Welcome back to my two-part post on query letters ☺
Of course, every season is the season to be querying, as long as you know what you’re doing. Hopefully, this and my last post will help you on your way to gaining the requests you’re after.
So, last month we looked at what makes a winning query. This month I wanted to concentrate on some examples and discuss why they’re lacking, and what can be done to make them better. Hopefully, these comments will then guide you to incorporate the same greatness into your own query.
Let’s take a look at this example query letter. See if you can pick all the pit-falls and mistakes.
What mistakes can you find here?
Let me list the major problems I see with this letter:
- The letter isn’t addressed to anyone in particular. What line are you targeting and who is the person responsible for it? DO YOUR HOMEWORK.
- The first line of this query is flimsy and waffly. It doesn’t contain a hook or any vital information. BE PROFESSIONAL, BE BRIEF.
- Finally, in the second paragraph we see some vital information, but it’s not alone. Of course you’re not going to send out a manuscript that hasn’t been properly edited, whether professionally or by yourself. And you’re certain there are no errors. I should hope not! This goes without saying—so DON’T SAY IT.
- I’m not particularly interested in how long you’ve been writing. I’m already losing interest here. I want to know about the story. Sure, you’ve won awards, but which ones? For this manuscript? Are they meaningful awards? If so, mention them, but later. First, HOOK ME WITH YOUR STORY.
- Ahhh, finally the blurb! But, oh dear. Where’s the hook? GMC? We have a sense of the higher stakes, but wow, it’s surrounded so much fluff! This reads more like a really badly written synopsis. WHERE’S OUR SHORT, SHARP, SNAPPY BLURB?
- So, she likes bushwalks, camping and butterflies. Do we really care? Perhaps if this was a book about nature or lepidopterology, these interests, or even qualifications, would be relevant. But since it’s not . . . Maybe if she was a rock star or an ex-professional ballerina, this information would show she has the experience or knowledge to write this particular story, so in that case, it would be relevant. And the rest, this reads more like a memoir than a professional, business query. No waffle, no personal chit-chat. Editors and agents are busy people. They don’t want to know your life story, they want to know whether you can write a story. BE RELEVANT.
- Great that she has an awesome social media presence and she has plans to expand it. I want to know what she has now, without the exposition. Straight facts will do, and outside the body of the letter. LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION.
- And that second-to-last paragraph is the kicker, because despite having read the submission guidelines for this company, the author of this letter thinks they know better. Boy, oh boy. If I was an agent/editor, if this hadn’t already been tossed, it would be tossed now. BE RESPECTFUL AND FOLLOW INSTRUCTIONS.
So many things not right with this query. But let’s see if we can set them right.
Take two . . .
Of course, there is always room for improvement. The blurb (currently 227 words) could be tightened. Other areas could be tweaked/tightened, but hopefully the disparity between these two examples gives you an idea of how to structure your own, winning submission.
The other option here is to replace the blurb with a logline. Let’s see how that works in our next example.
Notice how succinct this letter is. Every sentence, every paragraph gets straight to the point. There is an economy of words, and basically, this introduces the author and her work to the reader in a simple and straightforward manner. The reader has all the information they need to know and the author hasn’t wasted their time by making them wade through lyrical pose to get to the goods.
Bear this in mind when you craft your query. Make sure you save your writing skills for your manuscript.
Now, for the email version of this query:
See how I’ve opened with a hook. Not a great hook, but if you have a tagline that sums up the premise of your novel, why not open with that? If you have a great tagline, not only will this impress the reader, but they’ll get an immediate sense of your story’s high concept. This in turn will demonstrate that you know how important this high concept is in governing your story.
Another variation within this query is the reference to their first meeting. This is quick and to the point before the author launches into the purpose of her letter. Don’t beat around the bush. This letter is an introduction to your work. Your blurb/pitch and your synopsis and/or partial should hook your reader. Just point out all the salient points in your submission and let your reader move on to the good stuff—your story ☺
I hope these in-depth examples have helped cement the theory I posted last month.
Another great resource for query letters, and what to and not to do, is a website called ‘Query Shark’. https://queryshark.blogspot.com/ If you go back through the archives, you’ll see query submissions and how Query Shark’s comments have helped shape them into something pretty amazing.
And as they say in showbiz, that’s a wrap!
Firstly, thank you all for coming back this month. I really appreciate every one of you reading, commenting and sharing my posts.
Once again, I’m offering one lucky commenter a half hour skype session to discuss anything writing related. It could be your query, your synopsis or 300 words from your current work in progress. Yes, you heard right. We get to chat, face-to-face—or computer screen to computer screen—and chat about whatever it is about your synopsis you’d like to discuss.
To enter the draw, please comment below and share the most surprising or useful thing you’ve learned since reading my Simply Writing blogs. Or perhaps you can pinpoint exactly what you’ll do different in your next query letter.
Any and all comments welcome! I love reading your feedback and input each month ☺ and much as this blog isn’t set up for notifications, I always ALWAYS answer your comments. So make sure you pop back to check my replies ☺
If you’d like extra chances to win, share links to this blog on any or all social media sites. Tag me so I know you’ve shared, and the more shares, the more times I’ll place your name in the draw.
A name will be drawn in a week’s time, around Monday 18th March, by 5pm DST and winners will be notified on the blog, so keep your eyes and ears peeled. Make sure you revisit the blog or watch my facebook posts to see when I’ve picked a winner ☺
Thanks so much for stopping by. Have a fabulous month, and I’ll see you all again in April.
Michelle Somers is a bookworm from way back. An ex-Kiwi who now calls Australia home, she’s a professional killer and matchmaker, a storyteller and a romantic. Words are her power and her passion. Her heroes and heroines always get their happy ever after, but she’ll put them through one hell of a journey to get there.
She lives in Melbourne, Australia, with her real life hero and three little heroes in the making, and Emmie, a furry black feline who thinks she’s a dog. Her debut novel, Lethal in Love won the Romance Writers of Australia’s 2016 Romantic Book of the Year (RuBY) and the 2013 Valerie Parv Award. The second in her Melbourne Murder series, Murder Most Unusual was released in February 2017.
In between books, she runs workshops – both face-to-face and online – for writers wanting to hone their craft. The first book in her Simply Writing Series, Simply Synopsis, is changing the way writers craft this vital, yet perplexing, writing tool. And through her Simply Writing series of blogs, she hopes to simplify so much more.