Query letters, like resumes, are some of the hardest documents to write. Not only do they require writers to condense their story and expertise onto one page; they also require writers to do something very few people feel they can do well — sell themselves.
Self-exaltation, for most of us, is counterintuitive. It’s a clumsy exercise, trying to walk the fine line between promotion and revulsion. On the one hand, if we writers don’t market ourselves, who will? On the other, modesty — and probably reality — dictate that we not present ourselves as the best writers of the generation, especially if our attached chapters will have the agents laughing at our ineptitude (Of course, if we recognized our failings beforehand, we, doubtless, would not have sent out the query to begin with.).
The query format is simple enough, much like that of a cover letter. We politely explain the aim for our letter, tell exactly what we’re pitching (“My fantasy middle reader of 38,000 words”), and then provide a compelling and pithy synopsis. Finally, we explain our credentials or previous successes, offer a method of communication (email address or phone), and then thank the reader for his time. Oh, how easy I’ve made it sound. In reality, a good query letter is an arduous task, but one that can fling open many doors.
The rejection / acceptance letter is so much easier! One or two lines. Changing futures. But we all knew this — the number of words doesn’t make the difference. The impact is in the message. Poor agents. I almost feel sorry for them. We writers get a whole page to deliver our message, while they only get a fraction…
It’s interesting to fall into topics that seem very timely. On Thursday I was attempting to write my biography page for my website. I’m still not too sure I came up with something that sounds professional, does a good sell, and isn’t cheesy or concieted.
The ardourous task had me blogging out my frustration in my random topics and rambles style blog (http://www.writing.com/main/books/entry_id/536620). It really helped to get that out of the system and I do now have some semblance of an “About Me” on my site.
When it comes to queries and cover letters I spend ages tweaking because I’m never satisfied. Then at some unknown point I just get this urge to quit. Enough is enough. SEND! It’s not perfect but it’ll just have to do. After all, if you don’t actually send out the letter you can’t get rejected, or accepted!!
I agree that you absolutely at some point just have to hit SEND or throw it in that envelope. You have to tweak it to make it good, yes. You have to seek constructive criticism, yes. But at some point, your letter just has to go. It will never please everyone. It will never interest everyone, but you’re right, if you don’t actually send it, you’ve gotten nowhere.
I have to say I’ve been very pleased by the professionalism and kindness shown by those I’ve contacted through query. Agents and publishers may have a reputation for brusqueness, but I’ve not experienced that. Even if the response isn’t an offer, it’s a response, and it’s usually a genial one. I hope you’ve found that to be the case as well.