Here are some things you can do to give your query its best chance at doing it’s job!
1. Start by writing an impeccably good query letter. Um, really? That’s not such helpful advice. Yes, really. Here’s how to do it: Address it to the correct person (without anything smarmy, like “Dear respected agent”); include a snazzy intro paragraph that includes genre and word count; write a clean, quick synopsis with no spoilers and which leaves some unanswered questions; make sure your bio is short, sweet, and inclusive; sign off professionally and make sure all your contact information follows your name. Yeah, well what constitues “snazzy”?
2. In your intro paragraph, have that first sentence start with a fantastic hook. What’s a hook? It’s a one to two sentence teaser or elevator pitch. Like a Tweet, you know? Minus hash tags, of course. Something that will catch an agent’s eye (but not in a weird or scary way). How do I know if I’m being weird or scary? I’m not answering that.
3. Write a great manuscript. Aw, come on! You always say that! Yes, yes I do. Because honestly, even if you write the most kick ass query letter in the world, if your manuscript isn’t great (not just good… great) it’s always going to be a pass. No matter who you query. What matters is the manuscript. So don’t send your work out until it’s complete. That means it’s been through a number of drafts. Complete doesn’t mean you finished writing the story yesterday so you’re ready to send it out into the world today. Fine. Be that way.
I was having coffee with an editor the other day and we were discussing how we’re both drawn to edgy fiction. We both like to see characters struggle, be in difficult situations, overcome adversity (or at least try to). We like to read about things that are real, even if they’re fantastical. Real emotion. Real language. Real challenges. I’m not always drawn to the dark side of things but I also don’t shy away from it. I like keeping it interesting, you know?
One of the things she mentioned, and I hadn’t realized I felt the same way, is how stories don’t need to end all tied up nice and tidy. As a matter of fact, I’m noticing that I prefer some things left unresolved, some questions, some “hey, wait!” at the end of a manuscript. I kind of like some loose ends. I do also like happily ever after, sometimes. But maybe not, too.
How about you? Do you like everything all tidy at the end of the books you read? How about the things you write?
I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to post again, dear blog followers and droppers by! I’ve been deep, deep into editing mode. One of the things I do as an agent is to read my clients’ manuscripts with an eye toward polishing them to a high sheen before submitting them to editors. I fix obvious problems and make a LOT of suggestions in the margins. And then I write an editorial letter and send it all back to the author.
A suggestion that I invariably end up making (well, 9 times out of 10) is that the author should either read the manuscript out loud or even better, have someone else read it out loud to them. I want them to get down to hearing just the words that are down on the paper. When you hear something read out loud, without inflection, you can hear if the words are doing their job. And when you listen to your own words, read by somebody else, you are more apt to hear where something isn’t working.
I invite all writers to do the same. Have someone read your work to you. Take a pad and write down when something isn’t working, when it sounds “off,” or inauthentic. Pretend they’re not your words. Ask yourself, as you listen, if your characters sound like themselves. They should sound the way you imagined them, even when someone else is reading them to you. Notice, as you listen, whether you’re bored or excited or worried or afraid or cracking up as you hear the words you’ve written.
How do you check whether your writing is working?