Authors, Writers, Publishers, and Book Readers

Hello, and let me first state how excited I am about this site. Kay Elizabeth, the editor of The Cuckleburr Times, recently brought to my attention, and I'm always thrilled when I find a site dedicated solely to serious writers or people with a penchant for reading.

As a full time novelist and editor, unfortunately, I don't have the time I would like to be able to spend with chat rooms, etc., but I will certainly try my best to answer anyone's questions. Just understand that if I can't reply immediately, this is not a rebuke, just a function of being busy. I currently have one book with the executive editor of a major royalty publisher (and my fingers quite crossed), and another novel with a film producer who is considering converting the story into a screenplay. You can always E-mail me directly at if you have something personal to address or if you would like to discuss the manuscript editing services I provide.

Of the several dozen articles I've written during this past year for republication, anything I've put together regarding locating a book agent for one's work has produced the greatest number of hits. The particular article posted below was number one in overall response for the last six months. If people are interested, I'll be happy to post other articles on finding agents, anything of which will be the result of my experiences, both past and present, and not hearsay or conjecture. With all this out of the way, I hope you enjoy this article and find it to be of benefit.

Query Letter Writing - a Daunting Dilemma

Some years ago, to add to a discussion I was encouraging related to the nuances of query letter writing, a woman who had just received a contract for her first novel--and with Simon & Schuster no less--wrote me to lament how arduous she had found the task of crafting her missive to appeal to agents. She admitted that she considered the query more difficult than writing the actual work, and had spent over a year on her letter. For discretion's sake, I won't reveal the name of the author, but many people would recognize this now well-known Ph.D., and her breakthrough novel.

The Synopsis-Syndrome

I chuckled at her comment, not out of derision, but from empathy, since I have often felt the same way about my own queries. While I haven't spent a year on a letter to attract an agent, at times I wish I had. One of the problems is that I have often found my query turning into a synopsis. And in parsing the query letters of others, the synopsis syndrome, as I call it, seems to be the most chronic malady that inhibits the presentation (sic, query).

For a Successful Fiction Query Letter, Size does not Matter

A writer desires to tell as much as possible about the story of which he or she is so passionate, and is often influenced by an industry success story in which someone has crammed as much as possible onto one page, even to the point of reducing font size to make the text fit. Unfortunately, in trying to mirror this, the end result for most is invariably a synopsis and not a presentation of the subtle plot and character elements that reflect the writer's skill and which sets the work apart--and what will influence an agent to request the manuscript.

Think of a Query Letter as an Advertisement, and Sell the Sizzle and Not the Steak

An agent once railed at me about a poor query I had sent because it told too much of the individual aspects of the story and not about the work as a whole. He said to write the query as if I was designing the liner notes for the novel. I found this to be some of the best advice I have ever received. As a comparison, if one wants to be successful in sales, one of the time-worn truisms is to "sell the sizzle and not the steak." It might be suggested to apply the same axiom to writing a query letter. This can be like grasping Showing versus Telling the first time around (or the tenth), but it has to be understood if a query is going to work.

Write a Query from the Gut, not the Heart

It might help to think of your work in visceral terms; meaning, what are the hard-hitting aspects
of your story from an overall perspective. This will take your thinking beyond the brick and mortar.
And remember, most of all, you are wanting to provide the agent with just enough knowledge of your work (and ability) to create interest. If you can do this succinctly and with skill, would it not be logical that the agent might assume that your novel is written at the same level? Should you review query letters that have garnered agent representation, please notice how little is told about the actual story, but how much the successful query relates to the author's style and competence.

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Comment by Kay Elizabeth on December 25, 2009 at 1:54am
I think the thought of writing a query letter scares the heck out of writers more than writing the whole book! Great article, Robert. I'll keep my fingers crossed for you too for good news from the publisher and film producer sooner rather than later. :)


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