Tag Archives: query letters

CRAFT TUESDAY: The Query Letter (Part 3)

 This blog is actually the second part of the last blog.  In July, I discussed the first two paragraphs of your letter.   With this one, I’ll summarize what you need to complete that letter.

PARAGRAPH THREE   Sell yourself—truthfully—as a writer, not a great mom or a fine person or a real sweetheart.

Do not write:  “I have to sell because I hate my job and want to quit.”  Not, “My mother loves this book.”  Sell the editor/agent on YOU as a writer, tell what is interesting/important about YOU as a writer.

1.  What’s best to mention   Start with your writing related history and credits.  Be sure to mention any significant writing groups you belong to, for example, member of Austin RWA but not “a group of friends get together and read our poems.”  Mention if you recently went to a national or large conference.  List  publish articles even if for small magazines.   After I sold my first book, The Mad Herringtons I realized I had few writing credits to and should get busy expanding that.  I submitted and sold to the Houston Chronicle and Women’s World Magazine so I had more credits.

You don’t have to list everything.  If you’re going the traditional road to publication—print—editors may not be interested in self-published or ebooks unless they sold gazillions of copies.   Publishing has changed a great deal from when I first presented this workshop and I do NOT wish to insult anyone who has published in the method he/she has chosen BUT an editor/agent might believe you self-pubbed because no traditional publisher would buy your book.  If you mention them, attach good reviews of high sales numbers.

2.  What’s relevant?  What should be in that paragraph?

a.         If you have experience in an area, use it.  I wrote a book about a marriage counselor (never published) so it was relevant that I have done marriage counseling.   I wouldn’t mention when pitching a different book.

b.         My father was a doctor. The Path to Love was about  an MD and an orderly.  I did spend a lot of time in Dad’s office and the hospital when I was a kid, but it wasn’t relevant enough to mention in a query letter.  

c.         I’m an ordained minister whose served—and preached in—several churches.  This worked well as a credit for my Love Inspired and FaithWords books but a secular company wouldn’t be interested at all.

NEXT:   THE CLOSING PARAGRAPH of only a sentence or two.

1.   If your query is in a letter, be sure to state, “Enclosed are a synopsis, writing history and an SASE,”  and make sure to enclose them.   The size of the return envelope and amount of postage depend on what you want returned.  Usually writers don’t ask  for the return of all material, only the letter from the editor/agent.

I always included a synopsis.  If the editor/agent doesn’t want this, they can toss it.  If  they are interested,  you’re a step closer and cutting down on time.

2.         Next:   “Thank you.   I look forward to working with you.”

3.         Say if they want anything more, you’d be happy to send it.

5.         Sign and send.

THEN STOP!  Don’t badger.   After 4-6 weeks, you may call or email.  After that, contact may be counterproductive.   After two or three months and another email or call, forget it.  Call it a rejection.  If it isn’t, that will be a nice surprise when you received a request for a full.

I’ll never forget the time I called and wrote an editor only to receive a really, REALLY  mean rejection which suggested strongly I had  no talent.  I feared I had badgered her too much.   I discovered weeks later that her father had just died.  We don’t know what may be going on in the life of an editor or agent so be senstive to that.  

If your receive a rejection, you MAY call and ask why.  I never have because, basically, I’m a wimp but I’ve know people who have.  Even if you’ve been rejected, you may want to write a thank you note.  The agent/editor will remember you and  you want that memory to be positive.

My husband and I published an on-line magazine many years ago.  We rejected a story and received three or four emails from the writer DEMANDING an explanation.  We decided we’d never buy from her because she was so difficult.    You want that memory to be, “What a nice person,”  “How professional”  or  “Probably would be nice to work with.”  EDITORS and AGENTS remember.  They also move around AND they have friends in publishing.

August 7th, I’ll post the final section of the query letter.    I’ll show you what I mean by “PUBLISHING HISTORY” and give some general thoughts.

Craft Tuesday: The query letter, part one

A query letter is, very simply, the way you sell yourself to an editor or agent.  It’s your first contact and the first impression you’ll make  so it has to be good! 

Someone once told me that a query letter should be different for an editor and for an agent.  I don’t know why.  Yes, some small things–such as list of writers editors work with vs. list agents represent–will change but with both of them, you’re writing a pitch.   You are selling yourself, your talent, you voice, your vision and your book.

For both editors and agents, RESEARCH is the most important part and that starts before you write that query letter.  That is the first and probably most important point of this series of blogs.  Very simply, if your proposal lands on the desk of the wrong person, it will not sell.   It may not sell if it lands on the desk of an editor who buys the line you write, but it certainly won’t sell if you send an inspy to Blaze.   Editors have told me that a huge percentage of proposals and/or queries they receive are not in the type of fiction they publish.  Why waste your time and theirs?  Do you really want another rejection?

Because I did my research,  for the three years before I sold,  every editor I queried requested either a partial or complete.   Editors want to find new authors.  If you send a competent query to the RIGHT editor, he/she will ask from more.  Repeat that sentence several times until you believe it. 

With agents it’s harder to get a request.  They know the areas they represent so well, they know exactly what will appeal to the editors they often work with they may reject a marvelous manuscript because they know Susie Editor at Wonderful Books isn’t looking for an amnesia story now.  Also, the agent may represent several authors in the genre you write and cannot take on another without having her clients compete for slots.  The word is that it’s harder to get an agent than to sell to a publishing company.   I believe it.

So, first, know your market.  But how?  I write women’s fiction.  I learned about writing in Romance Writers of America (RWA).  For those reasons, what I write will have to do with the women’s fiction/romance market.   It is applicable to anyone writing a query letter in any market, but you’ll have to alter it to reflect your field.

One of the first stops would be a guide to the market.   You can buy this (check reviews first) or find it in the reference department of the library. 

On the RWA members’ website, there is a full list of RWA-approved editors and another of approved agents.   Cynthia Myers sends out emails about the market for free.  Lots of places to look.   Goggle publishing market.   You’ll find a bunch–make sure you can trust them.  Predators and Editors is also a great place to start research.

Ask other writers, especially published writers.  We know most of the larger publishing companies and can tell you in a second if you’re targeting the right place or give you information about an  editor.  If you know someone represented by or working with an  agents or editor you’re interested, asked many questions.  When I asked a friend about an agent I wanted to sign with, my friend said people often find her brusque.   I could not work with someone intimidating.  Some writers want unvarnished honesty.  I don’t handle that well.   I need honesty covered in layers of bubble wrap. 

About ten years ago, I got a letter from an agent who wanted to represent me.  At first, I was dancing, then I had some questions.  She’d received only a partial from an unpublished writer and wanted to represent me?  Seemed odd.  And don’t agents call when they want to sign a client?  So I went to an RWA site and asked anyone who knew about this agent to get in touch with me.  What I heard was enough for me to turn this down.  Another time, I loved chatting with the agent.  She was even discussing movie deals–wow!  Still I went on line and discovered only the previous day she’d been dropped from the list of approved agents due to a violation of RWA standards.  With a third, I knew how much trouble a friend had had with an agent, but I thought she was a top agent and signed with her.  After all, I’m a lovely person and we’ll get along fine.  No, we didn’t.  As with my friend, she never submitted anything and never gave me any feedback.  I fired her after nearly two years and lost that much of my career.  Ask questions and listen to answers.  Don’t give up part of your career with a bad agent or one that doesn’t fit.

Second, go to a conference and network.  Meet professionals and writers.   At a conference, I once sat next to a writer who’d just started her first book .  As we chatted I asked, “What line are you targeting?”  She didn’t know.  I asked other questions such as how many words, then asked, “How many sex scenes?”  She look at me as if I were a pervert.  “Does that make any difference?”  Yes, it does.   Some lines expect a hot book with at least two fully consummated scenes.  The lines I write for do not want sex scenes.  So, again, you need to know this. 

I strongly suggest you check the credentials of publishing companies and agents.  So many new companies are springing up it’s hard to know if all are legitimate.   With the disaster at Dorchester, even what had been considered reputable companies took the money and ran.   The first company I sold to (not that I ever got any money), went bankrupt.  I was lucky to get my rights back only weeks before they went under.  I would have   lost that book forever, wound up an asset with a bankrupt company.    

Next Craft Tuesday:    Practical tips about writing the letter!   (July 3)


Blood, sweat, and ink

Because I know not all readers of this blog are writers–most of you aren’t quite crazy enough to put yourself through such torture–I haven’t talked about the “HOW” of writing.   Starting the first Tuesday of every month, I’ll add information on various topics having to do with craft.  I’ll start with “How to Write a Perfect Query Letter” and will stick with that for a few months or until I’m finished.   After that, I’m open to suggestions.  Do you have an writing questions/problems/frustrations you’d like me to address? 

I will call this–not surprisingly–CRAFT TUESDAY.

The first section of writing a perfect query letter will be June 5.  Hope you’ll drop by, learn something, and leave a comment or question.