Monday, November 28, 2011

What Makes a Good Query?

A week or so back, Janice Hardy had a guest author, Elle Strauss, who offered advice on how to write a proper query. For those unfamiliar with Elle, she wrote a great book called CLOCKWISE. (A sequel is forthcoming!)


Here's the synopsis, courtesy of Goodreads:

"A teenage time traveler accidentally takes her secret crush back in time. Awkward.

Boy watching with her best friend would be enough excitement for fifteen year old Casey Donovan. She doesn't even mind life at the bottom of the Cambridge High social ladder, if only she didn’t have this other much bigger problem. Unscheduled trips to the nineteenth century!"

If you want to see Elle's very good advice about how to format a query, go to Janice Hardy's blog, here.  And speaking of Janice Hardy, I'm a bit miffed that my local Barnes and Noble doesn't carry her Healing Wars Trilogy on the shelf. (Sure, they have it on the website, but people browsing the physical bookshelves in the store won't find it.)

But back to querying. Here are some tips I've picked up along the way:

1. Wait until the NaNo wave subsides before submitting to agents or publishers. 

I received this anonymous tip from a friend of a friend who's trying to get published. Apparently, after National Novel Writing Month (NaNo WriMo) finishes, some people feel their manuscripts are ready to go and start submitting right away, which makes for a very large slush pile. To avoid being part of a very muddy deluge, wait to submit until spring.

2. Know where you're marketable, and what your exact genre is.

 Sometimes genres can get messy, and books can fall into more than one category. What if you wrote a dystopian science fiction? Or a paranormal fantasy? My advice is: pick the genre that speaks most to your storyline. Is it more dystopia, or more science fiction? If it's more dystopian, stick with that.

Also--Do you know who the potential audience for your book will be? If so, what demographic is it? Do you know the most important hooks your story has? If so, how do you plan to emphasize them?

3. Let the story sell itself.

The best way to come up with a pitch is to find the parts of your story that are most intriguing to a potential audience.  What makes your story unique? Instead of telling agents how great your story is, show them why it's great.

4. Don't treat your manuscript like your baby.

I know I've probably said this before, but it's very sound advice. I got it from a close friend who used to work in the publishing business. A lot of writers are so attached to the manuscripts that they've "birthed" that they sometimes come off as over-eager or rude to potential agents and publishers, especially after they receive rejections. 

Be sure to gain some objectivity over your work--that way, you can better see where it needs improvement. Remember, agents and publishers can only make a strong book better--they can't make a weak book strong. Seeing weaknesses in your work requires objectivity, and a lack of ego. 

I think that's all I've got--does anyone else have any tips for submitting queries they'd like to share? Feel free to comment!

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