Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Query: How to Prove your Book is Made of Awesome

Ah yes, the infamous Query Letter. So infamous that I went so far as to inadvertently capitalize a common noun in a sudden rush of reckless abandon.

But really, the query letter is a strange and horrifying thing. It's a three paragraph sales pitch that will make or break the future of your book. Granted, there are many hurtles that strut between you and a publishing contract, but for some reason, the query letter carries the most weight. It's a pretentious little microsoft document, one that continuously smirks up at you as if to say, "that's right, the fate of your soul lies entirely in my nonexistent hands."

Yes, authors are always saying their characters speak to them. Well my query letters mock and verbally abuse me.

Of course, when writing your query, your primary goal is to sell yourself. But you could also (sadistically) view it as a chance to manipulate others. Basically, you're Ursula, bouncing and singing and shimmying your voluptuous "body language" to convince Ariel (the agent) to sign a shiny gold, levitating contract (your book.) The whole sucking of the voice out of the mouth and into the shell necklance doesn't really apply to my metaphor so we'll just move on.

I realize we're now being portrayed as the evil agent in this situation, but villains have more fun anyway, especially the ones with well-endowed, purple cleavage.

The format of the query letter requires your contact information at above the greeting. Following the greeting, you will typically have three paragraphs which follow:

Phone Number
Home Address
Email Address

Dear Drusilla Von Horlacher,

Paragraph 1: You want to begin with a hook that will seduce your agent right off the bat. I've read from several agents that a major turn on is learning as much about the main character as possible within the first few sentences. Reveal the strengths of your book that prove its originality and appeal.

Paragraph 2: This paragraph includes the summary of your book. Try to do this in as few sentences as possible. Also be sure to include your book's genre and word length. In this paragraph you could also include that your book is perfect for this agent to represent because it's similar to books X, Y, and Z. This information is crucial in your query, so make sure you include it at some point.

Paragraph 3: This paragraph includes a mini-resume of other works you have published. Even if you are a first-time author, you must still include some writing credentials about yourself. These can include awards you have won, clubs you are a part of, conferences you have attended, or school experience relevant to your literary work.

Then finish your letter with a painfully polite remark. Something along the lines of "I look forward to hearing from you/ working with your agency/ being graced with your artistic genius."

Your Name (make sure your entire letter is single-spaced, including "yours truly.")

There are many options that can help guide you along the way to creating the perfect query letter. I'll be posting said options soon. But for now, begin constructing the basics, piecing together attention-grabbing sentences with personality, charisma, and flow. Best to just begin. I found the first sentence to be the most garment-renting. When overly-stressed, just think of Ursula. Actually, during all the times of the day, both good and ill, think of Ursula.

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