We’re back open to queries, and it’s like the floodgates have opened (you folks have been saving up for us, haven’t you). There are tons of resources out there with tons of query tips, but I’d like to touch on something most people aren’t really talking about: the ego trip.
In short, get your ego out of your query. You need to be able to talk at length about what makes your project a good one, but be careful not to pass judgment on it. Of course your manuscript is amazing and profound to you (and you should be proud of your work), but in a query, saying so is just wasting space that could be spent showing us how amazing and profound it is. I see this a lot, especially with memoir. I’ve even read queries that go on and on about how great the manuscript is, and by the end, I still don’t know what the manuscript is about. Don’t be that person. It only leads to rejection.
Instead, give us tangibles. When querying a novel or memoir, provide an unusual situation that shows tension and sympathy for the protagonist. Then give us complications, occurrences, and circumstances that ultimately lead your protag to an impossible situation that requires action. Rely on details from the story you’ve written. If you’ve written a killer story (and written it well), we’ll want it, publishers will want it, and readers will want it. And then people will call it amazing and profound, and that feels great because other people love your work.
But you have to give them the chance to. Trust the agent to make the connection and the determination of awesomeness, and facilitate that with examples. In your author bio, if you say that you’re the next Stephen King, we’ll say, “Yeah, right. Prove it.” But if you say that you’ve been published in 50 anthologies, have won awards, or have a million Twitter followers, you don’t then need to say, “What I’m doing is great.” We’ll know because so many other people know. That’s all part of the snowball effect that all of your little efforts will have on your career. Individually, these things may seem like small accomplishments, but when gathered together, you present a hell of an argument for yourself—without really having to argue for yourself. As with your manuscript, when you’re presenting a situation to the reader, you want us to read your query and then make the decision for ourselves. That way, the belief formed is much stronger than if you were to overtly tell us what to believe.
And remember: we have to read a lot of these, so we greatly appreciate when a writer doesn’t dally around with unnecessary or ineffective language. Your query is our first impression of you as a writer, so if you don’t display good language economy, as much as we may try to resist it, we’ll start forming preconceptions about how you might be in the editorial process.
With this new year, you should be ready to put your best foot forward. Just don’t tell us that you’re doing so 🙂