Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Five Quick and Dirty Query Tips


I know it sounds ridiculous but one of the first things that I said to myself after I signed with my agent was "I never have to write a query letter again."  Sure, there are plenty of other perks to crossing the agent threshold (plenty) but I think, as writers, we all know the terror and anxiety of the query letter.  So, I thought I'd take some of the advice that our little critique group have filled each other's inboxes with and share it with you.

1. Chill Out

So, you finished your book.  Awesome.  Now, calm down.  Yes, you have every right to be excited.  YOU FINISHED A BOOK.  But, if you go and just slap together a query and start flinging it out into agent's inboxes all over the globe, you're doomed.  I'm sure it took you a while to write your book so I'm pretty sure you can wait another month (or two) and not do something rash.  Now take a little time to chill out and get your head on straight.  Cause' you're going to need that head.

2.  Do Your Homework

Agents do not make it a secret what they want.  They'll tell you exactly what they want in the query.  So, why put yourself at an early disadvantage by not paying attention to them?  Send them the right number of pages, make sure they represent the genre that you're writing in, and acknowledge that you've at least done more than just looking them up on Querytracker.

3.  Keep It Simple and Then Make It Pretty

I think a lot of people try to jam the whole enchilada into their query.  See, my story, it's like about this kid from the wrong side of the tracks and he loves to read comic books and his favorite comic book is this one about this guy and then he hits his head on a rock and he wakes up in the comic book's universe but it's all just in his head and he's really in a coma and the superhero represents his dad who is sitting at his bedside and -- Boil down your story to its most important details.  Once upon a time there was a (blank) who did (blank and blank and blank) in order to keep (blank) from happening.  The nitty-gritty of your story followed by what is at stake.  I see tons of people forget to include what is on-the-line.  Once you have the basics condensed like that, get back in there and add your voice.  Trust me...get the simple version down first and then make it pretty.  You'll thank me later.

4.  Get Some Help

You didn't write your book alone did you?  You had people beta-read it.  You sent important scenes off to your critique partners to make sure you had it perfect and were hitting all the notes you were hoping to.  Get those same people to lend you a hand.  If they've read your book already, they're going to know if you're hitting the mark in your query.  But, don't stop there. Send it off to some people who haven't read your book, too.  They'll be just like agents and will be able to give you spot-on feedback about whether they'd want to read more.  Don't do this alone.

5.  Chill...again.

Honestly.  You just finished your book and you should be proud and excited and a little freaked out all at once.  But, slow down and take your time.  The last thing you want to do is misrepresent a great book with a mediocre query.  Don't sell yourself short by rushing into querying.  Polish your query until it shines and then make a plan.  Even once you start querying, slow down.  Start out small.  Take whatever feedback you get from your first few queries and give yourself a chance to either modify your query letter or your sample pages.  Trust me, I made the mistake of sending out a query-bomb and it gives you no room to wiggle in.

--Paul



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