Wednesday, September 28, 2011

3 Reasons Why Your Query Letter Is Getting Rejected

Good afternoon everyone.

In my afternoon inbox clean-out session, I came across a few query letters from some friends of mine, who wanted me to take a quick peek and give them some advice. I did. And now I'm passing some of that advice to you.

Here now are 3 reasons why your query letter is getting rejected. Yes, there are more than three reasons, but I just picked three, and later, we can talk about more of them. Consider these the 'Big Three'.

1. It's too damn long.
I know, I know, it's called a query letter, not a query text or even a query missive, and that in a letter you can go on and on a bit about the particulars of your story or your own writing experience.

Well, this isn't a letter like you're writing to Santa or Grandma thanking her for the very fine afghan she knitted you, this document you're crafting is the ambassador for your manuscript.

And like all good ambassadors, it needs to be very very savvy in its word choice.

I am of the school of thought that you have at most (and I mean at absolutely the maximum) 300 words to say everything that you're going to say, and that includes your name, contact information and the recipient's address.

Yes, 300 word-Spartans for your literary-Thermopylae.

Actually, 300 is the ceiling, and I'd really want to see between 230 and 260 to get the job done.

Because it shouldn't take you volumes of words to get your point across. It's not like you're blogging or anything....

2. It starts in the wrong place.
Stories can start in the beginning. But as I just said, this query letter isn't a story, it's an ambassador at best and a flirty chat-up line at worst. And since you only have less than 300 words to work with, do you really have the time to start me at the beginning of the story?

Start the query like it's an 80s rock video (minus the denim vest and soulful emoting) -- start with action. Is a character doing something? (is that the something the plot? Even better.)  Is there a problem, and like Vanilla Ice, you have a character able to solve it?

Your query letter has to launch the reader forward, interesting enough to send them diving into the manuscript to see if the promise is fulfilled at length.

3. You're relying on a gimmick to make this story sell, because you're heavy with doubt.
A character narrating his own query letter is a weird thing to read - because when we read a query letter, just like admiring a painting, we're not only seeing the characters portrayed, we're made aware of the artist's brush strokes.

You're the artist. And your words are brush strokes.

In the query letter, this is a chance for you the writer/creator to display your creation, and make it do a little interesting dance for us, provoking us into curiosity.

Gimmicks like character-narrated queries, or queries told in flashback...butcher the display quality of the work. The magic is in the objectivity and flair for crafty magic the writer displays. This is your chance to show off. So, break out the best words and pull rabbits out of hats.

The reason you're likely not wowing people is that your own fear, your doubts (either self-doubts or doubts about "what's right") are coming across in the the words you choose and don't choose, and in the formatting of what you say and don't say.

Don't be afraid. Don't let fear stop you. Don't let fear get ahead of your dreams. Take that leap. You won't need the gimmicks, they don't serve you.

You're good enough to do this on your own merits. You've made it this far. This is just one step further, and this is, by all accounts a much easier step (300 pages versus 300 words?) - so go do it.

I hope this helps your query letters out. For more help on query letters, or for anything you'd like to say, leave some comments.