Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Notes from the Effective Query class at SCWW

I did a presentation on Effective Query Letters this weekend at the South Carolina Writers Workshop conference.

Here is the outline I used to teach the class too:

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 happens to her?
3c. What choice does s/he face?
3d. What terrible thing will happen because of that choice?

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. 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.

14 comments:

Pam Harris said...

I find it interesting that one of the rules for a great query letter is not to flatter an agent. I've read from a few other blogs that agents liked it when you flattered them, such as "I love your blog!" or "I read that great interview of yours in Poets and Writers!" Is there a way that we can mention that we're a "fan" of an agent without sounding like a kiss-up?

Rick Daley said...

Thanks for posting this. I hope you don't mind, I re-printed it at The Public Query Slushpile

Of course I gave you full credit and linked back to your blog...

Ash. Elizabeth said...

you rock. thanks for sharing your outline to those of us who don't live in the area.

RJ said...

Looks like I should have gone to this class as well as your Social Networking course. Thanks for all the tips you gave in that class. I tried to stay within the 250 word limit you told us about when I posted this week but went over because I just had to include your 'slip of the tongue.' Hope you don't mind!

Ricki said...

Thank you for the reference and for filling in some of the gaps.

It was a most helpful class indeed!

Best,
Ricki Schultz

Laurel said...

Thanks, Janet and Ricki. That was clear and succinct and makes the whole thing seem not so awful.

_*Rachel*_ said...

Thank you! This one should have a link on the sidebar.

Barbara said...

Janet, you are fantastic. I missed this workshop but managed to get the condensed version in your Terrible Two's class. I just wish I could have been there for the Social Networking class to hear your Freudian slip. Must have been a reflection of our conversation in the ride from the airport!

BCB said...

I had a dream the other night that I finished my current ms and sent it off to an unknown agent with a query letter (it might have been a post-it note) that said, in its entirety,

"Here. Do something with it."

I can't even consider it a nightmare because, you know, I finished the ms.

Mickey said...

Glad to see in print what was in my notes.Best information.

Mickey

Lynne said...

Very nice outline. I presume that publishing credit does not apply to work as a journalist. Correct?

Kelly Bryson said...

I wanted to attend the conference, but wasn't able to. Thanks for sharing here:)

Glynis said...

Interesting about not including Fiction Novel, I might have been tempted to use the words.
Thanks for an informative post. I have printed it for future use. I am a little nervous about this stage and the synopsis, so all help appreciated. Thanks.

noah matters said...

This is a very pretty outline! Thanks for sharing this one. I find this one so helpful!
business letter