Query Letters

Query letters are the bane of novelists' existence. I've taken classes, hired writing coaches, and read blogs on how to write a good one. I had one nailed down. I worked on it for like years it seemed. I puffed up my chest and sent about six or seven submission packages. And then...


Form rejections.


One of the classes I had taken was run by a literary agency. An agent suggested a really cool strategy: send three to five queries out at a time. If no requests for pages are made, then revisit the query letter.

Despite all the help I had sought out, I knew my submission package was failing. What to do?


I had stumbled upon a blog called QueryShark. It's written by literary agent Janet Reid with the purpose of helping those like myself on dealing with the bane of our existence. She takes actual letters submitted by unrepresented authors and critiques them without sugarcoating anything. And they can resubmit their queries until they get it right. This is priceless for any author. But there are several caveats to have the honor of getting your letter shredded apart by the shark and displayed for all to see. One is to read the whole blog. Currently, there are thirteen years worth of shredded letters one has to swim through. Some of it gets pretty bloody. And I can tell that a number of authors that had their queries posted hadn't read through the blog because some of the basics such as how to end a query weren't adhered to. That's good for me as those basics are then hammered into my head.

I had read through several years' worth before I came to the realization of how to approach writing the letter. First off, start over. Scrap the old. Begin anew. Using what I had learned so far, I rewrote the whole thing using the basic formula:


Then I went back to the blog. As I read each critique, I would refine my letter. Sometimes her critique would only change one word in my query. In a space of around 250 words describing your book, one word can change the feel of the whole letter. Other times, a good query gave me insight on how I should show my world, since it's different than Earth. And then there were critiques that didn't help at all. Which was fine. There are a ton of letters to peruse over, and each one can guide an author through the deep waters of query writing. The purpose of this process is to make sure that my letter gets the attention of an agent. Enough so she'll request pages. Because if she does, then I’ll know I'm headed in the right direction.

I think this is the best approach, for me anyways, unless you're highly talented in writing query letters. I admit, this process is tedious, time consuming. And did I mention banal? Isn't that a synonym of tedious? Mmm...maybe. But if I get representation, then it was worth the time and effort. 

Truth be told, reading Janet's blog has deepened my understanding of story. I have applied this knowledge when I critique the pages from my writing group. And the whole purpose of any endeavor is to learn, move forward toward the dream, and hopefully someday realize it.