Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Fine Art of the Query Letter

Today I attended a lecture on the Query Letter, aimed at removing the mystery surrounding this beast.

It was put on by Taryn Fagerness from the Sandra Dijkstra Agency, and I thought she did a wonderful job. If there was one thing Taryn hammered home today, it was this:

Be professional, and be concise.

Beyond that, there were a handful of really key tips, which I will share... well, now:

  • For any of the below tips, don't bullshit. Be upbeat, but don't turn into a used-car salesperson. Hype is bad.
  • In your summary, themes are less important than plot. And don't spend a lot of time trying to explain the deeper significance to your masterpiece.
  • Address it to a specific agent. Do your homework, make sure that agent represents the type of book you've written. Actually say that you are contacting them for this reason, and even mention another writer they represent that you admire (or are familiar with).
  • Don't be afraid to say your book is similar to other works, but don't set your bar impossibly high.
  • Your pitch should be very concise. Enough to get them the flavor, and an idea of the plot, but keep it short. Your job is to get them interested enough to read the synopsis, or first fifty pages.
  • Say what genre your book belongs in, and roughly how many words it is.
  • Don't add irrelevant information. You should include applicable bio (and remember, no bullshit), but not your hobbies, etc.
  • They like "exciting" things they can highlight off the bat -- previously published titles, endorsements, etc.
  • You're basically helping them sell the book. She said it is very common for the verbiage on a well-written query letter to end up on the flap of the book. Read the backs of books in your genre to understand how to capture the essence of yours.
  • Don't wait until the end of your pitch to say what is interesting about it. Get to the point right away, be upbeat and interesting.
  • Follow submission guidelines to the letter.
  • One page only. No exceptions.
  • If you've met the agent at some point, say that.
  • Don't bend the agencies interests to suit your needs. If they don't normally represent your genre, don't try to explain why they should.
  • Are questions good to start with? No.
  • If you are submitting to multiple agents at once, you can mention that at the end. If this agent is your top choice, you can say that, but only if its true.
  • Good to imply you are not a "one hit wonder", if you're already working on another project or sequel, its OK to mention that -- but only one project per query letter!

She shared a number of query letters, examples of both good and bad approaches, and went into detailed analysis of them. On the whole it was fascinating, and one of those rare lectures where almost everything said was valuable information.

She also spent about an hour critiquing query letters from the students attending. I did not take part (I've only just discovered this part of the publishing process -- such a newb!), but her fair and honest analysis of those that were read was just as interesting as the rest of the lecture.

I definitely feel less daunted by tackling this, now. Just need to finish the damn book.

If this class pops up again at San Diego Writers Ink, I highly recommend it to any of my fellow aspiring novelists from 'round here.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Dragon Ring

The Dragon Ring
Originally uploaded by LowFuel
May 24, 1986.

This is the cover of the (hand written) novel Jake G and I started during the 8th grade.
It was about a British military officer named John Crimson, who is sent to India to solve a murder against the backdrop of the fall of the British Empire there (I'm not kidding.. we were clever little bastards!). The "Dragon Ring" is the fraternity of assassins he uncovers.

We got about 60 pages written before summer started and other priorities took over (D&D, ahem).
Jake found it in a box in his garage last year and was kind enough to give it to me.

Perhaps I should pick this project back up... hmmm..