Query Letter Realities pt. I

Posted on 07/21/2009

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Firstly, I need to get something out of the way–I am NOT a published author. Remember that as you read this.  What I am, however, is knowledgeable.  Thanks to many years of research, and training by different people, I have learned a lot about how the business works, and this makes me more of a judgemental ass on some subjects, and less on others. The deal is: some things you can control, and some you cannot. You can control how well you writer, to some degree, but you can’t control so many other things that I decided to jot down a few notes and came up with this piece.

As unpublished writers, we need to hear the truth, no matter how harsh it is. I come to you with another truth today:

Writing contests on your query letter mean absolutely nothing. They are not even worth the time you put in typing them in and they are only moderately worth the time you take to enter them. (Depends on the prize!) –I hear agents out there saying… “They might matter.” I call bullshit. Any agent who read this knows they only care if the damn manuscript will sell!!  (And that’s as it should be)

Sure, the agents want to know a little bit about you as a person, but that’s after they cut their fingers on your razor sharp writing.

Remember this when crafting that awesome, spectacular query letter: Your story may be the best one ever told, and you may have penned it perfectly…but if an agent can’t sell it, she will pass. That’s where the market comes in to play. Agents have no control over that, so don’t blame them for passing on the most kickass query letter you’ve ever written, and the best story since The Great Gatsby.  I’m being honest here, folks. All you can do is write the best story you can, then the synopsis (one page) and the query.  After that, you’re done, and the “luck” part of the business comes into play. If you don’t think there’s some measure of luck with all published authors, you’re deluding yourself. Every published author I have met, has two things in common: good stories and good timing. I will stop digressing now, sorry.

Back to the writing contest accolades. I’m not saying don’t put them on the bottom of your query, but don’t believe it will make your story or query any more palatable to the agent in question. I have a ton of what I call “amateur” accolades (contests you enter where you pay) and I might put them on my query letter, but when the rubber meets the road, the agent asks herself (or himself) “Can I sell this novel?”  Seriously. They might LOVE the premise, the writing, the everything, but if they can’t sell it, then it’s going to be damned hard for them to accept you as a client.  This truth sucks.

Here, let me show you:

Dear Kick Ass Agent in New York City,

I’ve written a romantic, YA, horror, thriller that is sure to entice the masses with its witty banter and “Twilight” meets “Harry Potter” storyline. (seriously, please don’t write this. It tells the agent nothing)

The story is about Gabrielle, a young Nazi Chinese vampire who escapes the camps to become a violent contender for the The heart of Brock, an out of work fish salesman in Sheboygan who was punished by his alcohol abusing father with no thumbs.  What she doesn’t know is Brock, her main squeeze, is a werewolf.

Their love grows as their competition lights up, and the sparks fly as they find they can forgive each other, only when they can forgive themselves.

Potter Twilight is an enigmatic story of brutality and love, where hatred and condemnation are ill-begotten needs that drive the heartless to their knees and the wicked to their own souls.

I am a mother of 7, with a master’s degree in “motherology”.  I have read a lot, and won the 9th annual Sisters of YA Contest for fiction. I also came in second on the Writer’s Digest short story contest in Genre fiction.  And I placed honorable mention in the Ypsilanti Romance Writer’s contest. My mother loved this story and told me it could be on the shelves in stores.

I eagerly await your response, and know you’re going to love this story.

Sincerely,

Okay, it’s a little over the top, but you get my drift.  The query letter sucked, and she added in the writing stuff. The agents going to read that and say, “Okay…you won some contests, but your query sucks.”  Even if your query letter is spot on, the agent might still read your little bio on the bottom and think, “So what. Give me the story.”

So, when you’re debating on adding that little quip at the bottom about winning the Canyonlands bi-annual Cat Detective Short Story Contest, wait.   Think about it.  Does it fit? Are you forcing it in? Do you have enough space left on the page?  It’s a tough choice, because agents will say they want to know something about you, but honestly, unless you have a few books published, they probably don’t care.  They want to get to know you after you bowl them over with your badass writing.

So when you see Writer’s Digest contests, don’t think you have to enter to have it on your writing resume, instead enter it to WIN it and get the prize. But if you’re just entering it to put it on your resume, agents will skim over that part of your query letter and say, “Oh isn’t that nice” and then get to the writing.  That’s where you need to be spot on!

Part 2 coming soon.

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Posted in: Writing