Query Letter Writing Fact and Fiction

Fact: Query Letter Writing is an Art Form.

Make no mistake about it, writing queries that produce results is a craft.

Fact: A Query Should Not be Written Like a Synopsis.

I devoted an entire article to this, yet writers who have read the article continue to send me sample queries that ignore this premise. Yes, there are exceptions. There are exceptions to everything in publishing. But if an author wants to entice an agent to stand up and take notice, as I said in the prior article, sell the sizzle and not the steak. Pure and simple, a query for fiction is best written if it mirrors liner notes.

Fact: A Writer has to Know the Genre in which the Work is Written.

If the author doesn’t know the genre in which his or her work is written, any bona fide editor can explain it. A writer who doesn’t take the time to figure this out has virtually no chance. Genre identification is paramount. And while critique groups, etc., are a wonderful sounding board, they are historically populated by amateurs, and as such not the place to learn about genre specificity in today’s complicated and ever-changing market.

Fact: Structurally, a Query can be Designed like a Short Theme.

Yes, a simple but effective way to structure a query is like a theme. Begin with a core thought that highlights two or three critical plot elements. Justify these issues in the next paragraph, then close the letter with the thrust of the thesis: Why Readers Will Gravitate to the Story. Personal credentials if they pertain directly to the work can be added in a final brief sentence or two, along with a statement of appreciation for the agent’s or publisher’s time.

Fiction: Copying the Words of Phrases from a Successful Query will Assure another Query’s Success.

Nothing could be further from the truth. A query should define the voice and strength of the writer and the project. An experienced agent or publisher can pick up the nuances of a writer’s style. Counterfeiting doesn’t work

Fiction: Query Letters Should Never Contain Questions.

This farce has been bandied about for some time and is ridiculous. No one likes a query that reads like a movie opening: In a world…followed by a “what if” scenario. But there is nothing at all problematic about asking an agent or publisher to consider a novel’s most poignant issue or issues. And if some agent has written to the contrary, so be it. Hundreds of other agents, and all of those I know and work with, think differently.

Fiction: A Query Should Fill as Much of the Page as Possible.

It’s quality not quantity that matters. A query with 500 words jammed on a page is not going to be perceived to be any better than 300 words that clearly and concisely reflect the writer’s skill and the “hot points” about the story he or she has written. An overwritten query can plant the thought that the novel is also structured in the same manner.

What can distort this last remark are the bloated query examples posted by some writers whose work has been accepted for publication. But when a query turns into a synopsis, which is almost always the tendency in longer efforts, it’s generally a quick reach by the agent or publisher for the SASE or the rejection template on the computer file.

Fiction: If my Query Doesn’t Work the First Time, I can Write another One Later to the Same Agent for the Same Book.

Agents keep records. At least many of the good ones I know do. And, universally, as I’ve experienced it, agents never want to see a query about the same material a second time any more than they will consider a manuscript they’ve previously rejected. So it is imperative to get it right the first time.

A final thought: A poor query will never get a book in front of an agent; however, a great query can influence an agent to look at a novel that might require a touch up. And critical feedback can often be gleaned from an agent. For anyone not using a professional editor (curses), I cannot think of a better way to receive professional advice without having to pay for it. However, most authors would be way ahead of the game if they sought professional direction to assure a quality query before bombarding a highly selective marketplace with less than sterling requests to review material.

The Perfect Write® offers manuscript review and revision, including comprehensive developmental editing and line editing services. Also For authors, The Perfect Write® is now providing FREE QUERY LETTER REVIEW AND ANALYSIS. Post your query to mailto:theperfectwrite@aol.com (no attachments) and visit The Perfect Write™ Sample Letters Page for examples of successful query letters.