The term “dreaded query letter” is almost cliché. Obviously, there must be reasons why most writers, who are capable of writing a three hundred page novel, find writing this one page a daunting task. I can’t speak for you, but I can tell you why I tremble at the thought.
I’ve read numerous articles, blog posts, and book chapters on how to write a query. Often the same thought was expressed: If you’re having trouble writing your query letter, it’s because you don’t know what your book is about. Aaaand … every doubt I had while writing the book stands up and salutes that statement.
How can I argue with that logic? Can I tell you how to play cricket, where to find the best meal in Antwerp, how the diatonic scale differs from the chromatic? Of course, not. I don’t know any of those things. Therefore, if I can’t write a scintillating description of my book, it must be because I haven’t a clue what it’s about.
I sit paralyzed at the keyboard and that evil editor starts yapping. If you, the one who wrote the book, don’t know what it’s about, how could any reader follow it? Why would they even bother? It’s obviously nothing but a blob on paper. And evidently a putrid one. How could you possibly sell an agent on this mess?
But wait! Here’s an article that says, “You’re not actually selling the book.” Whew! That was close. Uh … wait a minute. Then, what am I supposed to do in the query letter? “All you’re doing is seducing the agent.” Oh, gotcha.” Uh … wait a minute.
How do I entice an agent in a query for my quiet character-driven story? “Focus on drama and stakes.” Hmmm. No dark alley chases, no murders, no trial of the century, no corporate takeover, no evil emperors, no battles, no magic, no vampires, no demons, no angels, not even a thing to go bump in the night. I have no mystery, no heart-stopping action, no cliffhanger to intrigue an agent.
I must “seduce the agent” by conveying the inner struggles of my characters, with their fears, and doubts, and longings in language too beautiful to behold. I must present the subtle drama and stakes of my story in a way that will astound the agent into making a frantic request for the full manuscript.
Easy as pie. Piece of cake. Not.
Please pass the Tums.
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