I’ve completed three manuscripts in my lifetime. The first is a mystery, which is sitting in a bottom drawer, waiting for the amateur sleuth market to weed itself out and for my brain to come up with a better twist at the end. The second was Black Tuesday, published in 2007 by Dutton Children. The third is Millions (working title), which is currently on my editor’s desk, awaiting a revision letter.
Here are my confessions regarding query letters:
1) I’ve only written a query letter for one of my manuscripts: the amateur sleuth book. The other two books–young adults–were bought off a synopsis.
2) That one query letter I wrote went through about 25 revisions. I’d hear back from one agent, saying my heroine was tired and cliched. So I’d rewrite my heroine (in the query letter, not the manuscript) to make her sound unique and sale-able. Then I’d hear from another agent, saying the chick-lit market was drying up; I’d then change the query stating I had a “romantic comedy.” Don’t change your query to address every single complaint from each agent who writes you back; however, do know when to take off your rose-colored glasses and go “Oh yeah. They have a point.”
3) I made revisions to my query based on getting to know my story better. A lot of times, I realized that the story I was querying wasn’t the one I wanted to sell. “Huh?” you ask. Some days, I’d look at the query I was about to send out and realized it didn’t convey my fun and perky attitude. Revision. Another day, I realized that my “stoic” hero was actually an “anal retentive with a teddy bear heart.” Revision. Really use the query to make sure your story is the one you wrote/want to sell.
4) I made a pact with myself–always have five queries out in the mail at all times. And as you get a rejection, send out another query. Always have five out there. It’s sort of like the idea behind Christmas cards–you send them out so you can get something back. (Don’t even try to tell me you send out cards “just because.” Whatever. You know you want your house plastered with Thomas Kinkade landscapes and Precious Moment poses.) If you always have something out, you’re always trying to get sold. And isn’t that the point?
5) I didn’t stress about the query letter, and you shouldn’t either. (There’s just so much else to stress over!) As long as you follow the basic tenets of query letter writing (one-page, discuss the agent, discuss yourself, SELL YOUR STORY in one or two paragraphs), you’ll be fine. Turn on the grammar-check and the spell-check, and you’ve got it made. Your partial (synopsis and first chapters) is going to sell you. The query? It’s just going to get you through the door. It’s up to you if you’re wearing patent leather Louboutins or newspaper-lined Payless slip-ons.