We've discussed why a query is important, what it is, what it's not. Here's a handy list of what not to include. Thursday will be what to include, how to format, etc.
- Apologies. Nothing turns me off more than a writer apologizing for taking up my time. Or telling me how swamped I am. Or being humble, or anything like that. In this regard, keep it impersonal. Formal.
- Aggression. Don't blame me for you being rejected. Don't blame readers or publishers or the state of the economy. Besides distracting me from the important stuff--the query--it makes me not want to work with you.
- Excuses. If you make an excuse for why your word count is too long, just don't query. If you find yourself needing to explain the first few pages or why you need to get past the first fifty to really get into the story, you shouldn't be querying. You know deep, deep, deep down that there's something wrong. We want a close-to-finished-you-slaved-over-it-went-to-classes-and-had-beta-readers-read-it query/ms.
- Don't tell me it's been professionally edited or that your friend who's an English major has edited it. And especially don't tell me that you'll have it edited if I think that's best. (you should be getting the gist--get to the query)
- You don't need a hook. My preference is getting straight to the query. And don't introduce it with, "Thanks for your time. Here's my query..." or "Now, on to the query!"
- If you use a hook, please, please, please, keep it to one line. Two at most. If the sentence is overly wrought or too long, I get bored. It's TELLING not SHOWING. Your query SHOWS, you TELL.
- To introduce your author bio just say, "I've been published by (specific publisher, name of book, year of publication)" or "I'm a member of (specific organizations)." Etc. Don't say, "Now, a little about me." Again, it's distracting (you won't get automatically rejected if you break this rule--my rule--but do keep it in mind).
- Don't say you've been writing for years, since you were a little kid, just quit your job to write full time, your mother loves your stories, etc. It looks amateurish. If you have nothing in your bio, thank the agent for his/her time and close.
- Don't offer an exclusive. Don't say who it's currently out with.
- I don't care if you tell me it's a simultaneous submission. I assume it is--it's a smart practice. I hate finally getting to a query after a month only to find out I was the only one it was submitted to. I made you wait a month before you could get to anyone else! Remember my job-application metaphor? Would you put in an application for only one job at a time and wait until they got back to you?
Last week, I said that the query is not a business letter. Particularly, I was thinking about the header you include on business letters--your address, my address, etc. Maybe in the days of old, when people still used snail mail, that was common practice for queries. But you don't need it (also, it's a telltale if you didn't do your research; for example, our agency has moved its main offices from CA to WA, so if you use the old address, I know you're not doing your research). It's distracting. You won't get rejected over it, but most of my advice this month tends to be towards the "cleaner and tighter, the better". (I'm going to talk more about this business letter thing next week--it deserves the attention.)
More on Thursday.