Monday, January 31, 2011

The Elusive Query Letter

*Disclaimer: I am not, nor never will I claim to be, an expert at writing queries. The following is information I’ve collected over time regarding query writing and what I’ve found that works and doesn’t work.*
Hand Writing
Now that we’ve gotten past the disclaimer, the following is a collection of what to do and perhaps, more importantly, what NOT to do when writing a query letter.
DO:
1) Add your TITLE IN CAPS and include genre and word count. Some argue to place this after DEAR AGENT’S NAME. Others argue to place this just before SINCERELY. I don’t think it matters either way (unless you find an agent’s preference in an interview, website, article, etc) as long as you include it.
2) Start your letter with DEAR AGENT’S NAME. If it is a snail mail query, put your contact information first, same as any business letter. If an email query, put this information after your signature. Either way do include an appropriate salutation Ms. or Mr. and the agent’s last name.
3) Write a hook – one sentence that draws your reader into the story. This is not as hard as it sounds, but describing hooks will take a whole other blog post, so I’m going to leave it at that.
4) Add one – and I repeat – ONE paragraph about your book. Some writers/authors/agents/editors/etc will argue this point. Some will say that you should have two or even three paragraphs. I’m telling you now that I’ve had the most requests by narrowing down the story to ONE paragraph. Agents are busy. Clear, concise queries will score far more points than large, multi-paragraph plot reviews. Trust me.
5) Personalize your query. This implies that you have done your research first and know the agents interests. Use this information in your query in ONE sentence only. For example: Based on your interview w/ X… OR From your blog…
6) Follow submission guidelines. If an agent states on their website to submit your query via snail mail on blue paper, perfumed in a lavender scent, and written in red crayon well consider the professionalism and validity of that particular agent. BUT, if all is on the up and up, submit your query in EXACTLY that format.
7) Add sample pages. If the agent doesn’t state how many pages, five is a safe number. HOWEVER, if the agent states NO sample pages, do NOT add them. See number 6 above. 
DON’T:
1) Start your query with DEAR AGENT. Agent’s have names and genders. Please discover both and use them appropriately.
2) Write a synopsis and try to pass it off as a query. They are VERY different things. Please research the difference. Great sites like www.absolutewrite.com  and www.queryshark.blogspot.com can help!
3) Write more than one paragraph for the summary portion of your query. If you’d like to argue this point, please see number 4 above.
4) Mass email queries. Yes, you should query more than one agent at a time. But, do NOT add the query to more than one sender in any given email. They will be blocked in spam filters and you will look foolish.
                a) Do NOT CC/BCC or anything like this, again spam filters.
                b) If you read number 5 in the DO list, you will know why this is also important.
5) Query a piece that is not complete. Your MS needs to be finished, edited, revised, polished and glowing!
Querying is a daunting process. For newbie writers, it can be downright paralyzing. Don’t let the fear stop you from taking this vital next step in your writing life. Research, practice and revise. My first query went through thirteen drafts before it started to garner interest.  So, don’t let the rejection get you down. J

Friday, January 21, 2011

Writing is NOT All I Know

I have never been a blogger. The urge to write in a non-fiction format never even crossed my mind, until today. I read on a social forum that one writer wrote because "it is all I know how to do". It's not the first time I've heard a writer express this feeling about writing. But, today, it hit me how self defeating this idea can be.

Writing isn't all I know how to do and it isn't the only thing I do. Yes, I have a passion for it. Yes, I take it seriously. Yes, I would like it to one day be my full time job. But the only thing I know how to do? Hardly.

I wear many hats. I'm an academic, a reader, an administrator, a teacher, a martial artist, a friend, a sister, a wife, a Buddhist, an animal activist, a traveller, and the list goes on and on. I know how to do many things. I've met many people and learned from many experiences.

Writing is not all I know how to do. It is, however, the one thing I cannot stop doing. I am defined in a hundred different ways, but the title of writer is one of the most important. I may lose some other defining attributes along the way. For example when I was ten I desperately wanted to be a dolphin trainer. I didn't quite aspire to that career field. My interests changed over the years. Yet, writer, from the time I wrote my first poem at six years old has always been a part of the many names, descriptions, and ways that defines me.

So, dear reader, it is perfectly acceptable to know more, to be defined in different ways. It does not lessen the value of writing or anything that you do.

My question for the day, what defines you?