Thursday, July 14, 2011

Writing a query letter makes me cry blood

Okay, fine, it's not that bad. But it's surprisingly hard. Different agents have different standards and preferences, and the purpose of the query is completely different from the manuscript itself. When you're writing a manuscript, you're telling the story. But when you're writing a query letter, you're selling the story. And yes, I do find myself quite clever.

So what are the differences?

I'm no query expert, but I think the biggest difference between the query letter and the actual manuscript is what trips up most writers. The query letter is a marketing piece for your book - it's like the back cover copy. It's meant to boil the plot down to the most essential and exciting elements, and leave just enough of a hook that the agent wants to know more. I think it's hard sometimes for us to separate ourselves from the story enough to step back and look at it in a business context, but if you're querying that's exactly what you have to do. It's not pleasure anymore, it's not personal fun, it's a business proposition. Your book will help people pay their mortgages, and not just your own, so you've got to learn how to sell the experience.

I've perused the archives of Query Shark, read sample queries of authors who have landed agents, read  sample structured query letters, and I see the same things over and over. Writers giving too much backstory, writers trying to include too many storylines, writers not recognizing the hook in their own story. The query is not just about "here's the plot of my book." It's "here's enough interesting stuff about my book with good voice that you want to request more."

Think of it like a date - do you tell someone on a first date where you went to middle school and high school and how you have an uncle with diabetes and you once had an addiction to caffeine pills and here's every favorite album you've ever had? (Please say no) No, you tell them the interesting bits, just enough of the story to get to date number two. Once you're on date number two they're bought in and you can roll out the caffeine addiction.

What about you? Have you written a query letter? Did you also feel like you needed a cookie after the first (second, third, nine-hundredth) draft? Do you have a different take on queries?

5 comments:

Laurel Garver said...

I've done some querying with only minimal nibbles and am back rewriting the query yet again. While I've had loads of people crit my manuscript, I didn't get as much feedback on the query, so I plan to this time.

It's possible to oversimplify your plot to the point it misrepresents the story. That was my problem. It is super helpful to get assistance from those who know your story well and can guide you toward the most important interesting bits to include, and what to leave out.

CATHY CHAPATY said...

For me, queries are harder to write than the manuscript. I'm not a natural "seller". But I have good, knowledgeable people in my life who help me, push me, and are honest with me about what works and what doesn't.

I've had readers (not my friends) read my queries with this question in mind: "Would YOU want to see more?" If they don't, I know it's back to the drawing board for me.

Yes, queries can be a bloody affair....

Christina Lee said...

Totally!!!! And "bloody hell" :D

Stina Lindenblatt said...

Cookie? Try a bottle of wine (or whine).

I wrote mine for my WIP while the ms was out with beta readers. But now I have to rewrite it because of some big plot changes. Grrr. ;)

Lola Sharp said...

I have yet to write a query letter. I'm getting very close to having to. (the reason I haven't is that while I have written 4 novels -- and about to start a 5th -- I am a slow and picky reviser. All 4 of them are at different phases in the revision/edit process. Also, they're all in different genres. (I'm very omnivorous with my reading, listening, watching, writing tastes. I like all genres. And THAT is a problem for agents and publishers. They like their writers to make a name for themselves--and market--in ONE genre) So, I've been writing everything I've felt the need/calling to write and kinda trying to see if I naturally fell deeper into one of them. (no...I still like it all. *sigh*)
Anywhoodles, I havent attempted the evil query yet. I'm not going to be able to avoid it much longer. I'm going to have to pick one and go for it. O_0

I'm pretty good at critiquing them, strangely (almost all of my writer friends that I've helped with their <S & query have all since been signed...most of them sold, too.) So if you ever need me to take a peek at one, I'm happy to help out.
I hope you are having a great summer...I'm trying to catch up on everyone's blogs. Miss visiting with everyone.
Hugs,
Lola