We regret to inform you that we must reject your submission on the basis that your query letter sucks.
I’ve often boasted that I can write anything well. At least, that’s what I tell prospective freelance clients. But I have yet another confession (seems like it’s a week for confessing). My query letters suck. (If this wasn’t a PG-rated blog, I would be more descriptive and say they suck *ss.)
If you wrote a 500 page novel, some multi-genre epic about man’s inhumanity to man, I’m sure I could craft you a brilliant query letter. I’ve written cover letters for people that have actually resulted in them landing their dream job. But my own work? Forgetaboutit.
I’m a big fan of cliffhangers. My former editor used to call them “dun-dun-duh!” moments, and would make the appropriate sound whenever I read out one of my chapters. Turns out, cliffhangers don’t work so well in query letters. If you’re all mysterious about your book when describing it to an agent, you don’t peak his interest. He just figures you don’t have a clue what you’re talking about.
Thankfully, I’m well aware of this short coming, so I signed up for an online course about agents & editors that’s taught by a woman who really gets the publishing industry. The current recession ended up being a lucky break for me, because I’m her only student for this session. I need all the help I can get.
I sailed through Lesson One with ease, and maybe I was feeling cocky. No more. Part of Lesson Two was pitching my book in a quick sentence or two, and then in a paragraph meant to entice. This is just a small sample of my feedback:
You say she was “forced to go back”? Really? Does someone take her by the collar and make her move? Do the police come to her door? You can’t say that without explanation because it doesn’t seem plausible. Now you could say “compelled” but even that stinks. We have to know what drives her. Then this bleeds into the next question: if she is thirty why does she have to address a teenage or high school disappearance? Seems like everyone moved on. See what I mean? Two questions, the agent isn’t convinced. You planted some holes and the reader doesn’t have time to wonder because they don’t feel compelled to read more. And then this is followed by another question, really two questions: “…someone or something is determined that she figure it out.” Huh? that doesn’t make sense. When you send something to an editor, intriguing them is different from leaving holes open.
Yikes. I’m glad to know it, but I have even more work to do than I thought. And guess what this week’s assignment is? Yep, writing the query letter. I had an online chat with my instructor for over an hour, and she still wasn’t able to fix everything that needs fixing.
I definitely have the query letter blues.
Anyone else out there been through this? Or better yet, survived it and learned how to write the ultimate query letter? Share your secrets!