How To Query

One my favorite things about launching my own literary agency has been the flow of query letters I have received from authors. I love hearing from authors about their creative and bold stories (literature nerd, much?) and I love listening to people describe work that they are passionate about. Their energy is inspiring and their optimism contagious. Unfortunately, I haven’t had as much time as I would like in the past several months to tend to the rapidly growing submission pile in my office (insert immense apologies to those still waiting here). One of my main goals going into this spring/summer is to tackle that entire pile head on- let’s not hold our breath here but rather pray some mighty prayers to whatever higher power exists out there.

I started to dig through the pile again after a rather lengthy hiatus from it and it really hit me just how important a query letter is. This might come off as a stupid realization because well, duh query letters are super important. But, it’s not until you put yourself in the shoes of those people reading these letters that the importance really strikes you. Think about it for a second, you are faced with a pile of 100 book submissions- what’s going to make you stop and ask for more rather than tossing it directly into the ‘reject pile’? What sets one letter apart from another? What key information are you looking for?

See the dilemma of the query letter now? Yes, yes you do.

query

Catching an agent’s or publisher’s eye can be at times pure luck. Maybe the agent/editor has a special affinity towards your genre or writing style. Maybe they had good luck with a similar book recently. Or maybe it just sounds so different enough that it’s worth a shot. Whatever the case may be, you are one step closer to getting published and you couldn’t be happier about the opportunity.

Unfortunately, we all can’t depend on luck. Authors and writers need to take their querying seriously if they want to have even the slightest chance of getting noticed. You might feel like you are spending the same amount of time drafting a one page letter as it took you to write your entire novel. It might not feel like it at the time, but that’s a good thing. If your query doesn’t catch, your novel or book isn’t going to either. This morning I came across some helpful tips on GalleyCat that all writers should keep in mind as they are drafting their next query letter:

  1. Nail the “hook.” What’s the main point of your story? What makes your story so interesting? What makes it so different from other novels already out there? Why should the reader care about what you have to say? What does every word you put down on paper lead up to? Once you figure that out, nail it home in the query letter. Agents and editors don’t have time to read every manuscript in full, so you need to tell us what makes your story so special so maybe, just maybe we will take the time to read it. Don’t try to hide things in an effort to build suspense.
  2. Offer comparative titles. Since the agent/editor has never read your book before and is just reading a short summary of it, it’s helpful to include some comparative titles in your letter that maybe that agent/editor has already read or has at least heard about. It gives us some sort of base line to compare to and conveys the overall feeling of your story perhaps better than you ever could in your own words. Pick the right titles that actually compare to your book- you aren’t tricking anyone if you just rattle off a few bestsellers.
  3. Share your own story. The biographical section of your query letter is just as important as the summary of your book. We want to get to know the person behind the writing because that’s what helps to sells a book as well. Make sure to highlight the most interesting facts about yourself and what makes you, well… you.
  4. Acknowledge what you are looking for. Let the agent/editor know what type of relationship you are looking for with them. Are you solely just looking for a channel in which your work will get noticed? Do you want to work with them in order to improve your writing? Are you an experienced writer or are you looking for someone who will really be able to explain every step of the process to you? Neither of these options are ‘bad,’ you just need to be upfront about what you are looking for so that we can better access if we will be able to fulfill your desires.
  5. Talk about future plans. If you have other projects in the works or have ideas for future projects, include that information as well. It’s helpful to know where you want to go as an author and if we can see ourselves taking that ride with you. It’s always refreshing to hear from a writer with a vision for themselves, so don’t be afraid to share.

Write (or query) on!

Becoming Your Own Editor

I do a lot of posts about editing on this blog, it’s no secret. To be honest, I have been feeling kind of lost lately because I haven’t done one in a while. There must be something real off in the universe, right? But have no fear, Bustle answered my cry for help this morning. Rachel Krantz reads essay submissions for Bustle and also conducts monthly writing seminars/workshops for their writers and freelancers alike. It is very safe to say that she has completely immersed herself in every part of the writing process, for better or worse. Her last seminar focused on self-editing (insert happy dance here). It is actually one of the more helpful articles I have stumbled upon when it comes to editing, giving me even more of a reason to share it with you.

I don’t want this advice to replace hiring a professional editor. If you have room in your budget to hire professional help, I would still highly recommend it. I’m also in touch with reality enough to know this isn’t possible for everyone, making self-editing one of your prime concerns because you simply don’t have a choice. Whether you are writing a news article, an essay, a short story, or a novel editing can seriously make or break you. You can have an awesome story, but if the reader/editor evaluating your writing can’t get through a few pages (or lines) without finding structural or grammatical errors your writing is automatically going in the ‘trash’ pile. It may not seem fair, but it’s really hard for someone to connect with your writing when all they can think about are the mistakes that keep popping up. Despite if they are easy fixes or not, most editors aren’t going to be willing to work with you if they can’t connect with your story.

selfediting

Below you will find some advice from Rachel’s seminar, but you should really check it out for yourself too:

  1. Get your FAME on.

Rachel created an acronym for the process of self-editing before you even start writing, she calls it FAME.

Free Write: Designate a certain amount of time and just sit down and basically barf up your story in any way, shape, or form possible. Just write whatever comes to mind. Don’t stop and most importantly, don’t think. Just write.

Account For Your Details: Look for patterns. Words that repeat themselves and themes that keep reoccurring. Highlight those details.

Map Your Arc: Create a general map of your story. It will be helpful to know where you are starting, what your climax is going to be, and where you will end up.

Expect An Audience: Figure out who your audience is before you start writing. Also, make an ideal word count. Different forms of writing, different age groups, and different genres all have different ‘ideal’ word counts. It’s best to figure that out before you start writing.

2. Embrace the first edit with questions.

How nice would it be to only have to do one edit and then call it a day? That has to be every writer’s dream, right? Unfortunately, your first edit is going to be one of oh, I don’t know… 100? It might be helpful to approach your first edit with some questions in mind, instead of focusing on just finding the mistakes. I bet there are many areas that could still be developed, cut down, or made clearer. Your first edit is the best place to tackle these problems. That’s why Rachel provides key questions on content, form, and length for you to think about. It’s important to get these issues resolved as early as possible.

3. Walk away.

Once you complete your first edit, walk away from your writing for a few days. Work on something else, treat yourself to a reward, or pick up that book you have been dying to read. Give yourself some time to digest all the work you have done so you will be able to come back to it with a clear mind.

4. Conquer the second edit and so on.

During your second edit, make sure to revisit the same questions you asked yourself during you first edit. Make sure you still feel the same way about them. Rachel also poses some new questions for you to think about to make sure you are still following your original intended track.

5. Recruit a friend.

Ask a friend to read it through. A fresh set of eyes can often save your writing. Sometimes we become blind to the one thing that really needs our attention because we are so busy making sure our overall message is delivered. You might even want to give them the questions that Rachel suggests, so they can think about them while reading.

Self-editing is scary, let’s just admit it. But, with a little help from people who have been there we will be able to get through it, hopefully with the same amount of hair on our head as when we started. Write on.