I’ve been cleaning off my messy writing space in a semi-annual effort, and amid the overlooked corn chips and mutant dust bunnies, I found a battered folder that I thought I’d trashed long ago. Inside were an embarrassing amount of old query letters from projects I’d forgotten all about.
God, how they sucked. No wonder agents and editors seem to hit the bottle at around 3 p.m. on a weekday.
Since then I’ve become much better at writing a query, skills burned in the furnace of rejection. I’ve learned to avoid five pitfalls to a rejected (or worse, ignored) query letter.
- Failure to give them a hook or a logline in the first couple sentences. Agents skim through all the blah blah for the idea that’s supposed to entice them. Make it easy on them by having it in the first paragraph.
- Failure to get to the point, quickly. After the hook, give them the genre and page count. Then they can determine the scope of the project, and if it’s right for them.
- Hemming and hawing. Avoid it. As in “It’s always been my dream to write a novel, and now my dream is nearly complete…” If you have life experience relevant to the story, mention it in as few words as you need, then get on with it. Ex: “My job as an ER nurse in an inner-city hospital inspired my thriller THE NURSE MURDERS.”
- Typos. C’mon, people.
- And finally, make sure you get the agent’s name right. I screwed this up on my first mass mail, done in the days before e-queries were acceptable. I had 10 crisp lovelies all ready to go, and I was so anxious about the whole thing, I mixed up the envelopes.
All you need the query to do is open the door to the partial and let the agent or editor know you are not a fruit loop. They can find that out later. :-)