Query Letters – The Introduction

Query letters are an important facet of the submission process used for both fiction and non-fiction, from novels to magazine articles. The query letter is the first thing that is seen by an editor, and unless the query is polished and stands out above the rest of the slush pile, it may be the only thing seen before your letter is tossed to the “rejected” stack after the first paragraph. This is the second article in a series regarding query letters and proposals, which will go beyond the basiscs of appearance and formatting, and will focus on the introductory paragraphs of the query.

“Hi there, my name is Danielle and I like you and I want you to ask me out.”

…Does that sound like a good or appropriate introduction to someone you’ve never met before? How about this introduction as you walk into a job interview:

“Hello, I’m here regarding your help wanted ad and my name’s Danielle and I while I don’t have any professional experience I have been dreaming of having a job like this since I was seven and I can write good.”

…That better?

Of course not. Neither introduction was appropriate, impressive, or even beneficial to the speaker. Of course, some guys may disagree with my first example, but you get the point…

When writing your query letter, the first thing you write down on the page below the “Mr/Mrs. Editor” is your introduction – not only to your novel, but aslo of yourself as both a writer and an individual. As I said before in my first article, first impressions are everything, and you want to make sure you put your best face forward.

The problem with many new writers is that they are too conservative, or “professional” with their query letters. They begin by opening with “Thank you for your time in reading my query…” or “This is a query for my 60,000 word novel, Rejected.” The problem with these openings is that there is nothing new or fresh about it, and like the above job interview example, immediately tags you as an inexperienced writer. As an editor, I would say that more than half of all the submissions we receive begin with this “form” style opening. They’re boring, they make a tired editor’s eyes skim down over the rest of the page in a hazy daydream-like state…

Instead, try being more original and creative (which shouldn’t be hard, you’re writers for Christ’s sake!). You should aim to wow the editor, shock him from his/her slush-pile slump, make them sit up in their chairs and turn away from the sudoku puzzle on their screen. If you can get a smirk or a chuckle out of them, all the better.

Now, do not confuse “wow” with “shock.” There of course is a limit to how edgy your letter should be. “You have no @#$*!& idea what…” or “#*@& sex and @*!*&” probably are not good ideas. Instead of a smirk you might get about two seconds before the red pen comes out to write a big “NO” across the top. Don’t be too shy or professional, but do keep in mind that you are writing to professionals. Witty and creative is much better than horrific and shocking.

The intro does not have to necessarily be very long either. My personal favorite, one that I’ll probably always remember, is:

“I killed a man today.”

Not only did this intro pique my attention, it led perfectly into the description of the story (a psychotic-jealous girlfriend murders her boyfriend, whom she believes is cheating). The voice of the author’s writing style was portrayed throughout the letter, which not only gave me an idea of what the story was about, how well I perceived it to be written, and whether I would be interested, but it also gave me a glimpse of the author herself. I was able to immediately tell that this was a confident writer, who, whether previously published or not, was experienced enough in the field to understand what it was that editors wanted, would be able to handle any criticism/revision notes or comments that I had, and wasn’t one to pull any punches.

That, in case you wanted to know, is the ultimate example of a good impression every writer should strive to make.

The next post will go on to explain more of the body structure for the letter, and how you should weave your intro to set the stage for the rest of the content. My apologies for this post being so short, but alas, I have a job to get back to…

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