I’ve been to several presentations on this topic, but I have to say this one was exceptional. What I most appreciated was that they geared their talk toward helping and educating writers rather than highlighting the services their business offers.
The duo worked well as a team, each stating their individual approach and preferences, which gave a balanced perspective to what editors look for in query packages.
At the end of their presentation they read and discussed a handful of query letters submitted by audience members. What stayed with me most about the reading of the query letters was one word: FOCUS!
As usual, I took pages of notes. Here are some dos and don’ts from their presentation.
Focus on the writing and trust your instincts.
Put some distance between completing your manuscript and submitting to an agent or an editor.
Remember that writing is an art; publishing is a business.
Understand your genre: Writing what you love to read will help you understand the market. Writing your query letter will help you understand your manuscript.
Keep your query to three paragraphs, no more than three sentences each. Paragraph 1: Why are you querying that particular agent? What’s the word count and genre? Paragraph 2: Distill your story in three sentences. (Time and space, the hero, the challenge, the conflict, what is at stake, how the hero changes.) Paragraph 3: Include a relevant, brief bio with significant publications, if any.
Keep in mind that a synopsis should be one page, single spaced and include: the set up, the character’s motivation, description of main characters (not tall and blond), main plot points, conflict, emotion, action, snippets of dialogue, black moment, climax, and resolution. Be sure to include the story’s ending.
Always follow agency or publisher guidelines.
Keep it real: You’re not Stephen King.
Remember that your query letter has one job: To get an agent or an editor to read more of your manuscript.
Stay calm and keep your chin up!
Query before you’re ready.
Get too personal in the bio of your query letter.
Leave the ending off of your synopsis. (An agent or editor needs to know how it ends to be able to sell it.)
Ask an agent or a publisher to sign a non-disclosure form. (It's a turn off and a sign of mistrust.)
Have the word copyright all over the pages. (It’s the mark of an amateur.)
Think you’re the exception to the rule.
Let the end game influence your craft.
Using their boilerplate, I wrote a query letter to help me understand my manuscript better. Now I’m inspired to finish my manuscript by the end of the year and edit it early next year.
Stay tuned while I try to stay focused!