How many of you have ever written a query letter? A show of hands? Trembling hands that is…=) Query letters strike fear into the heart of any writer – but here’s the fantabulous Laurie Schnebly Campbell to help us out with our query quandary.
We’ve all heard about people who had fun coming up with some characters and then, on a whim, sent their work to a pro who cried “Best publishing idea of the decade! Do you want your million-dollar advance in cash or by check?”
We’ve also heard about people who toiled for years on the book of their heart and then, supported by friends or keeping it all a secret, sent their work to a pro who cried “What were you thinking? This is horrendous; it’s utter garbage!”
SKIPPING THE QUERY
Then there are writers who, faced with stories like those, decide that querying is such a long shot — with no possible outcome except for fabulous triumph or humiliating disaster — they’d better not even try it.
Which is always an option in today’s market, where nobody needs a traditional publisher to get their book listed on Amazon. Sure, they might need someone to look over the contract when a hot new indie producer asks to buy the movie rights, but there’s no point worrying about a query YET.
Writers who want an agent or publisher in their corner, offering advice and advances and other perks of doing business with professionals, still need to come up with a query.
In theory, that should be easy…right? We’re all writers; we know we can craft a juicy description of the hero’s hometown and a heartwarming description of the heroine’s kitten and a sweaty-palms description of the showdown with the villain.
So why is writing a query so hard?
Leaving aside the fact that our entire future hangs in the balance — which, even though that’s not necessarily the case, far too often FEELS like it — queries are scary for another reason.
WHY QUERIES ARE TOUGH
They aren’t what we’re used to writing.
Nobody expects a cookbook author to write software programs while watching TV. Nobody expects a Broadway composer to write romance novels during intermission. Nobody expects a journalist to write grant applications while covering a story.
But for some reason, fiction writers are expected to dash off a compelling sales pitch at the drop of a hat. And when we can’t do it QUITE that quickly, we start to think our writing skills are somehow, er, lacking.
Which isn’t true.
We know all about the craft of building intricate plots, spine-tingling adventure, heart-pounding love scenes, memorable characters and settings and challenges and turnarounds. We’ve studied that. We’ve perfected it, or we’re continuing to perfect it. We’ve learned how to write stories.
Not so much. Or at least not as much as we’ve learned how to write fabulous books.
The thing is, we’re in a much better position than (say) football players or French chefs or floral designers who want to advertise THEIR work. Those people might be great at what they do, but what they do usually doesn’t require any serious skill with words.
That’s why they have to hire sports agents, or business managers, or PR firms to promote their ability.
ENLISTING THE PROS
Writers can hire pros, as well, but we don’t HAVE to. Because we’ve already got the fundamental skills needed for creating a compelling query rather than just a compelling book.
We just need to dig ’em out, polish ’em up, and do the kind of who-what-when-where-why work that comes with writing any successful sales piece.
Any one of us, if we had to write an ad for some product we love, could do a terrific job. Sure, it might require some research to come up with the kind of facts and figures and persuasive arguments that’ll show why somebody needs this product, but writers aren’t scared of research.
Nor are we scared of work!
SHARING TIPS (& PRIZE)
So if you have any experience with writing a query, whether it turned out to be a triumph or a disaster or neither or not-yet-sent, will you do us all a favor and share it here?
Somebody who posts will win free registration to my May 5-30 online class “Q Is For Query, A Is For Aaack” at rwamysterysuspense.org/coffin.php
And I’d love to quote some of your useful tips next month. So if you’d rather I DIDN’T use your first name, please mention that…otherwise you’ll get credit for whatever you send, whether it’s a handy suggestion or a cool story about some big Query Triumph or Query Disaster.
Because we’ve all heard plenty of those, right?
Laurie, who loves a “bookend” closing!
Do you have any query triumphs or fails you’d like to share?
Join us on Friday for Darynda Jones! Squee!
Bio: Laurie Schnebly Campbell (BookLaurie.com) works in advertising, where her job is to convince buyers they’ll love a particular product by using the who-what-when-where-why skills of writing copy that sells. She’s always pleased, but not surprised, when people who’ve taken her class report successful results with their new and improved queries.
- DELECTABLE, DEVILISH, DREAMY, DRAT…with Laurie Schnebly Campbell
- The Tricky Part by Laurie Schnebly Campbell
- Yakkity-Yak by Laurie Schnebly Campbell
- The Million-Dollar Apple by Laurie Schnebly Campbell
- Weekly Lecture Schedule for August 23-27, 2010: Edie Ramer, Laurie London, Tawny Weber & Laurie Schnebly Campbell