May 20, 2011

Query: What's Your Sign?

No, not a post on astrology. I know as much about it as writing a crackerjack query letter. Not a whole lot. Query letters is the Fantastic Friday Writers topic.

I've studied query letters. I'm working on one now. I do know it's about character, character, character -- telling the plot from the main character's perspective. It's supposed to pop and sizzle, sell your product and show a little voice. It has to do a whole dang lot in three little paragraphs. And, I do know to write it in third person present tense.

So, an author has to boil a novel down to the basics and keep it simple. Emphasizing what's most interesting and unique about the plot while couching it in the safety net of stories which have sold well in the genre. And again, from your main character's point of view. What's their story? That's what will sell your novel and hook readers.

The point is to lure the fish so they read your chapters or whatever you submitted, not to tell the entire story. But you also don't want to leave the agent hanging. So, no teasing. We must tell the agent how the story turns out in the end so he / she can see we know how to properly construct a novel.

The synopses goes a bit more into depth about the plot. Not much. Some agents request a one pager these days. If not specified, the norm is two pages these days. The synopses' purpose is to tell the main story. Again, no teasing. Spill the beans. Don't hold the best stuff back. The query letter is about marketing, marketing, marketing.

Cross multiple genres? Pick the main genre. Which subgenre sells best in your genre for your market? Yeah, know who you're writing for and selling to. It makes a difference. Subgenres change in popularity in different countries. For instance, space opera and steampunk are popular in the US. In the UK, hard sci-fi is more popular. In Australia, epic fantasy sells better.

I know more about writing query letters for short stories. Simple:

Dear Editor:

For your consideration is "Title", a xxx word genre story.

A paragraph on any writing credits. Stick to professional credits. They don't care about those that aren't professional credits. You can put all that extraneous info on your website and direct them to it for more detail.

Say thanks for their time. Sign off and use your legal name not your pen name. Be professional. If electronic submission, put your legal name then your address, phone, email, web site, etc ... under your legal name. Your pen name goes under the title on the short story. They get that the legal name and byline aren't always the same. You don't have to point it out.

Attach the short story in the requested format. Some ask for bios and the like. Keep a bio short and simple. It's something us authors should work on and keep in stock and updated. Don't drone on and on.

Give the publisher / editor what they ask for. Overall, it's a much simpler process than a query for a novel.

A few publications want a query without the short story. Then you're writing a pitch. It's much easier to pare down a short story to a few sentences than a novel. In my opinion.

Will let you know when I ace the novel query letter. Will let ya know.

Want to share what you've learned? We'd all love to hear about it.

Read what other Fantastic Friday Writers have to say on query letters: