I go through cycles in my writing life, as I’m sure you do, where I’m either querying, revising, or working on new projects. Right now, I am the self-proclaimed Queen of the Query!
Although I’m fleshing out two new picture book ideas and doing minor tweaks to other manuscripts, for the most part, my writing life is all about the perfect query letter. Of course that’s in addition to daily and weekly writing deadlines that help us pay the bills here at Casa Richards!
I’d like to say I’ve got this query business down to a science. But like a crooked crown on top of a royal head, my letters always need adjusting! Since this blog is all about “imperfect writers,” I feel like it’s OK to admit that I don’t always get my queries completely right. Not that there’s one perfect way to write a query, but there are standards we all need to meet if we’re going to get the attention of an editor or agent.
Jane Friedman, co-founder and publisher of Scratch Magazine (all about writing and money) and the former publisher of Writer’s Digest, has a great blog post about this very subject called, The Complete Guide to Query Letters That Get Manuscript Requests. If you’re in the middle of query writing, are getting ready to write your first query, or just need a refresher in the finer points of getting this important part of the writing process right, this is an amazing resource! I strongly suggest you bookmark the page and refer to it often.
But in the meantime, here are a few query-letter basics to help you get started:
- Take time to find out the name of the editor or publisher you want to query and address your letter to that person. Sometimes it takes a great deal of searching to personalize a query. This is especially true in children’s publishing when many websites have submission guidelines that read, “Send your query to: Submissions Editor,” etc. Obviously if after digging long and hard you still cannot find a name, then by all means, send it as stated on the house’s website.
- Follow the submission guidelines given by the agent or publishing house. It you think coloring outside the lines got you in trouble in kindergarten, just see how far you get if a house wants only a query letter and the first three chapters of your novel and you send the entire thing. The guidelines are there for a reason. Following them shows first readers you are a professional and serious about the business of writing.
- Perfect your “elevator pitch.” Your elevator pitch is what your story is about in 30 seconds or less. In the writing world, this equates to one or two short, well-crafted sentences. Chances are, if you cannot describe your novel in two sentences or less, you aren’t ready to query the manuscript. I use the following two elevator pitches for my novel, BEFORE I SLEEP:
“Only the Wordkeeper knows why the ancient forest darkness causes death. Ada must find him before time runs out for her mother and her world.”
“The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but not for Ada. If she can just find the sun and the Wordkeeper, she’ll save her mother’s life.”
- Keep your letter to one page. That includes your letterhead, date and the address of the recipient. If you go over one page, single spaced, you’ve said too much.
These are just a few things to think about when writing queries. And be sure to head over to Jane Friedman’s blog and get the rest of the scoop. Querying and submitting will soon be a regular part of your life, if it’s not already. Get it right and get noticed. I promise you, there are plenty of crowns to go around!
Sensibility- It’s often difficult for writers to talk about themselves and their work. Consider your query the place you get to shine without ever leaving the comfort of your desk.
Sense- Learn all you can about querying writing and let a critique group or partner look at your letter before ever submitting it.
What are your favorite query-writing tips?