Monday, July 9, 2012

Query Letters Take Practice

"If you don't tell me what your book is about, it's game over,"  says literary agent Janet Reid,in her blog post, "Every query letter must have this one thing."

This seems self-evident, but Janet's blogged about a gazillion different ways writers can get it wrong. Some of that is undoubtedly due to not understanding the function of a query letter. It could also be due to the difficult of changing gears. Harry Turtledove once said that novels teach you what to put into a story, and short stories teach you what to take out. Well, query letters are like short stories all mixed up with novels and then put on diet pills (the kind that make you so jittery, you want to jump out of your skin). Here you've spent all this time developing and deepening and creating interwoven connections and layers of nuance...and then you ask your muse to encapsulate 100,000 words in ONE SENTENCE.

Yep, it's the elevator pitch. Without the snazzy. But with the snazzy. A different kind of snazzy.

Even seasoned writers blanch at the prospect. But look at it this way: in today's publishing market, this is a necessary skill. That's true even if you're self-published - you still need to communicate that nugget of coolness-of-story-experience in very few words. The thing is, we think we can do this just because we can write a novel. It's a different skill. One that we can learn. One that we can practice. (And one that our friends can help us with, by feedback.)

So I remind myself (a) I wasn't born knowing how to do this; (b) having written umpteen novels does not in itself grant me the knowledge of how to do this; (c) just like learning to write said novels, I'm going to make a bunch of mistakes before I get better at it.

1 comment:

  1. And just like learning how to write a novel, there's no one single template for the 'perfect query letter'.
    Which is a shame. Just imagine how much money one could make selling something like that to frustrated writers the world over ...