Getting your Query Letter past the Gatekeeper
By Shauna Hart
What makes a query letter jump out of the stack to tempt an editor?
Think about the editor’s life. All day long, they sit at their desk reading one query letter after another. With phrases
like, ‘my book is about’, they probably feel like they want to bang their head into a wall.
So, what are they looking for?
A letter that piques their interest?
We’ve all heard about the hook, and there have been many articles written about it.
But what is it?
When I write a query letter, I try to write it like I’m writing the back cover of my book. I still include all of the necessary information on my writing credits, word count, genre, etc. However, when I write the description of the book, I write it as though I am trying to sell it to a reader. The editor is your first reader. If you can’t sell the book to them, then you probably won’t be able to sell it to the general public.
- Do some research on what hooks your interest.
Go to the bookstore and pick up ten different books in the genre you are writing. Read the back covers. Which one
would you buy? Sending a query letter to an editor is pretty much the same thing. It is the first time that the back cover
of your book will be read.
- Don’t give the milk away for free.
Just like relationships, you have to keep some mystery. If you include the entire plot of your book in the query letter, what will you say in the synopsis? The query letter is your teaser. It is the flowers and chocolates that will help you get in the front door. If they request a partial or a full manuscript, then you can plot out the entire story.
When I first started writing query letters, I had no idea what I was doing. I definitely fumbled my way through. But it was all a learning process that I wouldn’t trade. Now, when I send query letters, I usually get a request for a partial or the full manuscript.
- You have to pay your dues.
This usually means you have to take some punches, before you win the fight.
Submitting your work and having it rejected is never easy. But, unless you are extremely lucky, this is part of the process every writer goes through. Even Stephen King received rejection letters in the beginning. The good thing is that you learn from each rejection. When I first started to submit my work, all I got were form letters. Then, little by little,
I started to receive personalized rejection letters with helpful tips.
- Never give up!
The most important thing is to keep writing. You would never have started this process if you didn’t want to be a writer. The only thing that can stop you from achieving your goal is YOU. With each book, you will get better. With each class, you will learn something new. Keep striving to be a better writer and you will get there.
If, in the end, you get to go to the bookstore and see your books on the shelves, isn’t it worth it?
For comments or questions, please visit me at www.shaunahart.com.