Monday, October 8, 2018

Tip Time

I recently did a fun Skype Q&A with Wordsmith Workshops, where attendees had a chance to ask me whatever they were interested in knowing.  One of those questions about my pet peeves re: query letters inspired this month's tip about how to write a good query letter.

Every agent has personal preferences, of course, so this is not a one-size-fits-all tip, but these first ones are pretty universal:
  1. Personalize your query - Getting a "Dear Sir" email is akin to getting those credit card offer letters in the mail.  Also, if you're asking us to read your sample chapter (and hopefully more) and give you helpful feedback, you should be addressing us personally.
  2. Make sure we represent/are looking for authors writing in your genre - You're not going to convince an agent who doesn't rep SFF that they suddenly *do* want to rep SFF.  Doing your research beforehand shows that, well, you've done your research, and doesn't lead to wasting both your times and ours.
  3. Don't be a car salesman - One of my all-time pet peeves are queries that tell me this is my one chance to get in on the ground floor of an amazing opportunity of what is sure to be a bestseller.  It automatically makes me wonder if the writer is going to be a diva with revisions and if they truly understand the amount of work they and I will have to do if we agree to partner.  Let your writing and your platform speak for itself instead of trying to shove it in an agent's face.
  4. Don't be pushy - I'm always a bit surprised when I see submissions that include something like, "If I don't hear back from you in X amount of days, I'll be sure to follow up."  First of all, that kind of reads like a threat.  Secondly, it is kind of a threat, since reading that immediately makes me think that I won't be fast enough for you and that you'll expect super timely responses 24/7, which is never going to happen.
These next ones are more my personal taste, so it may not work to apply them to every query you do, but I thought I'd throw them in:
  1. Be snappy - One of my interns once nicely described my personal taste as "crisp."  I hate wordy, rambling prose in general, and am drawn in by clear, concise language that effectively draws me in and leaves me wanting more.  I always tell people to think of what the back cover copy on their book would be and use that as a model.
  2. Don't share your bio if it's non-writing related - If you have relevant information to share, like your nonfiction platform or your status as a NYT bestseller, then I definitely want to know!  If you have a YA Asian fantasy, tell me if it's own voices, or if you have a thriller that takes place on a submarine and are a submariner, that is something I should know!  If you decided to be a writer because your local library didn't have enough books to satisfy your cravings, that is less important to me.
Good luck with the querying process!