Thursday, January 21, 2010

Thoughtful Thursday: Qualities for a good query.

Okay. Stop yawning and pay attention. This is important.

It's all about first impressions.

Before I became an editor, I thought everyone was like me. For each and every submission, I spent hours making sure all words were properly spelled, margins were correct, the font was the acceptable size and shape and that there was nothing which would detract from the professional image I wanted to convey.

Judging from the manuscripts I've had the opportunity to review in recent months, however...I'm a perfectionist.  (Actually, I'm an ex-English teacher, but that's a scary post for another day. Like Halloween.)

At any rate, it appears I'm not the norm.

In an attempt to make everyone else an anal-retentive,frightening perfectionist just like me, I give you the following suggestions to make a good first impression with your query.

1) Pick one font size and stick with it. 
I're trying to make a point. This is a cover page and here is my title (don't miss it). Or, This is my prologue. It's not the real story which begins on page 10. Unfortunately, the only point you're making is that you're not as professional as the author who knows how to properly format a manuscript.

2) Puh-lease, proof read your query! I won't go into the whole "donut relay on spill chick" rant again. (If you want to read that, click on this link: Monday Manuscript Fix.)  But really. Here's a tip: Don't read your query as if you're reading a book (or a letter, for that matter). Unless it's written in Hebrew, read it from right to left. (If it's written in Hebrew, of course, read left to right. And for those of you who don't know what I mean by that, click here.) Reading it in the opposite direction from the way you normally write and read forces you to focus on each word instead of the context. You should catch your spelling errors that way. And if you can't, find a good (human) speller to proof it for you! Please! I'm begging you. Because it's so  hard for me not to make fun of you, even if it's not nice or professional. (I must flea! I will...join a circus. A tiny one, with a little trapeze because I have vertigo.)

3) Hyperbole sucks. Seriously. You're not trying to sell a Shamwow. And you're not writing a review. So reading something like, "This engaging historical sci-fi romance with paranormal elements is an action-packed page turner that your readers will flock to!" makes me say, "This bubble-headed silly person with nonsensical elements is an unprofessional dimwit that my stomach revolts to." 

Learn the proper format for a query. (Lisa Collier Cool's book,How to Write Irresistible Query Letters is a good place to start.) Tell me about your protagonist, his/her goals, motivations, and especially, their conflict. Hook me with a story question if you must. Give me an indication of who you are or how you see yourself as a writer. But please...please...don't sell. And if you must--keep it soft. I mean, like, quiet. Please.

4) And finally--don't try to disguise your synopsis as a query. I'll catch on after the first four paragraphs. (Usually, anyway.) Since I'm expecting a minimum of two and a maximum of four paragraphs, my eyes start to glaze automatically...then my attention starts to wander. (After the bridge washes out on page 322, Lord Fickletoy...Wash! That reminds me. Did I transfer the stuff from the washer to the dryer? Did I use bleach? That cheap bleach is pretty good, I least, I'm not noticing that my socks are any less white than they were with the more expensive bleach...I'd better go check...)

You may now commence to yawn. Sometimes, you just can't help it.

1 comment:

  1. Oh Cyn, you did it again. I'm laughing. I LOVED the part about being QUIET!! WHATEVER DO YOU MEAN? Of course I'm kidding.

    I'm learning with my first submissions, it's better to play the query safe.

    I'll also try and check out the book you suggested.

    Excellent post as always.