Monday, February 16, 2009

What About a Query Letter?

Read enough query letters and they start to sound the same. I read hundreds each week, and after a couple hours my eyes glaze over. Okay - what's the main character's crazy name? Is the bully on the soccer team or the football team? What odd/curious/quirky place has the family moved to this time? What device activates the time travel?

I do not want to go into what is derivative and what is original in a story. I want to tell you that an excellent query letter will separate you from the pack. By "excellent" I mean "convenient for me" - but this will apply to all the other assistants on the front line.

Open directly Please consider. . . or I hope you will want to request. . . . Resist introducing yourself with Hello, my name is. . . Your stationery and signature will do that. Include a brief synopsis - no more than a paragraph. This isn't a jacket blurb, so it's okay to spill the ending. If there is one thing that drives me crazy— and it is really only because 90 percent of queries open this way— it is the "provocative" question: What would you do if. . . ; How does a teenager cope when. . .; What can possibly go wrong when. . . .

If you know something about STNY and our list (which you absolutely should, if you submit to us), tell us. Familiarity with our authors is a big plus. I can't tell you how many How-To-Save-Your-Marriage proposals I get. These writers don't know beans about STNY. Do your homework!

A brief bio is welcome. If you've published before, we want to know with whom. Do you have relationships with editors? Do you have a platform?. Also, if your manuscript has been rejected by a lot of publishing houses, it's important we know. Do not suppose that they will accept it because STNY submits it. We generally will not want to return to those houses, anyway. Finally, if your manuscript has been rejected and rejected and rejected, it makes me wonder why you do not write another.We look for career authors, not one-book Johnny's. Now, I know writers comfort themselves reciting the famous books that were rejected fifty times before landing with an editor. Just know, this is RARE and not the model you want to aspire to.

A query should pique our interest but also show your professionalism. Dazzling wit and imagination are highly desirable— but in your work, not your cover letter.


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