Sunday, March 20, 2011

4 Sites to Aid in Query Letter Writing

The dreaded query letter.  It's merely a ticket for the bus taking you to a mountain made of publishing monsters, but without that ticket, you're pretty much stuck in Unpublished Land watching the tumbleweeds blow by.

It seems the hardest thing for authors to do, especially with complicated plots involving a parade of characters, is to focus on one aspect of the story.  And sometimes that alone can indicate the author needs to cut fat out of their novel. 

But back to query writing.  One of the best suggestions I have to offer is perfecting the elevator pitch.

If you haven't heard of the elevator pitch, it's when you're standing next to an agent, grab him/her by the shoulders and then proceed to throw them down an elevator shaft because you know they're probably going to reject you anyway.  Next you assume the agent's identity, take yourself on as a client and pray to God that you become a bestselling author before murder charges are brought up against you.

But really, the elevator pitch is meant to be a verbal 25-word-or-less sentence summarizing your novel.  And the only reason I mention this is because before I begin a query, I write an elevator pitch.  Doing this really forces an author to focus on one aspect of the story.  There's no explanation of the thirteen characters who play an integral part in each of the four interweaving plots.  There's no excessive description.  There're no gimmicks.  Just a skeleton of what you're trying to sell.

After I yank my hair out over summarizing a 70K+ novel into 20-25 words, I expand upon what I've come up with into the actual query summary.  I try to keep this under 300 words (not counting an introduction and short bio).  250 is even better.  You see, going from 70K+ to 300 simply gives the author too much to work with.  20-25 makes you find one interesting point which you can later build upon.

I also recommend several sites to aid you in your query journey.

This secret agent posts comical snippets of actual queries received followed by their wise-cracking replies.  Just like the Bulwer-Lytton contest, it's always a good idea to read the lowest of the low.

This is a site you can submit your query to where it will actually post.  The followers there will give you their honest opinions.

This is the site where everyone wants their query critiqued.  I've yet to land one on there, but the Shark (Janet Reid) is a literary agent who will tear your query down and then hand you the tools to bring it up to industry standards.  I highly recommend submitting your queries here.

I'm a huge fan of organization, especially when it comes to the road of publication.  The simple fact is, if you're not organized, it will show.  You'll lose information.  You'll lose contacts.  You'll even lose track of which agents you've queried, so save yourself the hassle by letting QueryTracker do exactly that—keep track of all of your submissions.

These sites are just some of the tools you should keep in your arsenal once you're ready to go to war with the query letter.

I'd like to end with an example of the elevator pitch for an award-winning film:

When a Roman general is betrayed and his family murdered by a corrupt prince, he comes to Rome as a gladiator to seek his revenge.

1 comment:

  1. Ah, the infamous one-liner. Thanks for helping me, uh, focus.