Query Letters – Dos and Don’ts

As planned, I’ve started doing the research on what to put in a query letter to agents.  I found a great blog today.  It has some great advice, and, as a bonus, it is ridiculously funny to read what some writers have put in their query letters. Check out the link below:

http://www.jmtohline.com/2010/12/biggest-mistakes-writers-make-when.html
 
Here are a few of the tips from agents on what to do and what NOT to do that I found helpful:

“Amy Boggs:  Some just end up running down the events that occur rather than telling me what the plot arc at the heart of the story is. The bulk of a query should consist of 1) the main character, 2) what happens to complicate their life, 3) what goals they now have in response to that complication, and 4) the main obstacle between them and their goal. That is the cake of the query; everything else is just frosting and sprinkles.

“Here are Daniel Lazar’s thoughts on querying: I think the best query letters are specific and evocative – not loaded down with too much boring detail, but just enough detail (little touches of description or turns of phrase) that show the letter is crafted by a real writer. For example, instead of saying ‘Joe Smith, the hero of my novel, is a quirky kid,’ you could say ‘Joe Smith, the hero of my novel, likes ketchup on his Frosted Flakes and never wears matching socks.’ Ok – I’m not much of a writer, admittedly, but the point is ‘quirky’ was just a nebulous description in the first example; but in the second example, you can instantly get a visual on this kid in just one line – and that’s the kind of query letter that makes me think the book will be as evocative as the letter.

“Here are some excellent, less-obvious mistakes contributed by Liv Blumer:

1. Don’t whine.
2. Cut to the chase, i.e. don’t spend a paragraph of your letter telling me how busy I am, cut directly to the description of your book.
3. If you are writing about yourself, be sure that your story has a strong thread of universality. Readers care more about how your story applies to them than they do about you.
4. Recognize that not everyone who writes should be published. Many people should write for themselves only.
5. If you are not a seasoned writer, be economical with your prose.
6. Do not nag or pester. It’s a dead giveaway that you will be a difficult client.
7. If you are incarcerated, tell me what you are in for.
8. Don’t tell me you know someone close to me, if you don’t. I get too many letters that begin with “I am writing at the suggestion of X”, and I’ve never heard of “X”.
9. Don’t send more than a letter. If you can’t “pitch” it effectively in a letter, I probably can’t either.
10. And don’t tell me what you plan to do to support your book once you have a contract. Start now with the blog, the public speaking, the networking. Publishers want to see that you are already expert in your subject. I can’t judge the effectiveness of what you plan to do, only of what you have done.”

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