Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Chapter Five: Writing the Query Letter

It’s time for me to make some decisions about the query letter I wrote a year ago when I did my first search for a literary agent. I started the letter during the period when I was editing my manuscript, scrutinizing every word and nuance in it as I am prone to do. Focusing on the query during breaks from editing gave me a sense of moving forward, my first real-world step toward getting published.

I got into a pattern of working on the letter, letting it cool off for a week or two, re-reading it, and revising it, a process that went on for months. Sometimes I decided it was all wrong, deleted everything, and started over again. For what amounts to a one-page document, writing a query takes a lot of work. It’s a lot harder than it sounds. The letter needs to be as perfect as I can make it.

Agents receive hundreds of queries each week, a discouraging reality. That means I only have seconds to attract an agent’s attention and convince him/her my manuscript is dynamic enough to warrant asking me to submit some pages or chapters to read. Making a favorable impression in a sentence or two means they must contain that special something.

What is that special something? What can I say to make my query spring out of a stack of hundreds of other hopeful letters? I wish I had the magic formula. Unfortunately I don’t so my Plan B is visiting some of the dozens of websites of literary agents who give advice about what grabs their attention and what turns them off. I like it when agents include successful query letters and analyze them by sentence and paragraph, pointing out what makes those particular letters stand out. I especially look for letters that have a tone that suits my mystery and me personally. Sample queries are a lot more helpful to me than the vague advice to be totally fascinating but not cutesy – lots of interpretations in those extremes.

Some online sites offer forums for writers to post their query letters and receive critique and feedback from peers. Sounds a little out there for me but I may suck up my trepidation and try it.

Although I didn’t get an agent to represent my novel last time, I got a couple positive responses so the letter must’ve had something going for it. With the passage of time and a fresh perspective, maybe I’ll revise my query or maybe I’ll find a sample letter that inspires me to start all over with a different approach. It took me months to write the first letter so this one won’t be quick and easy either. My goal is to entice an agent into reading the entire query and then asking to read the entire manuscript.

Let’s get published!

1 comment:

Kathryn Magendie said...

Good luck on the query letter and the query itself (or queries)! I was always horrid at writing them.