You’ve spent months or years writing your novel. Then you’ve found a writer friend or freelance editor to help you polish it up and get it ready to send to agents and acquiring editors. Maybe you’ve spent hundreds of dollars on a copy edit, detailed line-edit, or even thousands on a developmental or substantive edit. After many revisions, the manuscript is finally ready to send out to literary agents and publishers.
The standard first approach is to submit a query letter and a synopsis. You’re eager to get the book out fast and you think, “Anybody can write a query letter,” so you whip one off quickly and send it around, with a synopsis you threw together. You wait. And wait. All you get back are a few form rejections. You know you’ve got a great story, well told, and your editor and/or writer friends have confirmed that and encouraged you to seek publication. What’s the problem?
The problem is that you should have put as much effort into your query letter and proposal—or more—as you did to initially writing your opening and first few chapters of your story. This is not the time to suddenly skimp on spending more of your time and effort, and a bit more money for a professional edit. Too many aspiring writers make the fatal error of whipping off a query letter in an hour or so and sending it off, thinking “It’ll be good enough.”
I’ve spent months working closely with writers on their novels, with all kinds of back and forth and revisions and more revisions until we’re both very happy with it, only to have them say they can do the query letter on their own. Then I follow up later and they say they’ve received only rejections. I ask to see their query letter, and it’s obvious why—hasty writing, no hook at the beginning, typos, details and info included that should be left out, the most compelling aspects of the story not mentioned—the list goes on.
So their manuscript sits, gathering dust, either literally or electronically. This has been so frustrating to me that now I include free editing of the query letter after I’ve edited the manuscript, just to put my own mind at ease.
For all the effort you’ve put into making your story the best it can be, don’t shoot yourself in the foot by skimping at query-writing time. And it’s best to get a qualified copy editor or an excellent writer to help you with it— someone who’s read the manuscript. I’ve gone over a query letter nine or ten times with a client, just for content and wording to punch it up more, before a final proofread. First impressions are everything, and your query letter is your introduction to the agent or acquiring editor. This is your foot in the door. Don’t shoot it.
Guest blogger Jodie Renner is a freelance fiction manuscript editor, specializing in thrillers, romantic suspense, mysteries, romance, YA, and historical fiction. Jodie’s services range from developmental and substantive editing to light final copy editing and proofreading, as well as manuscript critiques. Check out Jodie’s website at http://www.jodierennerediting.com/ and her blog, dedicated to advice and resources for fiction writers, at http://jodierennerediting.blogspot.com/.
Posted by Maryann Miller who has not shot herself in the foot recently. She learned this valuable lesson a long time ago, and also helps clients with their query letters and proposals.