Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Writing a Query Letter

If you are planning to lure a literary agent to represent you and your work, you must write a query letter. A query letter introduces you and your literary work to possible agents. It must be short, provocative enough an agent (or better yet many agents) is intrigued, and be formulaic enough it can be read quickly. So, you see, a query letter is a paradox. You must stand out without standing out too much.

Of course, there is a lot that has been written about crafting the perfect query letter. The sources I am leaning heavily on were written by people who have been on the receiving end of query letters, and have the experience necessary to be good resources.

Tips for Writing a Query Letter



Reading through these posts, you'll find querying the right agent, and identifying why they are the right agent, features prominently. For more about this, I'll direct you back to my last post about researching agents (P.S. I'm still researching. There is so much info, and so many options, it is definitely time consuming  to whittle the list down. However, I have high hopes the right agent is out there, and doing the leg work will pay off...I guess we'll see if I'm right later!).

Another common theme in the three posts I shared above is that your writing needs to be concise. This is not a book you are writing! A query letter needs to be simple. Ironically, simple, straightforward writing is hard and time consuming.

Concise Writing
In my day job, I mentor students and professionals on clear communication. Writing succinctly is a skill, and like any skill, you will get better with practice. No matter how good you are, there is room for improvement. These are some of my recommendations:

  1. Write your first draft. Get it in good shape. Now, walk away and come back to it in 1-2 days. This break will give you fresh eyes. You will be less likely to read what you meant, and instead read what is written. Revise as needed for simplicity and clarity. Here are some tips:
    • Remove the word "that." 
    • Drop all those Howevers, Sos, Therefores, and In Conclusions. 
    • Ask yourself if a piece of information is necessary. Does leaving it in add value? Does it communicate what you are trying to convey? Is there a simpler way to say it?
  2. Repeat step one. Really? Yes! But now read for more than just content. Are you using passive voice? Did you use the same word more than once? If the answer is yes, you have more work to do. 
  3. Once you have the "perfect" letter, read it out loud. This forces you to slow down and digest what you have on paper. You may find something that seems strong on paper (to you) is tangled when it comes out of your mouth.
  4. Have someone review your letter. If you are a member of a writing or author's group, use those connections to get your query letter reviewed.
    • I'll add a caveat here: if someone says there is something wrong with your writing (i.e., it is unclear, confusing, wording is distracting, etc.) you have to believe them. They are right. That's how it came across to them. How they suggest fixing it isn't necessarily right. You can even choose to think about their point, mentally acknowledge it, and choose not to make changes - it is your writing, after all. Just don't berate your reviewers.
Give yourself plenty of time to craft your query letter. This is not something you jot off because you're ready to send your book out into the world. A query letter is a job application for your book. You need to make sure it is as strong as it can be.

I'll also add that having considered your personal author branding already, you'll have a head start on researching agents and crafting a strong query letter. Know thyself. Then use that knowledge.

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