Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Writers' Query Letter Thoughts

I'm just about ready to jump back into a novel I've started and had to put aside several times.  It's one of my favorite ideas, but things have gotten in way of my completing it even though I'm now about 2/3 of the way through.  As I reread, think about where I intended the story to go and where I could well make changes, my thoughts wandered off a bit to query letters.  What makes a ad query letter is foremost in my mind.  Things to avoid when sending your work out to be considered.

Here are a few I've learned over the years.

First, keep your letter short and tight.  By that I mean not over one page.  Editors and agents are busy people, much like yourself and don't have time to read lengthy queries.  Would you want to read something that went on and on while you have a stack of other things on your desk needing your attention?

Pay attention to your type, the kind it is, the size and the readability.  Don't make it fancy, don't let it be dim or in some strange color and make sure the print is at least 12 point.  If you were an agent or editor would you want to be squinching your eyes all day long trying to make out what someone has sent to you?  Don't make it easy for them to toss your query in the waste basket because it's tough to read.   This applies to a snail mailed query or one sent via Email.  Keep it simple, crisp, and very easily readable.

Another thing wise writers realize early on - don't send out a massive wave of queries that have no personalization to the person you're writing to.  Years ago that might have entailed photocopying a letter with no greeting at the beginning and mass mailing.  These days it can be a mass Email with the only acknowledgment of the recipient being the email address.  No, no, no.  Always research the place you're sending your latest written creation.  Find out to whom you should address it, and address that person in pleasantly formal fashion - using his or her name. It will pay off in the end.

Writers who are smart don't go into long rambling detail about ho hard they've worked on the novel being submitted. No doubt you have.  Wirters, in general, are a  hard working bunch.  But the agent or editor doesn't really care how hard you've worked.  He or she works hard too.  Besides, just working hard doesn't mean what you've written is good.  Sure hope it is since you've reached query point, but it's not guaranteed.

These days you want to give the person you're querrying an idea of who your audience may be, but don't go rambling on about how your novel appeals to "so-in-so" and there are millions of those so your book will sell millions of copies.  That's not going to impress anyone. Or such over-the-top claims may well impress them the WRONG way.

Consider every word you write in your query letter.  Does it move your cause forward?  It is informative and hopefully entertaining enough to grab their attention?  Are you avoiding going over old ground and being redundant?  Are your instructions for contacting you simple and straight-forward?  A physical address, a phone where you can be reached, a dependable Email address?   

Let them know the length of your work. Novel length varies with genre, etc.  Screen scripts should be uner 120 pages in script format.

These general ideas apply to any query - whether you're querrying a novel, a non-fiction work or a movie script. 

Be professional.

Be easy to reach.

Show 'em your stuff in that tightly written single page of your letter.  Remember, you're showing off your writing abilities in that letter just as you are in your work.

One particularly helpful site for writers about to undertake their first query letter is Charlotte Dillon's Resources. 

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