We can’t go into “cute dog” mode to get people to like our novel. We can’t just cock our head and cast a pleading, expressive glance at the people involved–whether to solicit an agent or a book reviewer. So what do we do?
We write query letters…which may be one of the unavoidable, least fun parts of our writing careers: one part dreaded synopsis (which we cover here) and one part a professional plea to read our work.
You may have written a great book, but if you can’t write a good query letter, no one out there may ever find out about it (unless you hire an amazing publicist or get a lot of your friends to pass out their own versions of query letters in a word-of-mouth campaign).
- Focus. A query letter isn’t when you share about every detail of the writing process. It should be about getting your book read, whether by the agent or book reviewer. So focus on who you are, as an author, and on the book you’ve written. Nothing more.
- Be professional. This is as close to a writing job interview as it gets. Don’t use abbreviations or slang. Write in full sentences. Provide them with the requested information, and make it easy for them to take the next step. And do your research before you send the letter. If the person isn’t interested in your genre, please don’t waste their time and yours by sending them a query.
- Be honest. Don’t try to make claims that aren’t real or to sound like a bestseller when this is your debut novel. We just want to know who you are and what you’ve written, and knowing we can trust you is more important than how many copies you’ve sold or how many followers you have.
I get queries all the time from agents and authors who want me to read and review their book. Some are very professional and some have clearly not paid attention, not even bothering to insert my name in the “Dear [insert name]” slot of their letter template. And while I do my best to ignore the format of the query and to help authors of all levels of experience, the query really sets the tone for the rest of our communication.
For others, whose job (and paycheck) rides on the excellence of a writer’s work, the query letter will definitely determine whether you even get a second glance. Repeating yourself, sounding desperate, or quickly directing us to Amazon (where your book can be bought) or to a “writer’s website” that has little more information than a business card could hold–all these show that you don’t know much about the business side of writing or that you just decided to “dash a letter off” in the hopes that we might be bored.
For more information on how to write a professional query, I highly recommend Kyra Nelson’s blog, where she reviews and critiques query letters (having worked with an agency for a few years) and Kristen Nelson’s blog, where “A Very Nice Literary Agent Indulges in Polite Rants About Queries, Writers, and the Publishing Industry.” Both have taught me a lot about what you can expect when you query and about the other side of the coin–how agents see writers and novels.
Ultimately, the person you’re sending your query letter to is looking for books and manuscripts to read (provided you did your research and they are actually open to queries at this time). It’s part of what they do. So you don’t have to twist their arm or whine to get them to read your work. You just have to share why it’s interesting in a professional way, and hope for the best.
What about you? What has been your experience with query letters (for book reviews, agents, or otherwise)? What tips would you offer?
Copyright 2016 Andrea Lundgren
Photos by captain and pippalou, Creative Commons