Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Evil Editing

The Art of the Query Letter

street art
Searching the Creative Commons for "Art," this is my fav.

As I've mentioned a few times, I'm not so great at writing query letters. Now, I would like to say that I've tried. I read through much of the advice from Nathan Bransford, Ms. Reid a.k.a. The Query Shark herself, Writer's Digest articles and their Successful Queries series, and Jane Friedman's advice. Not to mention quite a few articles from other agents and various internet resources.

There's a lot of rules about what to do and what not to do, but in the end it really seems like it's all about what makes your book sounds interesting to the agent in question. In other words: purely subjective.

The Failure of My Query Letter: A Two Part Harmony, er, well, Cacophony

frustration, art, TaniART
Image by TaniART

One of the places where I think I'm failing is in making my book stand out from your generic Middle Grade Fantasy. I think my book is different, but within the space of 250-300 words, it's hard to use Voice to get across the plot, personalize the letter, and include all the essential information.

And so I submitted my failing query letter to the Evil Editor. And then I submitted my revision. And then I wrote another letter that I'm sitting on for a little while to look at again later.

Evil Advice: Actually Quite Helpful

Nate Merrill, bored reading boy, art
Image by Nate Merrill

The Evil Editor is not for those with a thin skin. He (or she, I suppose, although the elderly cartoon man with evil glowing eyes at the top of the blog leads me to believe the anonymous editor is a he) gives very constructive criticism, but his criticism comes in the form of mocking my letter. When I submitted to the Evil Editor, I signed up for his particularly form of humor, so I was a little sad that he didn't love my letter, but I was prepared.

And I think he helped. Actually, the advice that I found to be the most helpful, I will share with you:
I suggest telling us the plot in three paragraphs. First the three-sentence setup: Who's the main character, what's his situation, what's his goal? Then three sentences about how he plans to achieve his goal and what goes wrong when he puts his plan in motion. Then a three-sentence wrap-up: How does he handle the chief obstacle. What's plan B? What will happen if he fails?
That gave me the basis of my latest query letter, and I do think it is my best letter of all. However, as I mentioned, I am taking a bit of a break from sending out query letters until I've had time to come back to my letter with fresh eyes and give it one last going over before sending it out into the cold, cruel world.


  1. It's good advice. It's all about the characters, the stakes, and the voice. (Easier said than done)

    1. No kidding! I swear I have a mental block when it comes to writing a compelling query letter.