Query Letters

     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…

Identifying the Market

     As I’d gone through the process of thinking about, and then writing, stories over the years, I’d asked myself the question many agents and publishers say that authors are to consider: “Where does your work fit in the market?”

     Many books / websites / interviews from these professionals and many trade discussion boards assure authors that this is something all writers are supposed to think about, especially if they hope to get their work published by a publishing house. Authors are supposed to identify the single genre of their work, understand the demand (or lack thereof) for that work, and then associate their work with other works already on the shelf.

     I once found myself troubled with those requirements. Yes, authors should be able to determine such basics as the genre, I told myself; yet, I hated to associate my work with those of others ( “My book falls between This and That on the shelves.” or “It’s a cross between This and That.” ), never mind that those other works obviously passed enough hurdles to actually land on the bookstore shelves.

     It was vanity, I suppose, to not want to label oneself or link one’s work with that of another, even though so very many stories are revisions and offshoots of others — or greatly influenced by them. We just don’t ever want to admit it.

     So I was forced to recognize that even if one didn’t want to stamp a label on her work, it is an inevitable necessity. How is the agent or publisher to know what they’re being asked to consider if the author herself fails to identify her work in a clear and concise manner? They can’t, obviously, without reading it. Therefore, the author would be asking people with very limited time to find the answer on their own without her help.

     Good luck, I figured. The request wasn’t so invasive, after all.

Ahhhh — Formatting

     There is just something so wonderful about formatting a manuscript. I wouldn’t have thought it possible before going through the process. Since then, I’ve found I love it.

     Formatting all those hundreds of pages means I’ve finally hit the final stages. Formatting is making my manuscript presentable for others to judge. I’m making the package pretty.

     To be sure, I understand that formatting is not the most important step; that honor would go toward actually creating a great story. We all know that proper formatting won’t sell an inferior manuscript.

     Still, it’s invigorating to see all that hard work put into a truly professional package that can be shown with pride. Pride. In the end, it’s what the whole “pretty package” thing is all about.