re: Cursed by a Crappy Query Letter

in Submissions by

Dear Editor…

I am beginning my writing career and am trying to sell my first children’s book. I feel like my stories are great but are not getting read due to my cover or query letter. How can I make my letter stand out better?

Sincerely,
Megan

Dear Megan…

You’ve heard of the dreaded “saggy middle,” that condition in which an ms with a strong opening and finale goes all limp noodle in between? Query letters can suffer saggy middles, too. Paragraph 1 may be swell, with its announcement of the genre and title and clues that the author has researched the agent’s interest. But then Paragraph 2 delivers a brief summary of the story. *sag* Summarizing is for synopses. Agents don’t care how the plot plays out yet. They want to know that this project has a ready audience/place in the market, but that it offers that audience something new. Paragraph 2 positions the book. Introduce your character and his goal/dream/need, state the antagonist/conflict that will hinder him, and sprinkle in a few of the unique details that make your story different from all others sharing your theme. Mention comparative titles if you like, but otherwise be done. Positioning accomplished, no sag in sight.

Happy writing!
The Editor

9 Comments

  1. One thing my critique group does is have query letter days, where you send everyone your query letter (so that people can remember the gist of the story) and everyone else makes their attempt at writing their own version.

    It’s very illuminating, because you get to see what OTHER people thought were the key parts of your book. It’s kind of fun for everyone else, because they get to play around with writing catchy jacket-copy type lines for someone else’s work, which they don’t have tons of pre-conceived notions about–so they don’t spend time on characters that you think are important, but not important for the query letter. And they don’t waste hours and hours over-thinking it.

    My last (successful!) query letter included some of my favorite lines by my critique group members, that I revised to make my own (since, of course, they don’t get always the details right).

    • “Successful”? Congrats! As for your critique group’s query letter day, that’s a fantastic way to tackle the letters. Great practice for all, and you walk away with excellent ideas for your final draft. Indeed, query letters can be approached like jacket copy. I love writing both! I get Don LaFontaine’s voice in my head and run with it.

  2. It is a very good idea. I find writing query letters akin to dental surgery. It hurts a lot, even with Novocain, but the outcome usually makes it worth it.

    • Your analogy made me laugh, Bill, for just as I like writing query letters, I like going to the dentist. I worked for a dentist for years, through high school and college. It’s like home to me.

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