Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Accomplishments in Query Letters

Authors are always asking how they should list their sold stories and books and so forth in their query letter. Nathan Bansford wrote about not trying to make your accomplishments look more impressive than they are in Know Thyself. Miss Snark wrote about What Counts As Published and self-published book credits in query letters.

Miss Snark also wrote about not mentioning how much your readers liked your book and talked about if re-querying a revised manuscript is alright.

Jessica Faust at Bookends wrote a final word on her pitch critiquing posts. To quote a section of it:

Pitches, like writing a book, a query letter, or, really, any other aspect of this business, is not an exact science....

I get a lot of questions from readers wanting to know how long a pitch should be and how long is too long. For those of you who need numbers, I would say one to five sentences. The truth, though, is that a pitch is too long when an agent stops reading. You aren’t writing a synopsis, you are simply trying to hook someone in, and let’s face it, none of us have attention spans that will hold for more than one to five sentences. If we want more we’ll start reading the book.

I also know that many of you are looking to these critiques for a format or formula that you can simply drop your own storyline into. The truth is that no one format works for all persons or all books. For some the conflict is going to have to come from the characters, for others the plot. The trick isthat you need to figure out what really makes your book stand out from every single other book in your genre. Is it the unique situation the characters find themselves in or is it the characters themselves? It will also depend on your readers. Cozy readers often pick up a new series simply based on the crafty, cozy hook; romance readers often look for a unique hero or heroine; and fantasy readers will want a world they haven’t been in yet. Of course that’s oversimplifying, but I think you might know what I mean. Knowing your reader and what she looks for can help you define your pitch.

And last, it’s important to remember that a pitch is different from a query letter. A pitch is that enticing paragraph that grabs the reader and only talks about the book.

Anna Genoese, who used to be an editor at Tor, wrote about submissions. To quote part of her article:

For the moment, though, I will remind you that the only secret handshake in this business is the quality of your work. The best way, the very best way, to catch an editor's attention is to write a really good book with really interesting sentences.

Once you're done with your manuscript, and your mom's read it, and your best friend's read it, and you've convinced one of your favorite fanfic readers to read it, and you've incorporated the suggestions they gave you that you were comfortable with... put the ms. down. You've got time.

Take a few weeks. I know, it's hard, you want to send it out right away....Go back two weeks to a month later and read your ms. again. Read bits of it out loud. Make sure it's really what you want to show the world. Then send it. (Or revise again, if you realize you're not actually telling the story you thought you were.)

Double check your grammar, your spelling, your punctuation. An error on page 14 is forgiveable -- an error on page 1 is not. This one line could even be its own post -- look, just pick a spelling style (British nglish or American English) and make it consistent. Pick a punctuation style and stick with it. If you always use two hyphens with a space on either end to indicate an em-dash, we'll totally get it -- but be consistent. And if your story reads well and can be understood, precisely following Latinate grammar isn't always necessary. Casual is fine, but for the love of Glorificus, if you even think a sentence might not read properly, read it out loud or ask someone who knows of what they speak for advice.

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