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Oh, I know how terrifying putting that one page together is. I took a publishing class that devoted weeks to crafting a good query letter. Whittling down your novel to a few interesting, catchy sentences that will hopefully wow an agent or publisher enough to want more is mentally grueling. And there really are a lot of helpful websites, articles, and other blogs that lay out the basic guidelines for putting together a query, and even provide examples. I always assumed, with all this information readily available to anyone and their mother, that the format for a query letter was set in stone. A given. Surely, everyone is adhering to these guidelines and rocking out the best queries they can to promote their baby to publishers, right?

Not quite.

I get to read most of the queries that go through Weaving Dreams. Some of them are very good. Professional, to the point, with great summaries. But there are others where it’s like…

I Can Has Cheezburger

You really wrote that? ...Really?

What is going on here? When did not representing yourself in a professional manner become cool? I’m not entirely sure if this is a thing that resulted from the wonderful internets, or if ‘I’m going to write whatever I want for this query’ happens with snail mail, too. I guess composing an actual letter and sending it through the mail feels more legit and business-y, but e-mail queries are more than a “Oh, hai, I wrote a book: here’s an excerpt!” I know bigger publishing houses deal with this, as well, but I have to wonder if smaller publishing companies don’t get a little more than their fair share of half-assed query attempts. You may not be pitching to Penguin or Random House (which they wouldn’t look at anyway, you’d query an agent before them), but just because you’re trying your luck with medium and small press publishing companies who have a higher percentage of new authors in their catalog, doesn’t mean it affords you to bend guidelines or forego professionalism. We all want our work published, and we owe it to ourselves and all the hard work we put into our novels to not hurt our chances with people who may have wanted a look at that manuscript, had the query letter been the best it could have been. There’s a couple of things I’ve seen that definitely need to not happen in a query letter that simply amaze me.

I don’t want to read an excerpt of the book.

If the publishing company’s query guidelines say ‘give us the first five pages in the body of the e-mail,’ by all means, do so. If all they wanted was a standard query letter, this in no way, shape, or form belongs in the query. They want a summary, and if they wanted to read any of the manuscript ahead of time, they would say so.

One page. Only one page.

250 words, that ballpark. It’s meant to be a quick, engaging snapshot of your novel, with a little background info on it, and a little bit about yourself. Short and sweet.

Don’t word vomit.

Which shouldn’t happen if you keep to one page. Don’t say you were too busy with your life to follow the guidelines on the website, and apologize like that makes it okay (I have seen this). If you can’t make the time to give that query a fair shake at being awesome, then the publisher isn’t going to take the time to read anything you’ve got. We’re all busy. Christine Feehan has like, a dozen children and she still manages to write five series and publish five books a year (okay, eleven kids, but still). Take the time to learn what each agent or publisher wants, adhere to it, and it will do you a lot of good.

Spell check.

For real. Do it. In fact, have someone else read it – seriously, have a couple of people read it before you send it off. There’s no excuse for misspelled words and poor punctuation. That won’t reflect well on your quality of writing. Wow the publisher, don’t make them wonder how you were able to string a story together with that kind of grammar.

This link has a lot of fantastic information on writing queries: http://www.agentquery.com/writer_hq.aspx

All right, cool. I got that off my chest. Man, you wouldn’t believe some of the doozies I’ve read. Until next time!

Mel

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