Every writer serious about their craft, fiction or non-fiction, knows this one simple truth: Query letters are the devil. It’s hard to condense your whole work, which you spent months or years laying out into a XX,000 word masterpiece, into one paragraph to fit on a one page query letter.
There’s no getting around it. Unless you are going to self-publish (and I’ll admit, I’m no expert in the area so I don’t know how self-publishing works), you have to sweat through writing out a submission or query letter to agents, editors, or publishers, only to get a healthy stack of rejection letters.
In lieu of fresh chocolate chip cookies, which I have yet figured out how to share on a satisfying level through the internet, I’ll share some of my favorite advice on query letters that, while not making the process any more pleasant, will, I hope, calm some of your distracting fears.
Dumb down your pitch. Make it simple. They get hundreds of these a day; no one wants to slog through complicated language and too-lofty prose in order to get to the heart of the matter. Keep it simple, showcase your writing style while telling what your book is about, and move on. But don’t be condescending. That’s just stupid of you.
Put the problem and a generalization of the world in the first sentence. Don’t mistake this for what your story is about; just get it out there quick so that you can get to what your story means.
Do not use platitudes and empty phrases to convey what your story is about. Write from your heart.
The point of a query letter is to catch attention. Only include information to this effect. It’ll help keep it short while still giving you a better chance to catch attention.
Do your research on the agents. Know who takes what. Take the time to research the works they represent, and make sure yours will fit in there. If you mention in the letter that you know something about them (in specifics) and love X work that they represented, you’ll get farther.
Don’t use the same email to send to multiple agents. While they assume you’re sending it out to multiple people at the same time, they don’t want to see who you’re querying. If they see multiple recipients, they’ll automatically delete it.
Who? What? Where? Why should you care? These questions will help you get a clean pitch that is relevant and will catch attention.
Take the time to get your work in the best shape possible before you submit it. Agents remember when you’ve submitted to them. If you send them something sub-par, they probably won’t give it another look after you’ve polished it up more. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Take your time.
I repeat: SAVE YOURSELF FROM PREMATURE SUBMISSION!
Never apologize if you don’t have credentials. Just display confidence in your writing (because you clearly believe in it if you’re bothering to submit it). Find a unique way to present yourself, and it’ll all work out. Agents love new authors!
Your query letter is not forwarding your letter. Think of it more as a showcase of your potential as a writer. That is the first thing the agent sees. Wow them with that. Take the time to make it and your work fantastic. Enjoy each rejection letter as a step closer to getting published.
Another suggestion an agent dropped at San Francisco Writers Conference was to team up with your critique partner and write each other’s pitches. When you’re the one who took the time to write that many words, it’s hard to sum it up in a few. But your partner, who only worked with you on those words, is less attached and would have an easier time of chopping it down, and vice versa.
So team up, take a deep breath before you start writing your letter, get yourself a big pile of emergency chocolate, and relax. It’s not the end of the world, and you do have time to get it right.
P.S. Check out my links for authors tab. There are other blogs out there, like Query Shark and Nathan Bransford’s post on writing pitches, that are fantastic resources for authors struggling to put a pitch together.