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Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Query Letters and Evil Editors

This post is for all the hopeful authors out there struggling to write their first (or second or even fifth) query letter.

Today, many editors and agents rely heavily on the query letter to determine what manuscripts warrant a chance at being published. The days of sending full (or even partial) manuscripts to editors unsolicited are for the most part over. An author has one page to convince an agent/editor to ask for a sample. The query letter has become a filtering device of sorts, a way for editors and agents to sift out the gems from the sludge.

So, what goes into an effective query letter? What will make your query stand out from the hordes of others that land on an editor or agent's desk?

If nothing else, the letter MUST be professional. There cannot be any typos, misspellings or grammatical errors. The editor or agent’s name must be spelled correctly and contain the correct salutation. Make sure you know whether the agent/editor is a male or female.

If you’ve never written a query letter before, have several people read your letter for you. Use spell check and grammar check. Make sure you do not misuse who’s/whose, they’re/their, etc. If you do as I suggest and compose a professional and technically flawless letter, your letter will already be miles ahead of most of the others sitting on the agent/editor’s desk.

Second, the letter must be brief and focused. There should be roughly three sections or paragraphs and each one has a precise purpose. (Note: you may place these paragraphs in whatever order you think is best--put the most significant paragraph first. If you have twenty books published, by all means put that first. If not, try opening with your book’s hook.)

A. An introduction and statement of your purpose.
This is where you tell the agent/editor the reason why you’re writing. You also mention your book’s title, length and genre and any publishing credits or contest wins--if you have them. Do not include any work experience not directly related to the subject matter of your book. There is no need to “beef up” this section if you don’t have any publishing credits. However, a mention of related professional affiliations (for instance RWA) is fine.

B. The blurb of your book.
This section is where you place a short, snappy paragraph about your book. How you write this section is key. If an agent/editor is intrigued by the premise and see some commercial potential, they may ask for more. If it’s flat and dull, they won’t. I tend to write hooky paragraphs that read a lot like back cover blurbs. Do NOT use this section to tell the editor how great your book is, or how much it’s going to sell, or that your entire critique group thought it was a potential NY Times bestseller. Tell the editor about the characters and their goals, conflict and motivation. Tell these things in a way that is memorable and intriguing. Make every word count.

C. The wrap up and thank you.
In this final paragraph, you want to thank the agent/editor for their time and provide contact information.

There you are. Done. Finis. You’ve now drafted a brief, professionally-crafted query that will not automatically land in the circular file. It may or may not get you a request every time. That depends upon the appeal of your book’s premise, how “commercial” it is. But at least it won’t shut you out before you’ve had a chance.

If you remember nothing else, remember this: agents and editors are looking for a package that is commercial, that has the potential for wide appeal. They want a book that has a unique hook, one that can be marketed to appeal to the masses. Don’t *tell* the agent/editor that you’ve written such a book, *show* them by writing a great blurb.

For examples of what not to do, check out this blog-- Evil Editor

I don’t know who this editor is, but he has some great advice and samples.

Good luck with your submissions!

posted by Tawny Taylor at 9:28 AM |


Commented by Blogger Jen:

Great way to compound the Query letter process, Tawny. This is my nemesis. Well, not as bad as synopsis writing, but close.
I sent my review off to Diva Shawn today. Expecting my dump truck full of chocolate forthwit. LOL.
Do you have anymore coming out? I want to read them all now. So does my best friend. She asked me about the other books listed. Cool huh?

12:21 PM 
Commented by Blogger Tawny Taylor:

Hi Jen!

Thanks so much for telling your friend about my book :) I'm absolutely thrilled! And I can't wait to read your review!

The Divas are having the Query contest. I hope you'll give it a shot. I also have a workshop on writing queries on my Sydney Allan site. Maybe that'll help. If you're real brave, you'll post something for Evil (love that moniker! LOL). Don't blame you though if you're not ready for that yet.

8:30 AM 

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