Friday, October 11, 2013

Welcome to Query Letter Hell (for middle grade, and BEYOND)

So let's talk a little bit about Query Letters -

Alright, alright! Chill out! This has to be done!

Before we get started, I'm going to give you a little bit of a warning.

I am by no means a "go-to" person for Query Letter advice. I for one despise query letters. They are torturous, foul beasts that need to be sent back to the confines of hell where they belong. Just the idea of summarizing your novel into a few measly paragraphs makes the average writer want to rip off their hands and fling them into the fiery pits of Mount Doom.

Another thing is, there are so many different opinions, suggestions, tutorials, guides etc on how to write a Query Letter scattered across the internet and various books that this is just my humble interpretation. Take it with a grain of salt. I'm just trying to help based on my own experiences dealing with query letters for the last year or so.

Unfortunately, they are what separates you from snagging that gold star agent that you have been drooling over for the last year or so.

With that said, let us continue. I'll separate this into a few Q&A's to make it easier to follow.


What is a Query Letter? 

Simple question, right? Unfortunately, it's not an easy answer. To sum it up, a query letter is a short (typically one page) pitch sent to agents with the hope of peeking their interest enough that they request pages to read based off your manuscript. You need to be creative, yet professional. All in all, you need to show agents that this is the book they have been waiting for their entire lives!

What is a Query Letter Format?

It generally follows this format (although it differs depending on personal preference). So don't go too crazy over formatting. 

The Greeting : (Dear Awesome Agent,)

The Reason you are writing : (some people don't do this. But it adds a personal touch which agents seem to appreciate) I am writing to you today seeking representation for my kick-arse manuscript. I feel that you may be interested since A) you represent these books in my category B) you are looking for a book of this type based on your website / twitter / etc. C) an interview I read says you are seeking this type of book.

The Hook : This is your chance to reel in that agent. Usually this includes a one sentence tag line bringing us right into the thick of your story. You should be introducing your MC in this paragraph as well as giving as a strong idea as to what awesome plot line he is up against. Should be short an sweet. But it all depends on taste.

The well crafted "synopsis" : Summarize your book, but make it enticing. Don't summarize each chapter, because that's not what a query is. Give us the juicy details, but leave us hanging for the outcome. Make us want to know what is going to happen to your main character if he doesn't "Save the day". Back flaps of a novel are a great way to get an idea of what should be in this paragraph.

The Bio : Depends on you. If you have a bio with some great credentials to back your book, go ahead and throw it in there!

The Closing : If you haven't already given your word count, title, and category. Now's the time. Thank them for taking the time to read it, and sign off. 

That's it. Easy, right?

Yeah, you're right. Nobody likes queries :( Unless you're talking about me....*glares*

When should you write your query?

Now this is entirely up to you. I'm the type of person that starts writing a draft of a query as soon as I have an idea for a book. For some reason it forces me to summarize my book quickly, discover my main characters stakes and objectives, as well as a generalized story. To me, it's like a "pre-synopsis" of my book. But it shouldn't sound like a synopsis (more on that later)

Others write it after they've finished their manuscript, and it's gone through its 8,363 revisions, been read and re-read by CP's, and you've finally decided it's ready to be pitched. Most people go this route, as they don't even want to focus on a query letter until the last possible moment.


When to Query?

There's a little known disease out there called PQS - premature query syndrome. Some people suffer from it, and it's evil. I first heard about it on the absolute writer water cooler forums, and I realized I had it. I sent out my first query letter for Copernicus right when I finished my last bunch of edits and had the go ahead from a few CP's. I thought it was ready....but it wasn't.

Got some responses, but ended up losing out because my MS still wasn't 100%. You NEED to make sure you hold off on sending any queries until you are so sick of editing your MS that you'd rather stab yourself in the eyes with a pen. Hold off until you are ABSOLUTELY SURE. And once you are absolutely sure, WAIT SOME MORE. Put it in a drawer for a month or two. Then come back and look at it. 


Final Advice

The biggest advice I can give is to subject your query letter to as many critiques as possible. Get a slew of feedback, and apply it as you see fit. Not every piece of feedback will work, but ultimately your goal is to make your query letter sound as awesome as possible, while still maintaining your voice. Don't make it Frankenstein. Just make it effective.

Re-write it a dozen times. Then re-write it another dozen. It's worth it in the end.

The "DO NOTS" of Query Letter Writing :

  • DO NOT get the agent's name wrong
  • DO NOT forget to provide all your contact information
  • DO NOT forget to include the title, word count, and genre of your book
  • DO NOT forget to personalize each query letter (subjective..not everyone does it)
  • DO NOT forget to check your query letter for spelling and grammatical errors
  • (repeat above)
  • (repeat above again)
  • DO NOT send the query letter to the WRONG agent
  • DO NOT send query letters to agents NOT representing your category
  • DO NOT forget to read agent's guidelines for querying. Each agent is different.
  • DO NOT forget to show past publication credentials (especially if they're good!) - great to put in bio if requested
  • DO NOT forget to include pages if asked for in guidelines
  • DO NOT send your query letter without having other people read it first
  • DO NOT give up
Well, there you have it. My little blog post about querying. And just to make things a little bit crazy, here is my far from perfect query letter that helped me snag my uber-awesome agent.

Dear Ms. Dawn Frederick,

I am writing you today seeking representation of my 54,000 word middle-grade adventure novel, COPERNICUS NERDICUS. You had mentioned in your twitter feed under #MSWL that you are seeking a "middle-grade not-overly-sci-fi adventure with robots", and my novel taps into both. It targets readers who are gamers at heart by bringing to life video game elements while combining the hilarious adventures of Michael Buckley's NERDS series, with the robotic action packed pages of J.V. Kade's BOT WARS.

Thirteen-year-old gamer, Copernicus ‘Nic’ Wilhelm, has one chance to win fifty thousand dollars and prevent his dad from losing his laboratory to the devious inventor, Geoffrey Zorn--The Digital Zone video game tournament. But when Geoffrey Zorn unveils a new virtual gaming console called EVO to be used in the finals, Nic only has a week to master a futuristic robotic fighting game.

Easy enough for Nic, that is, until the game fights back. 

When EVO transforms into a short-circuiting attack robot, the term video game realism takes on a completely new meaning. With the help of his friends, Nic re-programs the rampaging robot, but that wasn’t the only problem. EVO was also installed with a brainwashing microchip by the vile criminal organization, C.O.R.E (Coalition of Rogue Engineers) in order to kidnap tournament contestants, including Nic's best friend, and transform them into pilots for an army of kid-controlled robots straight out of the game.

With the police now controlled by C.O.R.E too, Nic and his friends must pummel their way through C.O.R.E troops using everything from stink bombs to slime cannons in order to rescue the contestants and discover proof of Zorn’s involvement in the mind control plot. Meanwhile, a fleet of robotic drones is preparing to invade Nic’s hometown of Twin Valley, and ultimately the world. Nic is in a race against time to put a stop to C.O.R.E and ensure the tournament goes on, before his gamer guile and new robot’s battery, runs out.

Regardless of your decision, I sincerely appreciate you taking the time to consider my work. 

That's it - see? not even close to being perfect. Heck, I still despise it to this day.

Hope you guys aren't still freaking out about query letters now. And feel free to ask any questions you may have about em. So, everyone okay with query letters now? Not so bad, right?

Guess not....


Unknown said...

I totally suffered from PQS. Still do, I suppose. But I'm getting better, thanks to Thomas Torre's Totally Terrific QL Tantrum-free Training (T)Academy.

I hope to earn my blue belt next month!

Robert Polk said...

Excellent post. A great query letter promises a great manuscript, and you delivered on both! Congratulations on earning your agent!

Unknown said...

PQS is evil. I was on heavy should have just used the abbreviated version of my academy..TTTTQLTTA...try saying that out loud...tis fun!

Unknown said...

Thank you sir!! Still a long road ahead for me, but the query letter will always remain one of my top 3 worst memories lol

Anonymous said...

I remember seeing this in QLH on Absolute write and even then thought you had a winner. It might not have been 'perfect' but it was a great title and concept.