Perfecting the Query Letter Part 2

Last week, I started a series on what not to do when writing a query letter. Let’s look at some more things to avoid.

-DON’T tell the agent that you know she’ll love your story, or that your novel will make her millions. Don’t say your writing is better than one of her clients or a bestselling author. Focus on what the story is about. Let the agent be the judge on whether or not your writing is any good.

-DON’T forget to include your story’s major characters. If you wrote a romance, I’d expect to see the hero and heroine mentioned. If you wrote a romantic suspense, I’d also want to the villain to make an appearance in the query.

-DON’T ignore your protagonist’s GMCs (goals, motivations, conflicts). While you may not be able to show all of her internal and external GMCs, you need to hint at some of this. Otherwise, the agent won’t get a good sense of where the story is going or why she should care.

-DON’T write the query like it’s a book report. Add voice to the query, one that matches your novel’s voice, tone, and style. Remember, the query is the agent’s first exposure to your writing. Make it count.

-DON’T forget to include your name, address, e-mail address, and phone number on the query. Hey, this does happen. Imagine the agent’s frustration when she wants to contact this writer either to request more or to offer him a contract, but she can’t because the author didn’t leave any contact information. Granted, if you e-mailed your query, the agent should be able to reply to the e-mail, but some prefer to make that call. Don’t worry. If you forgot to add your phone number, she won’t pass on your work. She’ll simply send an e-mail.

-DON’T make your query letter longer than one page, single-spaced. I know this may be difficult, but it’s important. While there are exceptions out there, many agents have posted on their blogs that when they see a query is longer than a page, they won’t read it. Some claim the writer hasn’t done her homework or has shown a lack of respect for the agent’s (and the industry’s) guidelines. Others say the writer didn’t consider their time, or believes he is better than everyone else and doesn’t have to abide by the “rules”. My point is, no matter how you look at it, sending a query that’s longer than a page probably won’t sit well with the agent.

-DON’T send the query if the novel isn’t finished. Agents won’t help you brainstorm or figure out what would be a good story idea BEFORE you write the novel. That job belongs to critique partners and writing coaches (like me). Agents may do this if you’re their client, but don’t expect special treatment until that happens. Take the chance. Write the book, then send the query letter. Besides, there’s no way an agent, who doesn’t know your writing, can tell you if you’d be able to pull off that type of book. Some people are great storytellers who need to learn how to write a publishable book. Others know how to write but aren’t good storytellers. Unless the novel is complete, it’s hard to know if you fall under either of those categories, or if you are a good storyteller who also understands the writing craft.

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/writing coach and can help. Check out my query and synopsis critique packages.

Lynnette Labelle

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