Friday, September 25, 2015

The Art Of The Query Letter

Even though submissions to Newcastlewest Books are by recommendation only, we still often find queries in the inbox. So many people have a story to tell and they look for an outlet, often without studying the art of the query letter that will open the door.

It's not unlike trying to unlock a safe without first learning the combination. The numbers are there for you if you go look for them, but there are those who think they can manage on their own.

The first step on the rocky road to publishin' is the creation of a query letter. It is a piece of business correspondence, not a chatty e-mail. By custom, the query letter is 250 - 300 words long.

That's it. 250- 300 words to market your manuscript. To say it's no easy task is a bit of an understatement.

Begin with a hook, something to catch a reader's attention, but be sure the hook introduces your story. Like I said, not easy. In two or three sentences you have to distill the essence of the conflict you've written about, and do it in a way that makes the reader want to read the next paragraph.

The middle of the query is a synopsis, in a way, although you don't have to give away the ending of the story. You do have to introduce the characters and show why a reader should care about them. What is at stake for the protagonist if he or she fails to stop an attack or find the lost locket or marry the duke?

Nothing is better than reading other query letters to get a better understanding of the form and style. Perhaps one of the best places to go is the blog written by literary Janet Reid. Query Shark can be bruising, but if you want to get published you'd best develop some scar tissue and thicken your hide. 

Need more help? Turn to your fellow queriers, who gather at writer forums to share and critique. AgentQuery Connect is an excellent stop on the road to crafting a good query letter.

Study up and learn what is expected in a query instead of throwing out some long-winded marketing mash-up that might sound brilliant to you but will get a rejection immediately. Things like attachments are not allowed, even if you know yourself to be honest and upright and not a hacker. The stranger you're sending that attachment to doesn't know that. They won't open your query and you're more likely to get trapped in a spam filter.

Once you've got the query letter process down, it's time to start sending it around. And then you'll learn about things like novel length and word counts and the sad fact that no one is going to ask to see pages of your 150,000 word opus. Even the first Harry Potter book wasn't a door stop.

Do your homework before you approach literary agents or publishers. It saves a lot of headaches and disappointment.

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