Query Quagmire

Before I continue, let me just say that I am completely aware that I have putteth my cart before the horse. I have two novels in progress…both about 2/3 complete.  (Yes, I’ve made an executive decision on which I will finish first: goal – done by first day of summer – but as of yet, it’s still not done.) So why, you may ask, am I even contemplating query letters? I know it is a big ol’ NO-NO to query an editor/publisher/agent without having finished the book first (you don’t want that magic request for a full to slip through your fingers cuz you don’t have your sh*t together). So again, why did I waste time better spent on actually finishing my novel writing a query?

Well,  I recently joined RWA and more specifically, the Chicago North chapter. I joined nearly a year to the day I was first given the wonderful advice to seek out and join the group by someone I really admire. I really, really wish I had done this sooner – but that is neither here nor there. I’m now a member, and am so excited by the huge dose of motivation, inspiration, advice, and encouragement this group provides.

Like the Query Letter Critique Night they recently hosted. As I said, my book – it ain’t finished yet – but there was no way I was going to pass up an opportunity to get help on a very important part of the road to publishing process. So I spent a bit of time reviewing query advice on the interwebs, and kicked out a query letter.

Like the advice garnered from websites, the comments concerning my query were varied and sometimes contradictory. For example, some felt I shouldn’t note the fact I graduated magna cum laude, some thought I should definitely leave that in.  There were varying opinions on where all the contact info should be located on the page – but that is trivial and will probably be decided on a per query basis (as I try to follow various submission guidelines). Similar polite dissension occurred as other members’ query letters were discussed, and I realized that, like most things in life, you can become paralyzed by indecision if you hesitate to act while trying to make everyone happy. If you try to follow all the rules and adhere to all the do’s and dont’s of a successful query letter – you’ll never get one done. So again, like most things in life, go with your gut and put together a query letter that feels right to you.

That being said, there was some advice I received about my letter that I will certainly follow, despite the fact it contradicts what popular literary blogger Nathan Bransford has highlighted as elements of awesome query letters. 1: Don’t mention this is my first novel and 2: Don’t offer excerpts or a first chapter as available to read on a website. I also was encouraged to further highlight my script writing experience.

Some things I think I nailed in my query letter include conveying my unique  “voice” and infusing my query with a sense of energy. I also was able to keep the book “blurb” concise while hinting at the humor inherent in my story. The humor element came up in discussion, commenters were curious to know if, despite being a Paranormal, was my book funny? The answer is oh yeah! Though while explaining that fact to the group, I am embarrassed to say I made a malapropism boo-boo and used “brevity” instead of “levity.” I blame Shakespeare and the quote that has forever linked brevity and wit in my mind.

I also received confirmation that the tense structure of my opening paragraph was awkward – I struggled with it, so that came as no surprise.

All in all, it was a worthwhile endeavor, and when I DO get my book finished, I have an awesome head start on the query letter process.

Anyone want to chime in with personal experience on the query writing process? Lessons learned? Stories of success or dire warnings of what not to do? Inform me!

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