman said...

Thanks for sharing. The query seems to be a popular mystery on blogs, but this sums up some nice tips.

12:02 PM  

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