No wonder after writing a few drafts of query letters last fall, I found a number of element in my story that needed rewriting.
Now the kicker: Last fall, I spent hours and hours researching online how to write query letters. I researched query letters in the indispensable Guide to Literary Agents. I studied Query Shark and other blogs with letters that had secured for their writers agents and, ultimately, publication.
|No Rules! Complete literary anarchy! Oh, what to do?|
In my research, I found so many opinions on what goes into a query letter--as well as the order. There were absolute Musts. There were absolute Must Nots.
And yet something different worked for everybody--even those whose query letters led to publication. Especially those whose query letters led to publication. Some put their mini-synopsis first. Some put their author bio and credentials first. Some address the agent directly, mentioning a time they'd crossed paths, or specific reason why that agent was suited to representing the work. Others did not have any direct address to the agent at all. Some even committed Must Nots, such as pitching another book in the same letter. Or writing the letter in the voice of a character. Or mentioning that this was a first novel.
And yet the letters still somehow worked for those writers--and their new agent partners.
This field's blessing--and curse--is its objectivity. Getting published depends on more than simply writing the "correct" query letter. If there was a checklist of absolutes, everyone (well, most everyone) would be published. It's not even just about writing the query letter well. There's more to be said about matching your book--and your query--to the right agent, than I think most of us realize or want to admit.
But there is some help out there!
For me, the most solid piece of advice that I have received regarding query writing has been to write your book summary as it would appear on the back cover. Describe your book in a way that would keep it in a potential reader's hands, instead of being placed back on the shelf. (The upside of this advice is that there are so many examples to look at. Think about your favorite books: What intrigued you about them so much, that you brought them home with you?)
The other tip that has stuck with me comes courtesy of agent Jill Corcoran, when she caught me on the fly at a conference (when I was just 8 pages into writing my book): What is your story about?
If you can't answer that in one sentence, you have some more work to do.
Here's to all of us and our desperate need to tell stories--a need that keeps us writing late and chases us out of bed early.