Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Querying the Query Letter or The Necessary Evil

A tree hugging rock at Franconia Notch, New Hampshire.

In the shadow of a calling I found myself . . . 
         Wishing to break my silence and be politically incorrect.

Musical Moment
                                               ~ “Searching”  Riley Lee

I love query letters with a burning consuming passion.  I love query letters so much, I’d give up chocolate, cheese and wine for it.  I love query letters. . . 

I know, I’m not kidding anyone.  Query letters suck moose antlers, but they are evil, umm, I mean a necessary evil in becoming a published writer.

What is a query letter, you ask?  It is a formalized letter to propose fiction or non-fiction ideas that a writer sends to a book or magazine editor, literary agent or publishing house (The latter is soon to be the obliterated last “open door to direct submit” as publishers are becoming increasingly overwhelmed with the number of submissions and are requiring writers to have a literary agent.  Honestly, I think they’re sick of finding silverfish in their sandwiches).  Commentary aside, that’s a pretty good definition, but what you don’t see written is that a query letter is the bane of the existence of every writer out there.  

The query letter is a modern day torture device that can make the best of the best writers fall to their knees and offer up their current existence or future reincarnations for the perfect query letter.

I have been knocking my head against my walls trying to write one. I’ve written a book. An entire finished book, but my struggle with the query letter is slowly leaching the blood out of my pores.  Seriously.  I can’t wear long sleeves anymore.  It’s unsightly.  So to give myself some inspiration, I challenged myself to find queries of already published books as well as reading book blurbs (front flaps or book backs).  What I have learned is that catching the eye of an agent or editor based on your query letter can be a very subjective and torturous endeavor for the writer.  Basically, there is no real reason or rhyme why one query letter works over the other.  I have hunted down “winning” query letters (not so easy to find) and read through book blurbs (if the back is not not filled with celebrity accolades to the writer/story instead) to understand what it is that makes people buy a book.  The cover and title may catch the eye, but it’s the blurb and maybe the first few pages that makes someone want to invest their money and time in your story. 

After this experiment, I walked away more confused than when I began.  Some of the queries and blurbs didn’t interest me, while some made me check out their books on Amazon or lug some home from the Barnes-n-Noble.  This exercise forced me to sit back and try to think like an agent or editor and I discovered it’s a hard job, but basically, it all boils down to the taste and wants of who you’re sending the query to.  Agents and editors are going to ask to see and represent the stories they want to read and feel passionate about.  Just like the buying public, your story may not be their thing or it could be, but you better get that query letter just right so that it interests them enough to ask for more.  Oh, and not just “right” with hooking the reader, but right in grammar, punctuation, and getting the person name right.  These elements are just as important as the content.

I did discover something though.  I found an easier way ~for me~ to understand the elements of a query letter.  Check back later this week when I describe my stripped down findings of what makes a query letter.  Simple language, (not necessarily) simple solutions.  Hopefully, it will work for you as well.

To see some query letters that landed book deals, here is a link to Writer’s Digest who ran a series called Successful Queries with comments by top agents and editors who acquired these books.  

 Afterwards, pop back over and tell me what you think.  If you were an editor or agent, would you  have asked to read more?

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