I put off writing my query letter for Community Klepto for way too long. After all, it feels almost reductive to turn years (many years, in my case) worth of work into a three-paragraph sales pitch some acquisitions editor at a publishing house who doesn’t give a crap about my work. It IS reductive. And it’s hard. But it’s also necessary, and will make or break you as an author. So, I made myself sit down and do it.
On some advice from the brilliant Rachelle Gardner, I pulled a couple of my favorite books off the shelf and took a look at the back cover. I was able to get a few lines out but still struggled with how to write about myself. At one time in; my life, I had a side job as a freelance writer, doing other people’s online dating profiles, so I am intimately familiar with people not being good at writing about themselves. The more I spun my wheels with writing my query, the more I felt like I was trying to write an online dating profile…
So I did just that. I started applying the same principles that I employed as a profile writer to my query; and you know what? It worked. I was able to step out of my hamster wheel and actually come up with a pitch that was worth a damn. The more I thought about it, the more convinced I became that the query letter was really just a dating profile for my book. So if you’re struggling with how to write a really good query, try applying some of these dating profile writing techniques –
ADJECTIVE LISTS, NO.
No one wants to read a dating profile that’s just list of boring adjectives that you think describes you. Likewise, no publisher wants to hear you talk about how your book is visceral, humorous, horrifying and uplifting. It’s just not convincing. What is convincing, though, is humor that comes through in your voice when you talk about your book’s plot, its characters, its setting.
PAINT A PICTURE
Reading is an experience. A publisher can’t get a feel of what that experience will be like for a reader if you don’t give it to them in your query. Rather than describe or summarize your work, paint a picture of what it’s like to be inside your book. Pick out a specific scene or character trait that can take the place of those boring lists of adjectives you’re supposed to be avoiding.
KEEP IT SHORT
Yes, publishers and agents read for a living. That doesn’t mean they want to open a query submission only to be confronted by a wall of text. Keep your query to three paragraphs – four max. Here I employ another freelance writing gig’s strategies: Groupon. First paragraph, introduce the concept and create an experience the publisher can be a part of. Second paragraph, tell the publisher what they’re buying if they get your book. Third paragraph, talk about you. You have to do it at some point and this keeps the focus on the work. (Of course, these rules are completely different for non-fiction authors.
Of course there is a lot more advice on query letter writing out there, but the dating profile strategy really helped me make my query into something I can be confident putting in front of publishers and agents. Now I just have to actually do that… stay tuned.