Inspired by Anne R. Allen’s delightfully witty and magnificently useful tips on how to write awesome query letters, today’s Confidence Series post is about two things that could be messing with your query’s effectiveness before you even put fingertips to keyboard. Think of these as pre-writing-your-query critique tips.
Messing with Your Kickass Query Thing #1:
Misunderstanding a Query’s Purpose
This first item I mentioned in the comments of Anne’s post. I’ll repeat what I said there and then expand a bit:
A key reason I’ve noticed with people getting wiggy about query letters for novels is the same reason people get wiggy about a resume. A query letter is not supposed to get you the agent/book deal just like a resume is not supposed to get you the job. The resume gets you the first interview. The query letter gets you the request for the full (or partial) manuscript. Basically, its purpose is to move you to the next phase of the process. That’s it.
Thinking about query letters in this way makes them more manageable and practical to craft. Takes off the pressure that somehow a query letter pitch is supposed to convey the sum total of a novel in three sentences. Nope. All it needs to do is convey a delicious taste of the story, which will hopefully get someone to the table of the full novel. And then the novel can do its own work.
I have watched authors work themselves into a near catatonic panic thinking that the query letter is going to get them THE AGENT or, even worse, THE DEAL. Whenever I see this, not only do I feel buckets of empathy for the writer, but I also feel trainloads of empathy for the Query. Putting that much expectation on a wee Query is like expecting a fifth grader who likes science to explain the quantum adiabatic algorithm. Actually, forget the fifth grader, it’s like asking me to explain the quantum adiabatic algorithm.
Not going to happen.
Exaggerating what a query is supposed to do can tank our confidence in our ability to write one. It messes with the emotional parts of our brains. The parts of our brains that can catch our panic, sprint with it, and make a mountain range out of a three-sentence molehill. But if you integrate a more practical perspective and right-size a query’s purpose, I bet you’ll feel a very useful shift inside you. A relaxation out of the deer-in-the-headlights-how-am-I-going-to-do-this mode into okay-this-could-be-doable. And folks, while that might not feel like the most momentous shift, it is actually huge. It gets you out of a negative spin and reorients your whole psyche into a more productive mindset where the possibility of writing your badass query is totally in your sights.
Messing with Your Kickass Query Thing #2:
You Keep (Adorably) Telling Yourself You Can’t Write One
Let’s ponder this for a second: If you are reading a post about query letters, chances are seriously high that you are a writer. Which means you are a purveyor of words. A maven of meaning. A doyenne of denotation and connotation. And most fundamentally, you are a believer in the extraordinary power of words—be it to give readers a new perspective or simply give them a few hours of precious respite from the sometimes brutal onslaught of the world.
Yet what happens when we go to write a query letter? We function as if words don’t have any impact at all. That our inner chitchat is meaningless. We act as if we can incant to ourselves ad nauseam—I can’t write a query letter; I am terrible at writing query letters; I sooooo can’t write a query letter; I suck at writing query letters; I hate writing query letters; Query letters are so stupid; Agent X should just read my novel; I wrote a whole novel isn’t that good enough?; I can’t write query letters; O woe to all that is Fair and Just in this world, why, why, why must I write this query letter?—and then somehow POOF we are going to roll out the spiffiest, sparkliest query letter that ever was.
Here is a question for you: If you were your potential badass query letter and heard that inner talk, would you want to come over and play?
Note: If you answered “yes” to that question this might be a moment to explore possible masochistic tendencies.
Folks, we have to clean up the language in our head. We are writers. We know the power of words. And we are not immune to that power. If you are telling yourself over and over you can’t write a kickass or even a serviceable query letter, then you are making the job of writing a query letter a whole lot harder.
For the record, this is not about you skipping about in spaced-out-I-am-one-with-query-letters-la-la-land nonsense. This is about being disciplined with and kind to yourself. This is about catching the negative programming you have around your ability to write query letters and revising the story. And it is about shifting as far as you can go, and then shifting a little further, and a little further.
Maybe the first inner programming revision is, “Okay, I wrote a novel, and I didn’t know how to do that at first. A query letter is just another type of writing. I can learn how to do this, too.” And you let that percolate in you and see how it impacts you drafting your query letter, how it drives you to do a little more research, or find a class all about query awesomeness.
And then, after some time (and it doesn’t have to be too long,) you have that brain-talk revision landed. So you up your game. Build on your momentum.
The next revision could be something like: “Wow, I have come so far already. I’m starting to get the hang of this. And it’s actually getting a little fun. Yeah!!!”
Let that thought pattern do its work and help you grow your skills and confidence.
Then finally, yes, you will get to something like this: “I am a query writing rock star. My queries attract all who could be great partners to help me shepherd my work into the world and, equally as important, they weed out anyone who is not aligned with me and my purpose! Wahooo and shimmy-shaking Shazam!”
Now, if I were your potential badass query letter, and you had gotten yourself to that final state, oh my goodness I would be sidling up to you like nobody’s business.
Enjoy the journey, my friends, and most definitely fill it with fun.
Onward in kindness,
Christine Carron, The Critique MD
P.S. Everything I wrote above applies to writing synopses, too. Just saying . . .
Look for news coming soon about The Critique MD’s first live webinar course:
A Whole-Brain Approach to Giving and Receiving Critiques.