Monday, April 14, 2008

Querelous Queries

As you know, I have recently made the leap into Mac ownership, and while I have not cast off my old PC completely (my kids still need it for school) I have been slowly trying to move things over to the new (and infinitely superior -- have I mentioned that before?) machine.

Today I had a little problem with this, as someone contacted me to whom I had originally replied from my old machine. Not surprisingly, they hadn't received my email, and in having to re-gather my thoughts, I realized I just might have something worthy of a blog post.

So here it is.

In my line of work, I am often asked by aspiring writers for a little help here or there. Mostly this involves: "I've just written a novel. NOW WHAT??!!??"

Today, this brought me back to the query letter -- the sort that one might send off to a prospective writer or agent, depending on one's propensity for that sort of thing.

I am a big believer in query letters. One of my own query letters led to my first manuscript being plucked out of a slush pile and fitted snugly between covers. (Note: This did NOT happen over night. Not at all. But it was all the more immensely satisfying when it did happen, for the wait, of course.)

In my humble opinion, the writing of a query letter FAR outshines the old stick-the-ms-in-an-envelope-for-an-exclusive-submission form of getting one's work published.

I've done both, and let's just say that the full manuscript option was less effective. Vastly.

Anyway, when you are ready to send your newly-completed, meticulously spell-checked and in every other way perfect new baby manuscript out into the world, my best suggestion to you is to not send it anywhere at all.

Instead, write a single-page query letter. The body of the letter should include a paragraph highlighting each of the following:

1) A brief synopsis of the story. Begin this with a one-sentence hook (prolly in the form of a question) to start with. For example...

What rough beast, its hour come at last, slouches towards Bethlehem, waiting to be born?*

(In fact, this is not a hook, but instead what I think might be my favourite line of poetry EVER. Can you name the author? If you need to cheat, peek at the bottom of this post...)

2) A brief (BRIEF!) summary of your very own self -- your writing history and anything particularly quirky about YOU that might catch the interest of the letter's recipient.


3) An explanation of why you are sending this query to the particular recipient. You need to do some research for this one -- make sure you convincingly note that picking up your story will be a good business decision for their company because...(they've published/agented others of this ilk before and done well with them, or they seem to appreciate a good story and this is one, or whatever is the best reason you can come up with.)

Once you've written your letter, run off the first 2 or 3 pages of your story and send the whole thing off in a business-sized envelope to every deserving publisher/agent you can think of.

When they reject you (which they will, likely, and quite often, too, until you find the right fit), roll with it, listen to any advice offered and KEEP TRYING!

Let me just finish by saying that there are a million writing books out there that you can refer to for wonderful advice, but I would also not hesitate to recommend a good writers' conference, if you are in the neighbourhood. Of course, my favourite is the Surrey International Writers' Conference , but go ahead and look around.

You know where to find me if you have any questions.

~kc (* with apologies to Yeats...)

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