Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Part One of the Submission Dynamic Duo - The Query Letter

Last week, I outlined ten reasons why I hate submitting novels. This week, I will provide advice on part one of the Dynamic Duo that makes up a submission package:

the Query Letter

The query letter is your introduction to either a publisher or an agent. The letter should contain four pieces of information:

- what your novel is about
- the novels that your novel is similar to
- what makes your novel so incredibly awesome
- who you are as a writer

The agent or editor wants to know what type of novel you are shopping. Is it a comedy, tragedy, romance, hard science fiction or urban fantasy? Which age group of readers will buy your book? How is it unique and how does it fit into the marketplace to attract buyers? Also, are you a writer who is in the business as a career, or is this possibly the one and only book you will ever write?

These questions are always front of mind for agents and editors. Every query letter that they receive will attempt to answer these questions. You don't want your letter to be so boring and so matter-of-fact that they won't remember it the moment they move on to the next one.

Your letter needs to grab them!

Your letter needs to make them desperate to buy your book or represent you.

Most of all, you want your query letter to linger in their minds and resonate with them long after they set it aside to read the next one in the pile.

To make your query letter stand out, it should contain several crucial elements:
- a hook i.e. a catchy opening
- a sense of the voice of the novel
- genre and/or novel comparisons
- a brief biography

The hook should grab them, contain some irony, and make them sit up and take notice. Yes, they will think, this novel sounds so amazing that I can't help but buy it.

I was going to list a series of good examples of query letters, but there are so many online I didn't know where to begin.

Use a search engine and you will find plenty of good ones.

The next couple of paragraphs should give a summary of the plot similar to what would appear on the back cover of the novel. The most important thing to remember for this section is to write the summary in the voice of the novel. You are selling the voice just as much as you are selling the plot itself, so focus some solid effort in this section of the query.

Most publishers and agents will also be looking for examples that compare your novel to other novels with similar styles or plots. Sometimes in this section, you should also include the word count of the completed novel.

Examples of Comparisons:

My novel, "Stress Invaders" reads like Star Wars meets Zen and the Power of Meditation.

My trilogy of novels, "The Romance of the Alien Nascar Drivers" are a series of romance-thrillers with romantic entanglements similar to those in the Twilight novels by Stephenie Meyer and the aliens in Illegal Alien by Robert J. Sawyer.

Okay, I was aiming for over-the-top and somewhat ridiculous examples but I hope that you get the idea.

In the last paragraph, try to sell yourself. Mention previous publishing credits only if you have any. Mention any awards you've won (The Aurora, The Nebula, The Hugo, etc.) or any organizations you belong to. (SF Canada, SFWA, HWA, etc.)

You might also want to include relevant work experience but ONLY if it is RELEVANT. If you've written a book about Nascar racing, mention that you've won several Nascar races, that sort of thing.

Watch for next week's post on writing a synopsis.

Do it now
Perform a search on examples of query letters. Use their suggestions to write a draft of your hook sentence.

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