Thursday, June 21, 2012

Query Me This

What I'm Reading NowThe Scorpio Races, by Maggie Stiefvater

Query letter.

Two words that spike my heart rate to unsafe levels. I've blogged about this before, but only in reference to a class I was taking and the feedback from my instructor. Now that I'm getting close to querying again (maybe. Keep your fingers crossed...), I've been thinking about this little letter and drafted a version I'm planning to send out in a few months' time. Which makes me even more excited to send it. I've got to hide the file or something so I stop messing with it.

For those of you who don't know what a query letter is, it's a one-page, single-spaced note/email of no more than 300 words or so, that has one goal and one goal only: to get an agent to request your manuscript. It consists of three seemingly harmless parts:

Paragraph One
Brief introduction, shameless agent flattery, reason you're querying this agent and not just everyone on, and the word count/genre/title of your book.

Paragraph Two
One-sentence hook followed by mini-synopsis. Synopsis should read like the jacket copy on the back of a book and give an idea of who the protagonist is, what his/her Big Problem is, and why he/she cannot simply walk away. Yes, that means you have to condense your 75k+ word novel into about 150 words. The 'hook,' a magical sentence that should touch on the novel's Big Problem and compel the agent to keep reading, should top the paragraph. That one sentence is probably the hardest thing I've ever crafted in my life. It's taken me ten months, one critique group and two query letter classes to create the mini-synopsis I have now, and I'm still working on my hook.

Paragraph Three
Any pertinent accomplishments as a writer (if you have none, leave them out), thank-you-for-your-time, and the all-important "May I send the manuscript to you?". I'll also add here that my manuscript's been through a dev edit for some extra brownie points.

A query letter is definitely not something to rush through, or you'll end up with all rejections at best, or on sites like SlushPile Hell at worst. At the publishing class I went to in Denver, agent Megibow said if you aren't getting a positive response of at least 40% (so, 2 'yes, send it!'s out of 5 submissions), look hard at your manuscript. That seemed like funny advice to me at the time, because a good query letter should fetch a 'yes' regardless of the manuscript, right? But Ms. Megibow said the query reveals more about the quality and readiness of the story than writers realize, and if it's lacking voice or clarity or excitement, the manuscript probably is, too.

My current query letter synopsis got the "I like it" from an agent at PPWC 2012, so I'm hoping I finally have a draft that can shine in the slush. Guess we'll see in a few months...!

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