Revisiting Query Letters

A branch of my library system had a talk last night, given by Kristen Nelson and Angie Hidapp of the Nelson Literary Agency here in Colorado, about querying and query letters.

My husband said I should go, and so I did, and there were free cookies, so woo! But it served as a good reminder of the process.

If we go back to 2009, back before this blog, I was somewhat seriously querying. I’d finished my first revision ever, had done all my research, crafted a query letter and a synopsis, and had started sending queries out. And I got some requests, all of which came back with a “good, but not great” rejection. And I entered that story in some contests, with the same results, and then sent out more queries and got nothing, so I shelved that story and went on to other things.

But now I’m back in the querying saddle, and it was good to go through the process again, because admittedly I’ve just been working on my query, and it wasn’t until last night that I realized a refresher was actually not a bad idea, since it’s been so long.

A query letter, to recap, is like a cover letter on a resume. It’s a short letter (or email, these days) that explains the basics of your story. If it catches an agent’s/publisher’s attention, they then go on to read or request pages (depending on whether that particular agency/publisher asks for pages with the query). That’s its whole job–attract attention so the actual manuscript gets looked at.

There’s generally four parts: an intro (Hello, I think you would be a good fit because we both like plesiosaurs, and also we talked about plesiosaurs that one time I cornered you in the elevator at that writer’s conference), some basic story stats (word count, genre, title), a pitch (this is what my book is about, look isn’t it fascinating), and a bio (I have relevant experience which makes it sound like I may have a clue what I’m talking about).

The bio part has always been a bane of mine (I mean, alongside the pitch, but I think most people have pitch issues). I’ve generally gotten the impression that it’s no good to mention you’re an indie author unless you have major sales. I also have no major publication credits and have won no awards, so my instinct has always been to just…not do that part. But I did ask about that, and they said it was fine to just put a brief biographical statement like “I live in Colorado and 15 cats and a landsquid.”

Which is news to me, but hey, what can it hurt? It’s not really relevant until I manage to find a pitch that doesn’t suck, so, you know.

How are you doing, Squiders? (Don’t worry, it will all be over, one way or another, tomorrow.)

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