The Perfect Query Letter
Here's a copy of my own Query modeled from samples on AgentQuery.com which is probably the best place for all kinds of information related to writing your novel. It so happens that one of the queries posted on their site fit the elements of my story so well that I used part of it. It also describes one of my favorite movies, The Bridges of Madison County. I've seen this movie many times, and the "haunting" reference in its logline is a little far-fetched, or off key in my opinion. Fits my story beautifully though, so I "borrowed it". (Okay, I ripped it off) Actually I use the word haunted several times towards the ending in my story but I never thought of trying it in my logline, until now. And it works. It's not as direct as before, which makes it more intriguing. And that's really what you want in your hook.
Start with your personal short intro here. Don't forget to include the all important classification (genre) and word count here. This is where it really belongs.
Set in rural Kansas during the legendary time of the gold rush in 1864, the renowned Dr. Maxine Hollingsworth ventures west and is captured by savage Indians. Filled with uncertainty, she is torn between the freedom she longs for, and the Sioux chief who wins her affection, when they are joined in an experience that will haunt her forever.
Its working title, A Death For Beauty, suggests the thread of the story; death, as the ultimate sacrifice. But our heroine, the headstrong Dr. Hollingsworth, Ph.D., a.k.a. Ms. Maxine, has an underlying obsession, according to the matriarchs, an unforgivable act. Ostracized from her church, and her community, she loses everything, including her home, which is burned down by ‘unsavory characters’.
This incident empowers her to start anew, far from the unspeakable sins she now leaves behind. With a poignant subplot, A Death For Beauty, combines elements of suspense and drama, and presents a fresh take on the ironies of love and the tragedy of death. I believe this story will appeal to readers who enjoy a daring heroine such as Ms. Maxine, and also to readers who identified with the somber tone in McCarthy’s All The Pretty Horses.
As a former copywriter my advertorials appeared in tabloid newspapers such as The Daily News and The New York Post. I’ve also authored two screenplays on spec.
Thank you kindly for taking the time to consider my story. A synopsis and sample chapters, or a polished MS is available for your review. If you’re interested so far, I’ll be glad to mail whichever you prefer.
About This Query Structure:
Its structure is simple:
1. A Logline/Hook for the opening
2. A brief paragraph that encapsulates the main plot points in your story
3. A brief Author Bio
That's it. Follow this format and you can't go wrong. Check out AgentQuery.com for all the particulars. There's a lot more on their site which I highly recommend you peruse.
As you can see, I couldn't resist adding a reference to McCarthy (My literary mentor. His was Melville) You have to look up to and admire someone in literature, it may as well be Cormac McCarthy for me, as well as Barbara Kingsolver. Two of the best.
What Agents Are Really Looking For
First of all, agents are not all the same of course, although most of them should be looking for the same things. That is to say, the next breakout novel, or something close to that. The smarter ones are willing to nurture authors who show promise since it is in their best interest to do so. Let's face it, they only get paid if they sell your book.
So in a nutshell they're looking for brilliance. Not there yet? Most of us aren't and maybe never will be, but those of us who are still trying must believe enough in ourselves, based on what we've learned and based on feedback, that we're on to something. Otherwise we would've thrown in the towel a long time ago. Or burned our batches of rejection letters in a ritual bonfire, or something like that.
Want to please the agents you're submitting to so they can ask for your MS? Make sure you're doing the following:
1. Write the perfect query letter and get it to the right agent (of course)
2. Follow up (If requested. The first 5 pages, a synopsis, a sample chapter, a polished MS, your brand of toilet paper, whatever.)
3. Make sure any and all of the above have one thing: Conflict. And that means no melodrama! (Hence the !) Drama, yes. That's pure conflict. Subtle, emotional subtext. Suspense. What Hemingway called, the tip of the iceberg. That's what builds a page-turner. That's what sells books. Just ask Grisham and Koontz.
There you have it, short and snippy.
What Self-Publishing Can Do For You
Ever wondered what real publishing houses think of self-published authors?
Let's define Self-Publishing:
1. An author who pays to get their writing in print for fun, not profit.
2. An author who pays to get their writing in print for the purposes of creating an ARC. (Advanced Reader's Copy) a.k.a., a galley.
These are the two main differences. Although in my case I might add, that I also like the full control that SP offers me, plus, if you're able to work with a printing house that can print your books for about $3 bucks a piece, then you're really on to something. The problem with most Self-Publishers is the high cost of producing your book to begin with. As with any product, the golden rule is to buy low and sell high, so-to-speak. No different with your books. Easier said than done, of course. But not impossible.
So far the best website for my taste and ease of use as a designer is LULU (hate the name). I've only used them once for a softcover book and I was fairly impressed, although not 100%. (too much glue on front cover made it crack when you opened it) Nevertheless, I plan on using them again, hopefully the glue issue is not always the case. (Maybe the glue machine malfunctioned or a worker fell asleep at the switch. I speak from experience.) Worth another shot.
Anyway, getting your book in print is important since that way you can have a real sample that can be used for reviews, contests, and giveaways, and so on. Plus, if you can't get agents interested in it for whatever reason, or your good work just falls through the literary cracks of life, you can always peddle it yourself on the internet. Just might catch the eye of the right publisher or agent that might have missed your masterpiece. (Dream on--just trying to keep with the theme here folks.)
Botton line: The stigma attached with Self-Publishing is only true to the extent that you allow it to be. Write a crappy book with poor editing and see what you get. Otherwise, write a brilliant page-turner, edit it and design it professionally, and you have a winner. In other words, you have all the power and control of any large publishing house, as long as your work is the best it can be.
So how do you get to be the best? You must want it more than anything else in your working life and in your goals. You can't miss. Success is guaranteed to those who diligently and wisely and relentlessly seek it. Whatever the endeavor. You can do it.
Here's what's coming next week. (Monday's from now on)
1. One easy way to instantly get rid of melodrama.
2. What exactly is conflict anyway?
3. Do you need subplots?
Until then: Keep on learning, keep on writing, and never give up.