Once you decide to submit, you also have to decide to rise above the noise. The good news is you can learn how to write a query letter with the power to do this for you. You're a writer, this is your skill.
We are facing unprecedented levels of competition to get an agent. Since e-querying became the norm, your query became akin to the spam we all see in our own inboxes. You can no longer rely on a professional tone alone to stand out and get your manuscript in front of agents.
And yet, agents are very jaded. They are not going to respond well to gimmicks or to those who disregard their submission guidelines.
So what can we do to stand out, while working within the conventions and submission guidelines. Submission guidelines are surprisingly conservative, and I would not suggest you defy them.
In combination with the synopsis and opening chapters of your manuscript, the job of the query letter is to get a request for the full manuscript. I like to imagine that the job of the first line of the query is to get them to read the second line, and so on.
That may sound like a lot of pressure! But as a writer, you have everything you need to hook readers. You just need to realize that those skills apply in the context of a query letter as much as they do on the first page of your novel.
There are many layers to the reasons writers struggle to write their query letters alone:
You may or may not be aware that storytelling is big business in marketing circles.
Why have marketers become so excited about storytelling? Because, just like novelists trying to get out of the slush pile, we are living in a time of distraction and noise. And storytelling breaks through the noise like a melody above the din.
Marketers have realised that the human brain is subconsciously attracted to stories and finds then easy to process and remember.
This is why storytelling in marketing has become such a big business. Stories are ways to keep someone’s attention even in a world of constant distraction and information overload.
You may be thinking “I’m a writer, not a marketer!” The stereotype of the starving artist is that writers hate business. But what if selling is just storytelling, after all? Even Robert Mckee, the influential theorist of story for screenwriters, has recently written a book about how his ideas can be used by marketers. Donald Miller, the founder of marketing company ‘story brand’ began his career as a novelist.
How does this change how you feel about your ability to promote yourself and your book? You’ve written a novel! If what it takes to rise above the noise is to tell a story, then you’ve got this.
After all, the business lot learned story from US, right, the writers and the so-called starving artists?
So why are so many query letters written like a bad corporate newsletter? Full of unintelligible jargon, info dumps and irrelevant noise?
If you can use these elements in your query you are making your query very easy to read. Rather than feeling like they’re deciphering a bad translation, the agent or their intern gets lost in the single story you’re telling.
You get their attention, and you rise above the noise.
If it’s still not for them, that is fine. There are many reasons independent of the quality of your story and writing that might mean you’re not a good fit.
But if it is for them, they will at least have a chance of seeing that, and they’re going to want to read the rest of your submission, and, hopefully, they will request your full manuscript!
The next entry for this series will take you through how to use storytelling in the dreaded author bio element of the query letter.