I'm doing a workshop at the upcoming Writers Digest Conference in August.
These are the handouts for the workshop for writers NEW to the query process. If you're new, you can really help me out here by telling me (in the comment column) what you don't understand, a term you don't recognize, or anything else that puzzles you. Please don't be afraid to "look stupid" because you're NOT. You're learning and we all learned this stuff, even me.
And if you're wondering, at least three other readers are wondering too.
Effective Query Letters for Writers Jumping in to the Query Pond
1. A query letter is what you send to an agent to introduce yourself and entice her to read your full manuscript.
A. By introduce yourself, I do not mean "Hi my name is Felix Buttonweezer"B. By entice her to read I do not mean "Hi my name is Felix Buttonweezer, and I've written a book that will knock your sox off!"C. Avoid the temptation to do something new, innovative or "more sensible" when querying.
(2) The one thing you must do in a query is tell me about the story:
Even in character driven books, someone (usually the main character) has to want something.Example: In The Hunger Games, Katniss Everdeen wants to save her sister's lifeExample: In every Perry Mason novel ever written, Mason wants justice for his clients.So, what does Harry Potter want?Resist the temptation to build the world, include a synopsis (that's a separate document) or tell me EVERYTHING.
(3) Getting plot on the page: once you know what your main character wants, what's keeping him from getting it? (What/who is the antagonist?)
(4) Getting stakes on the page: how will your main character have skin in the game? What will s/he have to sacrifice, change, give up to attain her goal?
Stakes are why we care.It's essential to show me why I will care about what happens if you want me to read the book.
(6) Close with "thank you for your time and consideration. (thanks Dena!)
(7) The bad news: this is true for memoir as well.
General tips (there will be examples when needed on the overhead projector, but NOT on the handouts)
1. Queries should run about 250 words, excluding the pages you are asked to send with the query.
2. Don't put your contact info or my name/address at the top of the query.
3. Don't tell me what I'm looking for UNLESS you are querying in reply to something specific like #MSWL
4. Don't tell me you followed the directions. I can tell when you didn't.
5. Some agents like queries to be personalized. I think it's an utter waste of time, but pay attention to whether you need that.
6. Most agents get annoyed if you spell their name wrong. Some of us get over it more easily than others.
7. Don't worry about making mistakes. There is no such thing as the query police nor a black list. The worst thing you can do is not query.
8. Obsessing about following the directions will not make the difference between yes and no.
Personalization doesn't change no to yes.A misplaced comma will not kill you.
9. There are lots of ways to screw up. The only one that is fatal is bad writing.
Signs of bad writing: homonyms, spelling mistakes, grammar mistakes. Describing women by how they look, men by how they act. Describing any woman as a blonde bombshell (i.e. cliché and BAD ONES)
10. Rejection isn't personal (although I never take it well either.)
I have to turn down GOOD AND PUBLISHABLE books that don't fit what I'm looking for, are too close to something I have already, I don't think I can sell, are on a topic I really can't get too excited about, categories I'm not strong in. Every single agent in the world does the same.
11. If you've only revised 10 times, you're barely getting started. I routinely revise 20+ times on my "query" letters (which are pitch letters to editors).