I last sent a query letter on January 25th. Boy, do I regret it. And all of the other ones I’ve sent.
In the past week I’ve come to realize something about myself: My query letters are terrible.
I’ll be honest. I think I’m a good writer. Or at least I have the potential to be. I think most writers probably think that way. The trick is to not get caught up in it.
It doesn’t matter how good you think you are. You have something to learn. I thought my writing was good and my query letters would automatically be good as well, so I looked up a few and then started sending off my own.
I had the form more or less right. But that’s not the important part. I was describing things in great detail, adding in too many characters, summing up my book in themes and morals. That’s not how it works.
I learned what I was doing wrong from a variety of sources. The awesome folks at the Query Tracker forum were the first clue that I had it all wrong. Then I read Elana Johnson’s blog and e-book on querying. These two were enough to get me on the right track, I think. Now I’m in the process of reading the entire catalog of Query Shark posts. I’m going to finish those, but already I can see a few more tweaks I need to make to my query letters, and I won’t be sending any more until all of this is finished.
I sent out queries to some agents I really would’ve liked to work with. I think I killed my chances by sending them crappy queries. Some humility could’ve spared that. I thought I was a good writer and I looked up some blogs on query structure, and I made the assumption that that was enough. It wasn’t. Now I’m going to make sure I have a top-notch query letter before I send out any more. Lesson learned.
While reading through the Query Shark pages, I started to notice something. A lot of times, a query will get a response along the lines of “don’t do this” and in the revision, that same exact phrase will be present and followed by another “don’t do this”. Nothing says “I can’t write” like thinking your writing is so good you can just ignore someone telling you otherwise. Especially someone who actually works in the industry. This isn’t to say that you should bow to every hint and suggestion you ever get; sometimes people have the best intentions but they just don’t know your manuscript and their suggestion just doesn’t work (and if you find yourself writing off every bit of advice as such, chances are you’re either doing a terrible job of summing up your manuscript, or worse, you can’t write). But if you notice a lot of people asking the same questions or taking issue with the same phrasing, then there’s something you need to look at.
Of course, much of this can be avoided by doing the right amount of work at the beginning. In my case, I should’ve read the entire archive of Query Shark instead of just a few blogs on structure. I should’ve headed over to the Query Tracker forum and at the very least read other people’s posts and responses to them (or better yet, posted my own for feedback).
Writing is work. Don’t ever assume your writing is so good that you don’t have to work to get it right.