By Guest Blogger Bethany Masone Harar
I’m in a long-term relationship with the query letter.
Like any relationship, we have our ups and downs. In the past, we’ve shared moments of pure joy, like chapter and manuscript requests or publishing contracts. We’ve also broken up more times than I can count – though, admittedly, the query letter is the passive one in our relationship. I’m the one who fights dirty and name-calls when it doesn’t live up to my expectations.
The query letter is a fickle companion. It’s best after extensive makeovers. There are times I don’t even recognize it anymore. In certain stages of our relationship, the query letter has been charming, drawing others in like writers to pitch contests. During its less-stellar moments, it elicits immediate rejection or deafening silence. This instability sets my nerves on edge and makes me irritable, which often leads to one of our epic break-ups.
But there are ways to nurture our relationship that have proven fruitful. When I take time to hone specific skills or avoid common mistakes, our relationship improves.
Keep it Short
I like my query letters short – a page at most! Each word needs to matter, so be concise both in the pitch and in your personal information. Be enticing and leave the agent wanting more. This is not the time for an abundance of adverbs and long character descriptions. Neither is it the best opportunity to tell the agent about that stick-figure picture book you created in first grade which sparked your love-affair with writing. You’re basically sending your query letter out on a date with another person, and first impressions count.
Leave the Gimmicks at Home
The query letter doesn’t need pearls and diamonds to look good. Yes, you want the agent to court it, but including your glamor shot with your cell phone number at the bottom and hoping the agent will call isn’t the best solution. Neither is sending 100 pages of your manuscript when they ask for 10, organizing the text in the shape of a picture, or including tiny glitter books. Your query letter is beautiful in its simplest form.
Learn to Share
When first starting a relationship with our newest query letter, we often don’t want to share. Maybe we’re worried our writing partners will find it lacking. Maybe we’re still in a fragile stage of the relationship. But this is not the time to let our ego get in the way. Allow others to read the letter and give you suggestions. Take their advice to heart and revise. Then revise again. Remember, this is part of the nurturing process, and it is an essential component to making this relationship work.
Your query letter won’t change overnight. It takes work and yes, patience, to find the sweet spot. Write a draft. Let it sit for a few days. Revisit it. Still not working? Seek some advice. Ask an expert. Give it a few weeks and come back with fresh eyes and new ideas. There is no shame in counseling advice. It’s known to strengthen a rocky connection. Remind yourself that nurturing this relationship is worth it.
Eventually, you’ll find common ground with your query letter. You’ll learn to appreciate its quirks. You’ll understand its structure. You’ll find the right one. All it takes is a little love. Or maybe just a ship name. #TeamQBeth
Share your own query letter experiences in the comments.