Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Art of the Query - Part One

To become a published author in today's market a writer must not only study how to write excellent fiction (and apply what they learn!) but also learn how to write for the business side of the profession.

This week I'll focus on writing the query letter. I see you out there, trembling in fear...just wait until I get to the synopsis :D hahaha then you can run for that is the source of true dread.

Anyway, query letters are simple things but often fouled up by writers. Why? Mostly because they spend so much time writing fiction that they don't research into what else is involved in the profession. When they find out they need a query letter to approach agents and editors - they just toss a letter together.

Here are some of the top mistakes to avoid:

1. Queries that run over one page. When an agent/editor asks for a query, they mean one (as in single) page. No more. Don't annoy them by sending a mini-book describing your entire novel and life.

2. Telling them what your mother, brother, sister, aunt, best friend etc. thinks of your writing. Usually family and friends are bias and heck, most moms would say your novel on odes to toenail clipping was pure poetry.

3. Telling the agent/editor how much they'll love your work. No one likes others making assumptions about them and their tastes -- agents/editors are no different.

4. Lavishing praise on your work. This is closely related to 3. Few people enjoy a boaster and agents/editors are people too (honest they are). At best they'll ignore the horns and whistles and at worst, cringe every time they see your name and run with their ears and eyes covered. Save them the bruises please.

5. Telling them how hard the novel was to write. The odds are they don't care how hard it was for you to pull that nagging story out of your head and pound it into the keyboard. Being that they work with authors they're used to a certain amount of insanity...but talking about how your characters so insisted that their story be told and kept you up for nth nights in a row...well...lets just say that doesn't strike a good note.

6. Cutting down the genre(s) they represent or publish. I never thought I'd be adding this to my list...but I recently saw a query that did just that. Something akin to "Imagine me, an adult woman writing a paranormal young adult book. I mean, come on, I'm a level headed lady..." Paraphrased, but you can see the tone. This writer obviously has no respect for the genre she's writing nor the other authors in the genre who work very hard to get their 'stuff' out there and in turn, no respect for the professionals - like agents and editors - who represent and publish that genre. Don't get me started on the insult to the readers of the genre! There would be brimstone and the blog would reek for weeks.

7. Being flippant about writing. This is another I didn't think I'd need to add. But again I was made witness to one such query, that paraphrased was roughly - "I just threw this together and decided to try my hand at publishing." Yeah. I don't think I really need to go into what sort of tone that sets.

8. Giving out your resume. Agents and editors don't want to hear where you went to school nor how many jobs you've inhabited throughout your life. Nor your divorce or kids or...you get the point. Unless it directly relates to the book at hand - say, if you're a police officer with background in criminal investigations and you just wrote a crime fiction novel - then leave it out.

9. Being overly friendly. By all means, please be nice and genteel. However, skip the "Hey Jude, want to take a look at my new novel?" type wordings unless you personally know and are on a friendly basis with the said agent/editor.

10. This is what I call writers writing smack. My kids love to do it on video games, that's annoying. Getting it in query letters from adults well...wow. What is this smack? The "I'm the next (enter any well established author out there - King, Rowling etc.)" or "My series is the next (Harry Potter or enter any well selling series here)." First it's pretentious. Do you like pretentious people? I didn't think so. Secondly, no one wants another King or Rowling or...whoever. Agents and editors want new voices, strong voices that will build an audience because the story is so darn good and unique. They don't want remakes.


So, there's the top ten Refrain from Doing list. The next installment will be what agents and editors DO want to see! Stay tuned and hey, aren't you supposed to be writing? Or reading? shoo. ;)

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Blogger Beth Fehlbaum, Author said...

Those are all very good suggestions for writers just starting down the road to publication!
Beth Fehlbaum, author
Courage in Patience, a story of hope for those who have endured abuse
Chapter 1 is online!

Tue Jun 24, 08:18:00 PM  

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