How Do I Get A Monopoly On Query Letters?
Photograph copyright: DAVID McMAHON
Here's a great question from that lively blogger Goddess. She asks, ``A lot of publishers (magazines and novels) require a query letter before they'll even look at your stuff. So you have to basically sum up your whole novel or article in that letter, and that's intimidating to me. It's intimidating because I know that if I can't capture the essence of my work in that short letter, I can't pass GO or collect my $200. What info should be included? How should they be written? How long? Any info would be greatly appreciated.’’
So, how do you write a query letter to a publisher?
Righty-o, Goddess, let me put it this way. Imagine if Michelangelo sculpted that magnificent figure of David - and consigned it to an attic. We would never have seen that brilliant piece of work.
Similarly, a great piece of writing has to be given an audience. Don't let the prospect of writing a query letter intimidate you. Picture this scenario instead. Imagine you and I are sitting in a pub and I say to you, ``So what's this feature article/ short story/ novel about?''
You'd put down your beer (or slug it, depending on what time it is) and you'd tell me the gist of it. You'd do it easily, in about four or five sentences. But here’s another handy hint. If you can’t write a really short synopsis, just write whatever comes into your head. After a few hours, look at it again and shorten it. Once you are left with the essence of it and can’t shorten it any further, your job is done. (If you can’t do it, send me the synopsis and I’ll help you shorten it – I’m serious.)
Once this is complete, all you need to do is to email those four or five sentences to the publishers, with your details. They get so much stuff emailed to them that they want to know - in the shortest possible time frame - whether an essay, article, manuscript or series of novels is going to capture the imagination of the reading public.
Here's the truth. You have to capture the imagination of the publisher first. In all honesty, try and keep your email/ query letter short. It shouldn't be longer than one computer screen or a single sheet of A4 paper.
A publisher doesn't really want to know too much about you at this stage. So even if you are a descendant of Blackbeard the pirate or a great-granddaughter of James Barrie, don't bother with that sort of information.
They want to know about the story. Introduce yourself in one of two sentences and then give them a concise synopsis. No publisher is going to let a nugget slip through their hands. If they like what you've sent them, they will reply and ask for more details.
Hopefully you'll pass GO and collect $200 so many times that you will have houses and hotels on every property on the Monopoly board.
For earlier posts in this series, go to So You Feel Like You’ve Hit A Brick Wall?, Don't Drive Yourself Too Hard, Gotta Go With The Flow and Let Me Help You With That Book You're Writing.