Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Query Letters: Not So Bad

I woke up this morning thinking it was Wednesday. And in my sleep-haze, was like, "What did I write about yesterday on the Novel Girls?" And then I panicked because I thought I missed writing about one of my favorite topics: Query Letters.

To some writers, that last sentence might be like saying, "I LOVE when my car breaks down!" or "Paying my credit card bill is the BEST!"

But, no. Seriously. I really like writing query letters. To me, there's something so satisfying in seeing my book--the piece I cried, laughed and screamed expletives at--summarized in a few paragraphs. It's like the cake is already baked, and I'm just writing down the recipe.

So let's get into the real meat of a query. Typically, the formula is this:

Dear Agent (Use real name here. And address it Mr./Mrs./Ms. With the fabulous invention that is the internet you can easily find out if someone is a man or woman.)

Opening Paragraph--brief. Can open with a hook or just state the word count/genre/book title. Like, in a sentence and stuff.

Hook Paragraph(s)--get into the real meat of your story. You don't have to give everything away, but make it interesting. Your query is like a commercial for your book. Make someone go, "Oooh! I want to read this!" One thing I found helpful was to look at back cover copy on published books. Your hook should read the same way. Or, just go to Amazon or another online retailer and read the summary copy posted. This section is usually 1-2 paragraphs.

End Paragraph--This is where you put any credentials, if you have them. Contest wins, other works published, etc. It's OK if you don't have any credentials. I certainly didn't. Trust me, creds aren't going to make or break your query.

And that's it! Now, there are two important things to keep in mind. The first is to write your query in the voice of your book. If your book is funny, your query shouldn't read like toaster oven instructions. The second is to follow the submission guidelines. Agents get so many queries a day, they're LOOKING for a reason (any reason at all) to say "No." Don't let an oversight like not pasting the first 10 pages of the book or whatever be the reason!

I'm someone who learns best by example, so I thought it would be fun if I posted the query that landed my agent. She's used it in a few query workshops at conferences. Here it is in all its 2007 Fabulousness, complete with original title:

Was It Planned?, 80,000 words and commercial women’s fiction, examines what happens when an unplanned pregnancy uproots a newly-married couple and their very obese, drag-queen cat.

When twenty-seven-year-old event planner and famous blogger/Internet Rockstar Clare Finnegan married her long-term boyfriend Jake, she didn’t mind moving out of the city. After all, a suburban existence didn’t necessarily equal domesticity, book club parties and a subscription to Martha Stewart Living. But, after a boozy weekend in Vegas, Clare discovers she’s pregnant and is thrown into a world where her paycheck goes directly to daycare and eating lunchmeat is equivalent to smoking crack.

During her transition from beer bottles to baby bottles, Clare juggles her two feuding best friends: Julie, an overweight nurse with trailer park roots who thinks she’s a cast member of Sex and the City and Reese, an affluent, stay-at-home mom who is quickly discovering why suburban women are the fastest growing category of drug users. Not to mention her teenage sister, whose reaction to the pregnancy is, “Your life is, like, over now. Have fun buying high-waisted Mom Jeans.”

Despite her initial shock, Clare welcomes the new changes but still ponders questions such as: “What the hell is a Diaper Genie?”; “What if I accidentally leave the baby somewhere inappropriate, like a Victoria’s Secret dressing room?”; “Why do most maternity clothes look like they were molested by a Bedazzler?”; and “How can I possibly have a child when all of my furniture is made of cardboard and from IKEA?”

Was It Planned? is my first novel. I’m twenty-seven and reside in Chicago with my husband. Ironically enough, shortly after completing this novel, I became pregnant and my first child is due this August.

Thank you for your time.

Good luck and may the Querying Force be with you!


Jillian Cantor said...

This is a GREAT query letter! Wish I'd known you back when I was writing mine :-) I'm super-excited for your book!!

Lesley Livingston said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lesley Livingston said...

Gotta second Jillian - you give such a sense of your style and personality here. Terrific!

(I deleted this comment the first time around because all it gave was a sense of my crappy typing!)