Non writers and some newer writers have asked, “What’s the first step in getting published?” And- “How do you get an editor or agent to look at your work?”
Well, naturally, the first step in getting published is having a well-written story you love. And you do have to love what you wrote. Forget about feeling conceited, because if you don’t love your story, neither will anyone else. So, love it. And be proud.
So, that’s the first step. And believe it or not, it gets more complicated after you’ve written the story of your heart.
Next, you have to make someone else love it too. And that takes time and perseverance. Mainly, because editors and agents don’t have time to read every query letter, proposal, and manuscript that comes across his or her desk. So, you have to wow them from the moment you make contact. And that’s not always easy. Agents and editors alike receive a multitude of query letters every day. So, yours has really got to shine. Which means, mastering the query.
A query letter is your chance to make a first impression. And, you only get one shot at it. Make it count. And don’t drone on an on about your book, yourself, or your experience. Like I said, editors and agents are very busy people. They don’t have time to read a six page letter. They want to see one page and they want something on that page to grab them.
So, how do you grab an agent or editor’s attention without sending cash bribes?
Be professional. And find a way to tell the editor about your story in the very first line. I usually start with a tag line. (See my previous post on tag lines.)
I’ve taken classes on writing queries and I’m a member of a query critique group. OUT OF THE DARKNESS is my first and thus far, only published novel, but my query letters normally result in the agent or editor requesting the manuscript.
So, what are some things you should NOT do when querying an agent or editor?
No hot pink stationary or weird fonts. It will only annoy the very people you wish to impress. Don’t even try it. Send a professional sounding email or a typed query on plain white paper with a standard, readable font in a normal font size. Editors and agents read these letters quickly. You want them to remember your plot and the name of your story–NOT some freaky creative gimmick you used in some lame attempt to impress. So—NO gimmicks!
Be professional and courteous and remember to say thank you. Even if the editor or agent doesn’t request a partial or full of your work, they took the time to read your query. And they don’t have a lot of free time. So, again. Thank them before closing.
Here’s an example–
Using the movie DIRTY DANCING as my fictional book, this is how I’d construct my query letter.
RE: DIRTY DANCING
Dear Ms. Name, Never use Dear Editor if you can avoid it!
Start with a sentence that will grab the editor’s interest. I use my tag line. (see prior post to find out how to write a tag line.) A tag line is a 1-2 line summary of your plot.
Have The Time Of Your Life.
Next, add your blurb. This is like the teaser on the back of a book. It’s a 1-2 paragraph summary of your hero and heroine and how they interact in the book.
In the 1960s, Frances “Baby” Houseman, a rich daddy’s girl, goes on a family vacation to a resort in the Catskill Mountains. Baby has grown up privileged and her family expects her to go to college before marrying a doctor, just like her father. And Baby has always done what is expected-Until she meets the camp’s dance instructor, Johnny, a man whose background is vastly different from her own. Her father wants to ban her from DIRTY DANCING and Johnny, but Baby has a will of her own.
Now it’s time to give the name, length and type of manuscript you are sending.
DIRTY DANCING is a completed 100,000 word romance set in 1960’s New York. This story is targeted toward your Vintage Line. (or whatever line your story might fit.)
Next add brief, personal information about yourself. This is where you brag. Add anything that shows you are a serious writer who has studied her craft. But be BRIEF.
I am a member of RWA and my local chapter, Heart of Carolina Romance Writers. (if you have awards or have won a contest, put it here.) My first book OUT OF THE DARKNESS is a May 2010 release with The Wild Rose Press. DIRTY DANCING is my sixth novel and it is available upon request.
(Don’t forget the SASE, and don’t forget the thank you!)
I have enclosed a synopsis and a SASE for your reply. (of if this is an email query, say Attached is a brief synopsis) Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you soon.
My phone number
If you’re fortunate enough to have a query critique group, send the query to them and get feedback. Then, make any needed adjustments and put it in the mail. Or email it. And cross your fingers!
Writing is a waiting game. And publication is the prize.
Excellent post! Now I know exactly where to go when I say to myself… finished the book, now time to write a query. ;-)~EK
Great way to spell it out, Lilly. Those query letters can be such wicked little beasts. Thanks for a great post.
Caren Crane said:
Lilly, this is great information. Manners always count and it can be so easy to get discouraged and, perhaps, a bit bitter when the rejections pile up. A great query is worth its weight in gold and can at least snag a request for more material. Thank you for the informative post!
Lilly Gayle said:
Thanks y'all. And I wish I could take credit for all these little nuggets of wisdom but it's info I've collected over the years through other authors and great meetings at my local RWA Chapter, Heart of Carolina Romance Writers.
Kari Thomas said:
Great, thorough advice, Lilly! Wishing you lots of Sales for OUT OF THE DARKNESS!hugs, Kari Thomas, http://www.authorkari.com
Lilly Gayle said:
Thanks Kari! Love the support I get from other writers.