View Full Version : Query Letter Tips

Carolyn Howard-Johnson
March 4th, 2012, 02:24 PM
I'll try to get back to the forum a couple times a day to add new tips to this thread.
And, of course, I'm hoping you'll add tips of your own so we can discuss them.

Tip: In your query letter (and anywhere else) don't say "My novel entitle XXX." The very you're looking for is "titled." This one error can brand you as an amateur and that may be enough for an agent or publisher to deep six your query--and never ask for follow up chapters. Not sure it will feel as dreadful to feature editors and radio hosts, but it's still good to avoid, right? (-:

I'll be back later with another tip.

Mary Anne Landers
March 4th, 2012, 02:54 PM
Carolyn: So you're saying we should just use an appositive, right? Something like "My novel XXX"? Or leave out "my novel" and just give the title, genre, and word count. It will be pretty obvious that it's a novel.

Carolyn Howard-Johnson
March 4th, 2012, 03:04 PM
MaryAnne. That would sure be one way to handle it. But "titled" is OK. Just not ENtitled. Another freaquently-made error is saying that we're submitting a 'fictional novel." A "novel" by definition is fiction. I do think that it may be important to at least mention novel somewhere. Or "novella" or "collection of short stories" or whatever. Just for clarity. Some agents/editors/publishers etc deal with nonfiction, memoirs, poetry, etc. So the clearer we can be, the better. I love you appositive approach, though.

Carolyn Howard-Johnson
March 4th, 2012, 03:35 PM
I already mentioned this to Mary Anne. (We have a thread going on FB, too! (-: ) But we shouldn't say "fictional novel." Another dead giveaway of amateur status. Novels are, by definition, fictional.

Here's another one. Keep exclamation points in a very minimum. One of the agents I interviewed for The Frugal Editor (www.budurl.com/TheFrugalEditor (http://www.budurl.com/TheFrugalEditor)) said that overdone exclamation marks remind her of a barking chijuajua on speed. I think that says it all, don't you?

Carolyn Howard-Johnson
March 4th, 2012, 04:43 PM
I think this is tip #4. It's a silly one, but here goes. Don't try to make your letter (or media kit or anything else) stand out with gimmicks like goldenrod paper, glitter, a misleading subject line, etc. There are ways to spark up a query letter and still have it feel authentic. More on those later. (-:

Mary Anne Landers
March 4th, 2012, 07:53 PM
Carolyn: I keep exclamation points to a minimum everywhere. One reason is because a statement should be strong enough to make an impact without such props. Another is because when there's a good reason to use them, they'll do their job better when they haven't already been overused.

Carolyn Howard-Johnson
March 4th, 2012, 07:55 PM
Exactly, Mary Anne. When we are tempted to use an exclamation point (even one!), we might double check the strength of our verb before we do it! Use a thesaurus to see if we can come up with a stronger (but appropriate) verb! (-:

Mary Anne Landers
March 4th, 2012, 08:11 PM
Got a question for you, Carolyn. Some experts on querying agents---well, they act like they're experts, anyhow---claim that in writing a query letter, an author should skip the intro and cut to chase. She shouldn't say, "Thank you for your listing in the 'Publisher's Weekly' website. If you are open to submissions, please allow me to offer you __________, a complete historical romance of _______ words . . . "

Rather, as soon as the author types the semicolon in the salutation, she should start the pitch. Then she can close with info about word count and contact info.

Which way do you recommend?

Stephen Kessel
March 4th, 2012, 09:57 PM
Rather, as soon as the author types the semicolon in the salutation, she should start the pitch. Then she can close with info about word count and contact info.

Which way do you recommend?[/QUOTE]

I was also wondering, as someone who writes for and works in electronic publishing if you think that elctronic publisher queries submissions are done very differently?

Carolyn Howard-Johnson
March 5th, 2012, 02:02 PM
Stephen, this seems to be the big problem with query letter advice. One of the agents I interviewed said something like this (not a direct quote but close): If an author can't write a query letter that is adapted to their title and their voice, if they follow a template slavishly, then I have to wonder if they can write at all. In other words, she isn't too tempted to read chapters, proposals or anything else. That's one of the reasons I wait to post sample letters when I teach query letters. Every query letter should be different. The advice given here is OK advice. It's just that it's given as if it's written in stone that I object to. I'll post a sample query letter later this afternoon. Earlier than I'd planned, but as long as the subject has come up. (-:

Hope this helps. Stay tuned. (-:

Carolyn Howard-Johnson
March 5th, 2012, 02:05 PM
As far as cutting to the chase. Yeah, if you mean wordinesss, blah, blah, blah. Query letters are only one page. Every word counts. But it doesn't just count in a give-em-the-facts way. It counts in letting your voice shine through, letting them know who you are. letting them know you know WHO they are. In other words, you're not just a piece of meat and neither are they. This is communication! (-:

Carolyn Howard-Johnson
March 5th, 2012, 02:09 PM
Is a query to an electronic publisher different. The short answer is no. But it's also yes. Because every query letter, though there are some basics, must be different. Because each publisher must be addressed as people. And you must second guess what it is they want to hear from you--or at least how you should address the basics to reach them at a gut level. Most rejections I've seen from my clients and students say something like "I just wasn't passionate enough about your book." Well, maybe the query letter didn't grab them early enough. But they may not be passionate enough about the query letter to even look at the book. They would never say that, though.

Carolyn Howard-Johnson
March 6th, 2012, 02:38 PM
Next tip, all! Did you know that "awesome" is a four-letter word? Avoid judging your own brilliant novel or feature/interview idea! That's there job. While you're at it, take a look at all your adjectives. They really, really, really can be overdone. (-:

Carolyn Howard-Johnson
March 7th, 2012, 06:31 PM
OK. I admit it. I've been to the beauty parlor. It's a losing game--but still essential! So, tip today. Get your hair done before a speaking gig to promote your book. Just kidding. Let's see. One of the techniques I like for setting a query letter apart from the pack is to start with a quote--one from your book or a quote from someone else. Or a fact.

And don't just start it in the first paragraph. Put it into italics--and indet it on both sides. My favorite use of this is a quote from my own book that actually gives the agent a hint of my voice. But you'll have to choose something that's perfectly cut out for your title, your personality, YOUR voice. (-;

Mary Anne Landers
March 7th, 2012, 11:46 PM
Thanks for today's tips, Carolyn. I'm looking forward to posting my sample query tomorrow. Please don't hesitate to tell me what's wrong with it. That's why I'm in this seminar!

Carolyn Howard-Johnson
March 8th, 2012, 12:46 PM
Mary Anne, please be sure to put your query letter in the query letter thread. I'll try to get to it this afternoon. :redface:

Carolyn Howard-Johnson
March 8th, 2012, 12:50 PM
Another quick tip for Thursday:

The above question from Stephen made me think that I should remind you that a query letter should have a bit (a sentence, a short paragraph?) in it about the author's platform. You want to convince the agent/publisher/editor/talk show host that you are pro--even if this is your first book. So think what have you done? Other publishing? Awards? Taken classes? Gotten a credential? Attended writers conferences? You want your contact to see that you are serious about not only your craft but about the marketing of your book.

Carolyn Howard-Johnson
March 9th, 2012, 12:23 PM
Friday's tip: Here is one of the resources I list in my book The Frugal Editor (www.budurl.com/TheFrugalEditor (http://www.budurl.com/TheFrugalEditor)). It is a blog that comes straight from an agent, an agent who pulls no punches. It is http://pubrants.blogspot.com.

Carolyn Howard-Johnson
March 10th, 2012, 05:53 PM
Final Tip: One of my favorite ways to write a pitch for a book in a query letter is to use the old formula used by screenwriters for loglines or movie posters. It goes, "When xxxsmething happens, then xxxx something else happens." One can eliaborate a tad, of course. But it's a way to pique the interest of an agent and still have room for the other stuff that needs to go into a query. Oh, strong verbs! (-: