Wednesday, August 04, 2004

MWW Query Workshop

10 Tips for More Effective Query Letters
7/24/15
MidWest Writers' Conference



FICTION
1  A query letter is a business letter

2  A query letter requires "show don't tell" just exactly like your novel does

3  A query letter MUST tell an agent what the book is about 
            3a  Who is the main character?
            3b  What does she want?
            3c  What is keeping her from getting what she wants?
            3d  What must she sacrifice to get what she wants?


How to convey what the book is about:

            The main character must decide whether to____________________.

            If s/he decides to do (this), the consequences/outcome/peril s/he faces are:

            If s/he decides NOT to do this:  the consequences/outcome/peril s/he faces are:


This will not be the exact wording you use in a query, but it will help you distill your plot
to the essentials. You need the essentials, not the broad picture. A query is not a synopsis[i].


4  A query letter should include the word count  the title and any publishing credits you have Don't have pub credits? Don't worry, but don't reach either

(the novel has to be finished  You don't have to say it is but just know it)

5  A query letter must avoid several instant-rejection phrases:
            fiction novel
            sure best seller

            Oprah
            film potential
            "dear agent"/"dear sir or madam"



6  Things to avoid in query letters:
            Don't beg 
            Don't flatter 
            Don't demean yourself
           
            Don't quote rejection letters
            Don't quote critique groups, friends, paid editors or conference contacts 
            Don't ask rhetorical questions


7. Extra hints
            Don't offer exclusives

            Don't attach anything

            Don't engage your spam filter or auto responder

            Don't be afraid to sound stark[ii]. Most query letters are verbose. Make your point then stop             talking.

            Avoid sweeping statements. Be as specific as possible with every single word


            Put your contact info at the bottom.[iii]  Standard business letter FORM is different on             electronic queries.

            Don't cut and paste.  Type a master email and duplicate it.

            Expect to spend two months writing a good solid query letter.

            Expect to hear no. A lot.

            Have a query tracking system in place so you know who/what/when/where.

            Writing a query letter can help you find major problems in your book.





PAGE TWO:

Correct form for an electronic query
for FICTION



Subj: QUERY-Title by Author



Dear (Name of Agent)


FIRST: 100 word paragraph answering the question "what is this book about?"
Have a line break every three lines  Big blocks of text are hard to read
(example is next page)

SECOND: Your writing credits and bio.

THIRD: Genre/word count. Maybe even title if it fits better here[iv]

FOUR: Any kind words;  how I found you; why I picked you.


Closing:  Thank you for your time and consideration


Your name
your email
your telephone
Your website
Your blog
Your twitter name
Your facebook page[v]

Your physical address

You don't need all these social media touch points

Notice there are no live links in a query.[vi]
 






 PAGE THREE

Why a big block o'text doesn't work

You get big blocks of text when you cut and paste from word docs.[vii]

This is a good query. I signed the author.  This format makes it very hard to read.



When failed salesman Johnny Wolfe encounters a dying dog in the street while walking to work one morning, he suspects there’s a sense of the wild returning to the city.  When the dog kills one of Johnny’s rival salesmen, his suspicions are confirmed.   Wolf is a 78,000 word noir thriller.  Based upon your interest in suspense, and the off-beat humor you exhibit on your blog, I thought you might enjoy reading and representing the novel for publication.
Wolf traces two days in the life of Johnny Wolfe, a man mired in loss – the loss of his childhood pet, the failure of his marriage, and the end of a once prosperous career selling surveillance and security equipment.  He yearns to get his life back on track, and when he finds a $1.2million sales order on his colleague’s now dead body, he figures this deal could be the answer.  
Except what is the product that is being sold?  Why doesn’t it show up in any of the company sales catalogs?  And what does this product have to do with the sudden return of dogs to the city?  Or are they really dogs, and why is it that the people in Johnny’s life all smell so much like they’re out to get him?  Wolf is a boy and his dog story, except that the boy has grown into a hapless salesman and the dogs are all werewolves.
I am a first time novelist who’s worked in sales for a lifetime.  I am also a dog enthusiast.  I’ve published various pieces in local newspapers and have won an Emmy for video editing. 
Thanks for reading these pages of Wolf.   You seem interested in suspense with a unique bent, and that’s what I’m going for in Wolf.  I hope you enjoy.
 



Here's how it should look in EMAIL (notice the lines break more often than every paragraph)[viii]


(1)When failed salesman Johnny Wolfe encounters a dying dog in the street while walking to work one morning, he suspects there’s a sense of the wild returning to the city.  When the dog kills one of Johnny’s rival salesmen, his suspicions are confirmed.  

Wolf is a 78,000 word noir thriller.  Based upon your interest in suspense, and the off-beat humor you exhibit on your blog, I thought you might enjoy reading and representing the novel for publication.

(2)Wolf traces two days in the life of Johnny Wolfe, a man mired in loss – the loss of his childhood pet, the failure of his marriage, and the end of a once prosperous career selling surveillance and security equipment.

 He yearns to get his life back on track, and when he finds a $1.2million sales order on his colleague’s now dead body, he figures this deal could be the answer.
 
(3)Except what is the product that is being sold?  Why doesn’t it show up in any of the company sales catalogs?  And what does this product have to do with the sudden return of dogs to the city? 

Or are they really dogs, and why is it that the people in Johnny’s life all smell so much like they’re out to get him?  Wolf is a boy and his dog story, except that the boy has grown into a hapless salesman and the dogs are all werewolves.

(4)I am a first time novelist who’s worked in sales for a lifetime.  I am also a dog enthusiast.  I’ve published various pieces in local newspapers and have won an Emmy for video editing.

(5)Thanks for reading these pages of Wolf.   You seem interested in suspense with a unique bent, and that’s what I’m going for in Wolf.  I hope you enjoy. 






PAGE FOUR:




What  you need BEFORE you query


                                                Fiction            Memoir            Non-fiction

query letter                                 yes               yes                        yes

website*                                        yes            yes                        yes

dedicated query/author email      yes               yes              yes[ix]

word count                                  yes               yes                         no

finished project                           yes               yes                         no

proposal                                       no                no                        yes

platform/established presence      no               yes                      yes

blurbs                                             no              no                        no

Marketing strategy                        no               yes                     yes

Answer to the question:                no               yes                     yes
"Why I wrote this book"

comparison books                         no               yes                     yes
"how is this book different
from others in this category"


*what counts as a website? Blog=yes  Twitter=no  Facebook=no  Myspace=no  LinkedIn=no
A blog and website can be seen by anyone who wants to reach you

Twitter/Facebook/myspace can only be seen by "members"

It's important there be NO barrier between your contact info and the person who wants to reach you






PAGE FIVE:








Workshop presenter

Janet Reid is a literary agent at FinePrint Literary Management in New York City.  She keeps a blog at JetReidLiterary.blogspot com that answers questions from writers and allows her to rant on things that drive her crazy in publishing and reasons she loves her job and the city.


She also runs [x]QueryShark.blogspot.com a blog that posts (with permission) and critiques queries and revisions from writers.  To submit a query click on the link "how to submit a query to the shark."  It's all volunteer.


Her Facebook page is Janet Reid, Literary Agent.


Her clients include New York Times bestselling Patrick Lee (The Breach series and RUNNER), Jeff Somers (WE ARE NOT GOOD PEOPLE, a PW Pick of the week for 10/4/14), Laird Barron, the multiple award winning author of most recently THE BEAUTIFUL THING THAT AWAITS US ALL, Cornelia Read,  Dana Haynes, Lee Goodman, Terry Shames and Phillip DePoy.


Her list is largely crime novels and thrillers, and narrative non-fiction in history and biography.
She is a member of AAR, Sisters in Crime, International Thriller Writers, the Association of American Historians, the Civil War Roundtable of NYC, the Womens' National Book Association (NYC chapter), Biographers International Organization,  and the Authors Guild.


She lives in Brooklyn and is tormenting herself by painting her apartment. Yes, 27 color samples later, it's almost done.




Ten Tips Summary:

[1] A query is not a synopsis
[2] Don't be afraid to sound stark
[3] Put your contact info at the bottom.
[4] Don't put category/genre at top of the query.
[5] You don't need ALL these social media touch points
[6] No live links in a query
[7] You get big blocks of text when you cut and paste from word docs.
[8] the lines break more often than every paragraph
[9] dedicated query/author email
[10] QueryShark.blogspot com has 260+ entries designed to help you revise your query to be more effective