Q (I think) — queries

I’m writing 5 hours a day now, and am losing track of the A-Z blog challenge, and for that, I’m sorry.  (Not about writing a lot every day.  Hey, that’s what I’m in this game for!)  But today (I think) is the day of Q, so I’ll write a bit about queries.

Nothing frightens me more than having to write a query letter. (No, that’s not quite right.  Going to the dentist for a root canal.  That’s pretty scary too!) However, the idea that I have about four paragraphs to convince someone that 1) I’m a fantastic writer, 2) The novel/novella/whatever is worth his or her time, and 3) It will sell well, and make them money.  That is a lot of pressure for a one page intro, isn’t it?

Luckily, most publishers and agents would really rather a writer be quite business-like when querying.  They lay it all out for us — some of them telling us what they’d like to see, paragraph by paragraph.  All we have to do is follow the guidelines, and that should be good enough for at least a look.  I slave over the thing, making certain that it (and anything else I send them) follows the guidelines to the letter.

Why do I put so much work into them?  Because I had the chance to be a reader for a Canadian publisher, and once I was given a pile of the “slush” to sort through.  I was to determine what manuscripts showed promise, then let the publisher know.  I thought it would be a snap.  Boy, was I ever wrong.

Over half (well over half) of the manuscripts did not follow the guidelines posted on the publisher’s website.  Not even close. Let me say that again.  The guidelines were posted on the publisher’s website.  Not hidden away in a dark cave somewhere.  No need to go on a quest to figure out what the publisher wanted to see.  It was all there, under “Submissions.” And still, more than half the writers querying did not bother figuring out how the publisher wanted to see it.

Since I (generally) tend to be a rule follower, I tossed every one of those queries.  True, I was afraid that I’d missed a jewel in there somewhere, but there were so many queries and so little time,  I couldn’t go back and dig through the mess to see if there was something that could be great.

Obviously, I haven’t forgotten that lesson.  So now I slave over the query, and the synopsis, and the first chapter (or page, or whatever the publisher wants to see) EXACTLY the way they want it.  Because, on top of everything else I’d like that letter to do, I’d like it to show to the publisher I can read and follow directions.  That I am someone who would be easy to work with.  That I can be a professional.

Lots of pressure on a tiny little letter.  But that letter is the key to the publishing kingdom, so the work is worth it.  Isn’t it?

4 thoughts on “Q (I think) — queries

  1. Elizabeth Twist

    Stories like yours about slush piles always amaze me. I have a background in academia, where if you don’t fill out all the right forms in all the right ways, you do not get funded. The very idea of not formatting a query or cover letter or manuscript correctly (meaning, to the industry standard OR to the publisher’s / agent’s specific wishes if they have specified them) blows my mind.

  2. Karen Peterson

    I haven’t gotten to the query stage yet, but I get just what you mean. I don’t want my manuscript to be passed over for consideration just because I didn’t follow the guidelines. I want to do everything I can to make sure I don’t blow my own chances.

    It amazes me how many people don’t follow the rules.

  3. Eileen Post author

    Alison, thanks for dropping by. And yes, the query and synopsis are evil. Oh — excellent writing exercises. (Actually, they are. I’m more thrilled at getting the synopsis down to two pages than I am when I finish a short story!)

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