Monday, October 25, 2010

For You, Is it Scary To Write a Query?

"The greatest barrier to success is the fear of failure."  Sven Goran Erikkson

At a recent writers meeting, someone asked if I'd started submitting my work.  After telling her that I had, she confessed something to me.  Although her book was finished, she was terrified about writing the query letter. This is understandable, but we've got to put the fear behind us, and as Nike says, "just do it!" 

Some agents tell writers not to be intimidated by the query process.  One agent's website even says, "Many writers fear queries, but that shouldn't frighten you off. They're easy!"  Although this is comforting advice (and the site does offer a tutorial), a lot rides on that query!

Nicholas Sparks says, "Above all, a query letter is a sales pitch and it is the single most important page an unpublished writer will ever write.  It's the first impression and will either open the door or close it.  It's that important, so don't mess it up.  Mine took seventeen drafts and two weeks to write." WOW!

If you've never written a query, there are lots of great books out there to help, such as The Writer's Digest Guide to Query Letters and Elana Johnson's From the Query to the Call.  Also, several generous authors provide advice online for free, such as Charlotte Dillon (, Holly Lisle (, and the aforementioned Elana Johnson ( 

Query Shark ( will even review your query and make suggested changes.  Just Googling "sample query letter" will bring up tons of information to get you on your way, as well!

But is there a secret to writing a great query?  A book I read when first learning how said to use bold colorful words.  Since then I've read agent interviews in which agents say, "There's no need to try to wow us with flamboyant words."

As far as the format, one agent might say, "Jump right into the story," while another says, "Starting with the genre and word count is great!"

Writer's Digest featured some standout queries in its October issue.  The query comments made by the agents indicated things such as clean prose, strong conflicts, high stakes, twists, and unique stories. 

Even though most of us think we've shown that in our queries, agents are looking for what sells.  And sometimes, it's the luck of the draw. If your query falls into the hands of someone who absolutely loves your story, and believes in it, then you just might have a chance!

So push the fear aside, write the best query you can, and go for it!

If you've already written a query letter, how long did it take you?

Tweet me @:maria_mckenzie. Thanks for stopping by!


Mike said...

Too often fear rules our lives. I have a couple of great quotes for that.

"FEAR = False Evidence Appearing Real" - Hale Dwoskin

"Do the thing that you fear, and the death of fear is certain." - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Unknown said...

Great Post! Here is another great suggestion for query help. Elana has great tips, links and even a book on the subject.

Maria McKenzie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Maria McKenzie said...

@:Mike: Hi, Mike! Great quotes!

@Pam: Hi, Pam! Thanks for your comment! I've added info on Elana Johnson and her book in the post. Thanks for that info! She does have an awesome and very helpful site for writers!

Unknown said...

Ha, only 17 tries and two weeks huh? me too...NOT! The query is too intimidating. I've been working on mine for way to long. I'm getting better at it, I think, but it's still not perfect. The hardest part for me is to write it with the same voice as the book, after all, I'm trying to sell the book. Instead, I end up sounding different. I write YA, so sometimes it just feels so unprofessional to me, but it's really what works. I must do this! Great post BTW.

Maria McKenzie said...

Hi, TC! Thanks for your comments! Keep working at your query and get it done! Don't let the process intimidate you. Looking at examples has really helped me.

Elana Johnson writes YA, so be sure to check out her website if you haven't already. At the very top you'll see where to click for query letters. Good luck!

Anonymous said...

I got some feedback from Charles Salzberg regarding a query for a transgressive novel. He was most gracious with his commentary.
I felt rather confident in the query letter and submitted it to 41 agents. I did get a request from Jessica Regel from Jean V. Nagger Literary Agency requesting a four week exclusive. Alas it was not to be.
I got many rejections and quite a few non-responses. I don't really think it was the query so much as the nature of the piece. Perhaps a little too dark or dark comedic.
Great article in the October issue of Writer's Digest from Ann Collette of the Helen Rees Agency and her assistant, Rachel Kincaid.
The advice is all well and good. I've come to believe it is all a matter of timing.
I hope mine gets better.

Maria McKenzie said...

Hello, Tikiman! A request for a four week exclusive is a lot more than some of us have gotten!

I read that article you mentioned in WD. It was very good.

I'm with you, it can be a matter of timing, or falling onto the right desk. I heard a writer on a webinar say you should be prepared to submit at least 50 times. A friend told me she lost count, but thinks she submitted 100 times before getting an agent. So keep submitting!