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Monday, November 17, 2014

Query Letters: Do's and Don'ts




 
     While clearing out old papers, I ran across a few items I collected many years ago. For a time, I helped a literary agent sort through copious submissions. I evaluated submissions, passed only the best on to the agent, and returned the hopeless ones with an explanation and rejection. Sometimes I did not have to read past a few lines in the query letter to know the book would have no value. Here are a couple of direct excerpts from letters I found in that old pile, typos and other errors included:
     "I've created an interesting fictional story, titled [title deleted]. About a woman who must be true to herself and to everyone she loves …. If you are interested in my manuscript, do not hesitated in replying back to me."
     "With the most respectful manner in which you deserve I address myself to you, at the same time I most cordially salute you for your excellent and expidiant labor …. Without other undue motive present I remain most attentivelly appreciative to you for attention that it deserves."
     A query letter represents the author and the manuscript, so query letters must be perfect. If you want an agent or acquisitions editor to read your query, be sure it is a good reflection on you and your book.
     I attended a session called a Gong Pitch Fest at the 2014 Florida Writers Conference. During the gong fest, writers stood before a panel of seven or eight agents and publishers and pitched their books. If anything struck a panelist as a negative, the panelist struck a gong. After three gong strikes, the presenter had to stop. At the end of each pitch, panelists reviewed the good and the bad about the pitch. The event entertained and informed a large roomful of writers, and I learned a thing or two myself.
     Few of us get to pitch our books in person, so our query letter has to be our pitch. The mistake that brought the most gongs was what the panelists called "going into synopsis land." Although the query letter must give the gist or the hook of the story, it should not give the entire story.
The next thing that drew the most gongs was a pitch that failed to give the word count and genre of the manuscript. Some presenters even forgot to give the title of their book.  
     Like a pitch in person, a query letter must be short, tight, and to the point, yet entire books have been written on how to write a good query letter. If you're not sure about your query letter, read about query letters in any of the sources available in books and online, before you craft your query letter.         
     Once you have crafted the best query possible, have someone professionally edit the letter, to ensure that every comma, capitalization, word choice, and spelling is correct.
     If you have questions about your query letter, or if you want someone to edit it, contact me at Bobbie@zebraeditor.com.

2 comments:

Amber Lanier Nagle said...

Wonderful post, Bobbie. The query "gong" show sounds frightening, but educational. —Amber

Bobbie Christmas said...

Thank you, Amber. The event was such a tremendous success that the Florida Writers Association plans to offer it again at its next big conference in October 2015.