Queries – Stop and Think Logically


The idea of my cozying up to a logical suggestion would send my dear dad into a fit of giggles, because when I was a kid, logic and I were mutually exclusive entities. While I bumped along every possible distraction that would ensure my doing the dumbest head-scratching thing known to the free world, my dear dad would patiently sit back and hope I would marry well.

Then something frightening happened, and I grew up. I got involved in business…and suddenly logic and I became bestest buddies. In fact, I learned to hang my hat on it. While I can still pull some real barn burners that make my family wonder if my dental appointment turned into a full on lobotomy, I do rely heavily on thinking like Spock wherever possible. Which brings me to a frustration with query letters.

If authors could separate themselves from their artsy side and gaze upon their query letters with a dispassionate unbiased eye, they could see the flaws that yield rejection after rejection. Today’s example falls in the category of “Oops, I forgot.”

The first paragraph outlined the author’s bio. This is a terrible lead-in because – deep apologies for sounding grouchy – I don’t care about you. Yet. For now, I only care about your story. “Oops, I forgot.”

The second paragraph outlined why the author wrote her book. This is a terrible second paragraph because – deep apologies for sounding grouchy – I don’t care about the circumstances of writing your story. Not yet. Tell me about the friggin’ story. “Oops, I forgot.”

The third paragraph was short and sweet, and said nothing more other than to invite me to request the manuscript. Wha’? WHAT ABOUT THE STORY??? “Oops, I fogot.”

Dear authors, this isn’t someone thinking logically. If you’re trying to sell a story, then doesn’t logic demand that you actually tell the poor dolt reading your query a little something about your story? It doesn’t matter if you’re a famous actress, or a nobody. It’s about the story. That is your lead-in. Trying to wow me with your bio or the reasons why you wrote your story is nothing more than bells and whistles. The story is what has to pass the smell test. Your small bio and brief reasons that led you to write your story can go at the end…like a tidbit.

Publishing is a business, so authors need to take off their Creativity Bonnet and put on their Business Bowler…and think like a business person. You can be sure we do. Look at your query and ask yourself whether your query reflects selling you or your story. What topics are your lead-in? If it’s filled up with fodder about you and your reasons for existing with a quill in your hand, then you can look forward to “Thanks, but no thanks.” A lot.

You may have a fabulous book sitting on your desk, but unless you communicate it clearly and logically, it’ll do little more than gather cyber dust. And that sucks.

In the words of the ever-logical Mr. Spock, “Live long, and prosper.” In the words of the Overworked and Underpaid Editor, “Think logically, and sell like a mo’ fo.”

As for Dad, the first time I used the word “logic,” I think he fell out of his chair…

5 Responses to Queries – Stop and Think Logically

  1. authorguy says:

    Which is great as far as the format of the letter is supposed to go. I picked that part up from a handbook 20 years ago. But when it comes to the hook paragraph/query synopsis, mere logic does no good at all.

  2. Connie says:

    I do believe this is the best advice on queries yet! I argue with writing buddies about this topic, because they haven’t been following you for years! I’m going to get started on a new letter right away-for a kiddie book. May I pass this post to my friends as a link?

  3. Pass away, Connie. Wait, that came out weird. Link away. Yeah, that’s better.

  4. Mmmm, not sure I agree with you, Authordude. You still have to think logically when asking yourself whether your hook jumps off the page and makes an impact that forces Overworked and Underpaid Editor jump on her desk and screech, “YES! I MUST HAVE THIS!!” And yes, I really do that. Well, maybe not the jumping on the desk part. But I do get pretty oogly over great query letters.

  5. The whole “writer as artiste” mentality should be restricted to Literature courses in college under the thumb of a nurturing, eccentric professor… or if you have access to an unheated garret and a lot of need for punishment . If you want to publish, it’s a business, pure and simple, and the rules for business communication take precedent. Your book is a consumer product. I think some folks take the usual suggestions about confidence in their work to mean that somehow, “they” are the product. This post just made me laugh. Thanks, Lynn. I needed a good one!

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