Perfecting the Query Letter Part 1

For those of you who are looking at getting published the traditional way, you should know that you’ll need to perfect your query letter in order to hook an agent. Yeah, you’re going to need an agent if you want a big publisher to consider your work. Of course, hooking an agent with the query letter only gets your foot in the door. You’ll still need to deliver with a fantastic, hard-to-put-down manuscript. But in order to master the dreaded query letter, you first need to understand what NOT to do.

-DON’T address your query like this: Dear Sir or Madam, To Whom it May Concern, Dear Agent, To (every agent on your list in one swoop), Dear Jenny (when you really meant Thelma—Jenny was the last agent you queried), Dear Dannie (when her name is spelled Dani), Dear Mrs. Ben Doppler, Dear Mr. Lisa Miller (get the gender right), To my Dream Agent, or To my Future Agent. Be professional. Take the time to personally address each query and, PALEEZE, get the name right—spelling included.

-DON’T send the query without having someone else look at it first. Get this person to check for grammar, spelling, and punctuation, and to see if the query makes sense. As a freelance editor, every once in a while, I’ll come across a query letter that just doesn’t make sense. Maybe the grammar and spelling are fine, but something’s missing in the text. When I note this on the writer’s query, I’m not surprised by his reaction. “Oh. I meant to put that in there.” This problem isn’t any different from when you wrote your story. Sometimes, you’re too close to the material, and what you intended to write doesn’t actually make it to the computer. However, because you planned on adding that tidbit, when you read your query before sending it, your mind played tricks on you and made you believe that information was in the query.

-DON’T make the query all about you. Your bio should be a short paragraph, definitely shorter than the query’s blurb. Unless you’re a bestselling author looking for a new agent, your bio won’t sell your work. That’s the blurb’s job. So, shorten the bio and save as much space as possible for the blurb.

-DON’T give the ending away. A query letter is different than a synopsis in that you’re meant to tease the reader in the query. Don’t reveal the ending. If you’re not sure how far you can go with this, take a look at the back of book covers. Those blurbs are often very similar to query letter blurbs. Study them, and you’ll probably find writing your own will become easier.

-DON’T add non-relevant writing experience to your bio just to show you’ve been published. While you may have had hundreds of articles published in journals and magazines, that doesn’t tell me you can write fiction. For that matter, just because you published a romantic short story, it doesn’t mean you can write a full-length romance novel. And even if you published a historical romance novel, it doesn’t mean you can write dark romantic suspense. Some writers can write more than one genre. Others can’t. Read agents’ blog posts. They’ve said time and time again, that adding non-relevant writing experience clutters your query letter. Some have written that it’s okay for you to mention you’ve published in a different genre, but they don’t want you to list all the titles, unless you’re talking about the same genre. You could list one title (in case they want to Google it), then mention that’s one of however many books you have previously published. Others want you to only list the publishing house, so they can look you up. And when you mention being published, if you’re self-published and don’t have high sales to brag about, you probably don’t want to mention it at all.

Because I came up with so many things you shouldn’t do when writing a query letter, I’ll break this down into a series of posts. You’ll see the next post on this subject on Tuesday.

If you need help with your query letter or synopsis, I’m a freelance editor and can help. Check out my query and synopsis critique packages.

Lynnette Labelle
www.labelleseditorialservices.com

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