June 1, 2018 In Articles
Guest post on Pen and Parent: 7 Writing Tips For Submitting Query Letters
It’s been a little over six months since I started down the rabbit hole to Queryland and I have learned SO much. So, I thought I’d share a little about what I’ve learned about writing and submitting query letters so you can avoid some of the mistakes I have made.
Do Your Research
First things first, make sure you are ready to query. And I don’t just mean the-book-is-done ready. I mean you’ve done your homework on query/synopsis writing and you’re now a pro.
In case you aren’t quite sure what a query letter is, it’s a sales pitch. In a few paragraphs you are going to tell agents and or publishers about your book and get them so hooked and wanting to know more that they request a partial or full of your manuscript. Make sure you’ve researched what agent might fit best for your work, meaning you know and understand your novel’s category, genre, sub-genres, and word counts. Once you know these things you’ll be ready to send out your answer to all those manuscript wish lists (#MSWL) floating around out there.
Proofread Before Pressing Send
I swore up and down I was ready to submit query letters back in September. I had THE query letter that my editor and I spend a ton of time on perfecting (which she did an amazing job by the way, the errors that happened were thanks to my own after additions) and sent it to my top choice DREAM agents. After re-reading the email I’d just sent to said agent my heart sank. I wasn’t ready and I knew then (after it was too late) I should have had more feedback first. There were mistakes (remember how I mentioned I added to my letter… don’t do that) that needed other eyes to see because mine were so starry-eyed I couldn’t. My friends, I MISSPELLED my dream agent’s name WRONG in the subject line… THE SUBJECT LINE. The first line this agent or her assistant will see in their inbox. I wrote that one off as an automatic no… and 3 months later I did receive my rejection letter.
Consider Hiring Help
A few months later, after correcting my errors, I still wasn’t getting the responses I was hoping for. So, I revamped my query. I hired MM Finck, who is a query wiz, and what she did to my letter was eye opening. I had the approach all wrong. The focus of my letter wasn’t giving the overall feel of the main points/plot of the story. I was too focused on the emotional journey of my main character I forgot to add in the actual details of the plot… agents need to understand your plot through your query. I had much better results once my letter switched its focus.
Join a Supportive Writing Community
So, aside from your book being completed, doing your agent homework, and getting that second (or more) sets of eyes on your query letter, it is imperative that you DON’T go wander through Queryland alone. Rejection is hard my friends. HARD. I’ve had lots of it in the last 6 months. Mostly in the form of the necessary evil called a FORM REJECTION. I understand why they are used, however they sting and quickly make you question anything and everything about yourself and your abilities as a writer. With personalized rejection letters few and far between, I can’t stress enough how important having a good support team behind you is. There are many querying groups out there you can join through Facebook or Twitter where you will find others to celebrate or commiserate with since they too are deep within the query trenches. I created Writer Moms Inc for this reason. Pen and Parent has a Facebook group of supportive writers as well. These are great places to find other writers to get those other sets of eyes and feedback on your query letter and pitches as well.
Not only have you already laid your heart open and bleeding on the pages of your precious story, you are now shopping it around, hoping beyond hope that an agent will take notice and love your work just as much as you do. Which leads us to another important thing I’ve learned (and it ties into doing your agent research) look for an agent that will be as excited about your book as you are. If not MORE excited than you are.
Don’t Give Up Hope
You want someone that will fight for you. Your agent should be someone who will do everything in their power to help your book reach its fullest publishing potential! Now, I haven’t found an agent yet for myself, which brings me to my last point: Try to keep in mind that your book, however amazing it is, might not be right for the current traditional publishing market. It’s the hard truth that many of us submitting query letters don’t want to acknowledge. For example, I am querying a paranormal women’s fiction story. Paranormal, as in vampires, aren’t exactly on many manuscript wish lists right now (I will add though, recently I’ve been seeing a few agents asking for vampires again). So, if you are like me and your genre perhaps isn’t quite right for the current traditional market, DON’T give up hope! Your book doesn’t have to go hide in a drawer yet. There are so many amazing publishing options available these days. Between small presses and self-publishing, you don’t have to lose hope if that right agent just isn’t coming along or you aren’t quite right for the current market.
Remember above all else, YOU WROTE A BOOK! And that is something to be proud of! Celebrate it! Let the immense power of what a huge accomplishment that is sink in and fuel you as you begin your journey through submitting query letters. You will need all the sunshine and rainbows you can store. So be ready, do your homework, find the support you need to keep you going, and explore ALL your publishing options! Happy querying everyone, may all your publishing dreams come true!