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Friday, February 25, 2011

Lost in the Query Letter Woods

Do I have any idea what I’m doing?  No.  Do any of us?  No.  Here is my story.  Be entertained by my blunders and learn from my mistakes.
I finally wrote “The End” on my first manuscript at the beginning of January.  After jumping up and down for several days, toasting with my blog partner, and printing my book—just to look at it and smile, I had no idea what to do next.  As I began the editing process, I bought two books on Amazon.com.  One book was a listing of literary agents and the other was a “how to” book on writing query letters.  I was proud of my resourcefulness.  Why did everyone stress over this process when there was a book conveniently for sale out there that would hold my hand, and walk me through the writing of this dreaded letter? 
I read.  I highlighted.  I dog-eared pages.  Then I wrote a two page long letter proclaiming in the first paragraph my need of a literary agent and why the reader of my letter would be the agent for me.  Keep in mind I sucked up in a manner that was still vague enough to be a form letter or “specifically unspecific” as I like to say.  I then outlined the entire book—no need to look any further to discover more about this story, it was all right there.  How easy I was making some literary agent’s job!  Then I closed with my list of writer credentials which included my college degree in an unrelated field, my love of books, and my travels to places not even in my book.   My query letter was written just as the wonder book told me to write it.  Perfect!  
And then I sent it to a few literary agents.  I was sure this was it.  This was all it would take to get “The call.”  That was when I started getting the form rejection letters.  After the forth rejection that, (Thank you Jessica Faust at Bookends Literary Agency) said I didn’t have enough hook, I started to do some research.  I began to follow every literary agent’s blog that exists or once existed.  I listened to their complaints.  I read their critiques.  I learned.
Here is what I found:  I was so wrong; it was embarrassing.  A query letter should be 1 page or less, (250 words.)  It should start with the synopsis, which should tell what the story is about without revealing the ending.  If you can’t hear the engaging voice of the movie trailer guy in your head as you read it, it needs more hook.  Use phrases like: she had a choice to make…or he had to decide between…  The essence of your writing should shine though the synopsis of your book without telling a series of events.  Take out the agent kiss up routine.  Hello, they know why you need an agent!  That’s what they do for a living.  And if you, like me, have no experience, don’t try and make some up.  Let your story speak for itself.  To summarize, start with your synopsis, then tell the title, word count and genre, thank them and that is all you need.  Cut everything else!
Now, here I sit about to send out the first round of revised query letters to the literary world.  I hope the Query Shark will be proud, and she and her friends will not rip me limb from limb.  I’ll let you know what happens this time…
Am I the only one who has been lost in the query letter woods?

3 comments:

Ann Stewart said...

You are a giant step ahead of most, Elizabeth. Most wouldn't be able to see their mistakes and would keep sending the same letter out, sure they'd done the right thing. You are big enough to see the issues, research to find a better way, and try again without giving up. The road between "the end" and "the call' is longer then the road you've already taken, the "hey, I just wrote a book' road, but you're driving down it well. Good Luck with the new letters See you Saturday.

Heather Molloy said...

Don't we wish it were as easy as buying a book and following the instructions? I'm glad you found a path through the query woods and I imagine you'll have a lot more success with this new and improved query letter.

That's why we call this a journey, right? Or as I say, "It's a marathon, not a sprint race."

By the way, we may need to come up with an excuse for mimosas this Saturday too. Making PRO? Writing a new query letter? The day ending in a 'y'? :)

Elizabeth Michels said...

I think the day ending in a Y is a perfect reason for mimosas! I mean that only happens 7 out of 7 days a week. It deserves celebration. Oh yeah, and we can celebrate the silver lining to the rejections--going PRO!

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