Query Letter Woes OR Writing an Honest Query Letter

Writing is hard.

Now that I have that out of the way let me tell you, writing a Query letter is harder. Definition of Query Letter for the uninitiated: A cover letter that you write to a perspective agent or editor that gives a brief summary of your book, a mini-bio, and the reason why you are sending it to that particular person. There is so much advice out there about how to write the Query letter and what to say and perfect Query letters that got someone that elusive book contract, but the truth is, no one can write your query letter but you. This stinks as I think it would be so much easier to pay someone to just read my book and write my query letter for me, but I think that is considered cheating.

Let me break this down into why this is so difficult:

1. The Mini-bio
This is probably the easiest part. You don't want to be braggy if you have already published something. (I have not) But you also don't want to be apologetic if you haven't. You want to include anything that will make an agent/editor think you are a marketable author, but not one that would be difficult to work with. You can include some fun fact about yourself here, but be careful about the "tone" of your letter. Respectful yet open.

2. The Summary
Here is where you attempt to explain your 278 page novel in three paragraphs. You want to write it in the same syntax of your book, possibly even in-character if that works. Don't reveal too many characters or you will just confuse the reader. Hard to do when you have three main characters. You need to highlight what makes your book different than all the other books out there. How is my fantasy different than all the other fantasies out there? So you tweek and twist the summary, trying to make it sound different, yet highlighting all the major parts, but not giving away the middle or ending because you really do want them to read the book. Oh, but you can't be too vague either otherwise it will just read like a bunch of keywords. Truth. Love. Betrayal. What makes my book different? Nothing. And Everything. It's high fantasy, there are horses and swords and magic. But there are also aliens and secret passages and warrior maidens who kick ass. Then there is everything in-between like assassination attempts, poisoned arrows, betrayal, kidnapping, magical devices, and ancient mysteries. Yeah, try fitting that into three paragraphs in a way that makes sense.

3. Why you?
And then comes the hard part. Why are you sending this book to this agent? So let's be honest. About half of the agents I have gathered have come from the most recent version of Children's Writer's & Illustrator's Market. Surely, they know this. I carefully scoured the book before going on-line and doing a bit more research. What am I looking for? An agent who likes sci-fi and fantasy and yet also seems to have an interest in other genres. See, I don't write just one genre, so although I am currently sending out a fantasy, the next one is probably going to be a contemporary YA about adoption and foster care and the one after that is probably going to be either an urban fantasy for middle graders or a YA sci-fi. I want a career like Jane Yolen, who has written everything from historical fiction to fantasy to biographies. When I am sending out the query letter it is apparently smiled upon if you mention their blog or a recent interview or whatnot. And here is the conundrum. I do not have enough time to read or follow everyone's blog. When I discover an agent's blog, it is usually through the query process and no matter how interesting the blog is, I am just looking to see if they will be a good fit for me. Do they talk dispraringly about high fantasy or are they a huge Tolkien fan? Are they going to snub their nose at a story set in space or do they find the genre fascinating? Do they speak of how they like "urban fantasy", but are basically referring to Harry Potter?

The other half of my names come from looking up my favorite authors and seeing who their agents are. Beth Revis, Tamora Pierce, L.A. Meyer, Holly Black, Veronica Roth. I check out their agents and see if there may be room for me in their lists. Yet, one must be careful because if your book is too much like an author they already represent, then there probably isn't room. Somehow you have to fit this all into a few sentences, sound respectful and professional and don't stroke their ego too much because you sound like you are brown nosing. (which you are)

Here is what I really want to write:

Dear Agent, 

I am writing to you because it looks like you don't have an aversion to two of my favorite genres: sci-fi and fantasy unlike a ton of agents out there. I have been tweeking this Query letter for a couple of months now and since I have received only one response from an agent, I am going to assume that there is something wrong with my summary, which I have tweeked again for your benefit. I hope you are the kind of agent who responds to your queries as I would love to get a rejection at this point. Believe me, direct rejection is so much better than never hearing anything at all. I did look through your blog and you seem like the kind of person I would jive with. Also, you said you like to talk on the phone and I am a huge phone talker so that is another reason why we would get along.

Summary: A bad ass high fantasy book without dwarves and elves that people will love because there are three awesome characters in it who get themselves into some serious life or death trouble. But I am not going to tell you everything that happens in the book because I want you to read it.

My books is complete at blah blah blah. Please please please read the 3 or 10 pages or 3 chapters that I have copy and pasted to the bottom of this email. Please dash my dreams in the kindest way possible. And if you think my book looks kind of awesome (because I certainly do), consider reading the entire thing. I personally love the whole kidnapping business as well as...well, you'll see.

That's it. Not very professional, but a bit more honest. I'm writing to you because I am trying to get a book published and that is your job and you say that you like the kind of things I write. I know the book isn't perfect, but I have revised this thing 9 times and although I think it looks fantastic, I am ready for some professional help. Although my family and some friends think I should self-publish, I really just want to do this the traditional way, despite all this frustration. (aka: paying my dues) In the meantime I will be over here, acting like I am not checking my email every few minutes in hopes that you will respond. Wait...what's that? Oh, another Groupon. Perhaps I shall drown my sorrows in the 2 for 1 deal at my local Indian restaurant.

And if you are an agent reading this: I love your blog/interview/website!


Steve Moran said...

Totally brilliant. Best I've seen. I'm saving this and when I get totally, utterly beyond screaming point - I'm going to send out my version of the damned thing, lol. Oh, if the world just ran on honesty rather than schmaltz!!

Rebecca Sheraton said...

Hilarious. Every question I have ever asked myself about query letters. After I've sent my letter, I often wonder is exactly right.