It seems every time we turn on the telly, something or someone is getting a makeover. It’s the makeover age. Well folks, just as we all gasp and ooohhh at the finished, polished products/people on The Box, so can we apply that to our writing careers. This blog was actually inspired, in a round-about way, by my friend and brilliant fellow author Kylie Griffin. As a soon to be pubbed author, she was lamenting this morning about writing synopses for her next book for her publisher. In the ensuing discussion, someone else mentioned query letters and then lo and behold, before I could blink, someone else, completely unrelated, had emailed to ask for help with her query letter.
I saw it as a sign. I’m big on signs. This one was in neons and it was telling me the world needed my help – with query letters.
Okay, so maybe I’m exaggerating my importance in the world, just a tad, and maybe I’m not an expert on query letters myself – even after 60+ books – but I certainly could not ignore sign number 3 which was in fact an article about what? Query Letters(!) – that just happened to fall into my Inbox at the same time.
And what a great article. It was in Jon Bard’s Children’s Book Insider, and it related 2 examples of query letters. One was from Corrine Jackson and has examples of her before and after query letters. One before getting picked up by an agent, and then one after a rejecting agent pointed out the error of her query. Corinne was given great advice, and I strongly suggest if you’re struggling that you check out her sample query letters. This is a very well written blog and her advice is very generously shared.
Corrine’s tips from the agent were spot on. It’s information I myself have followed in the past, as well as been given by many other more experienced authors. Below are my own tips, which are very similar, however to see how the specific tips worked for Corrine, you must read her blog, Query Me Crazy.
My advice: Think ‘Back Blurbs’. Short, punchy and intriguing.
With regard to the story: Basic rules.
1. Who is your main charcter? What does she want/need? Her goal?
2. Why does she need/want this? What has your charcter got to lose if she doesn’t achieve her goal? Make it big. Otherwise, who cares?
3. Who or what is stopping her from getting it?
4. Make sure you’ve written the query/blurb in the same tone as your story is told. If your book is deeply mysterious/dark etc – write the blurb in that tone. If your story’s tone is sassy, sharp, funny – make sure the agent or editor sees that in your work.
5. Keep it tight. Only include references to other characters if they play a major role.
With regard to the personal side of the query: Basic Rules.
1. Only include relevant information about yourself. It may be lovely that you love growing beets, but unless your story revolves around a person who is an expert at growing beets, really? Who cares. Sad, but true – the editor/agent won’t care. She or he is very busy. At this stage they only want to know your publishing history/experiences.
2. Make sure you’ve addressed the letter to the right person. It sounds silly but it’s a big one for editors and agents, who rightfully feel a bit put out when the letter is addressed to someone else.
3. Make sure you are querying someone who is interested in handling/publishing your type of work. Some agents don’t handle kids stuff. Many editors have special lines/areas they edit. Do your homework.
The second article was from YA author Helene Boudreau’s whose YA novel Real Mermaids Don’t Wear Toe Rings was released last December. This was especially helpful as it was accompanied by an explanation from her agent, Lauren Macleod, as to why this particular query letter struck a chord with her.
All good stuff, and I thank Jon Bard and Laura Backes for sharing this information via their e-zine, and the authors who shared their experiences. I wish them – and you – much success.