it’s a trip . . .

tips, quotes, insights, and lessons about writing and publishing learned the hard way

there’s no substitute for confidence

confident query letter

confident query letter

Recently I helped a friend ready a query letter for her police procedural. I offered to send her some sample queries I collected in the past couple years that helped me improve my ability to write a query letter. (I’m going to include the links to those queries as my tip of the week.)

I asked her to review a query letter for The Notebook written by Nicholas Sparks that made quite the impression on me years ago.

Now I know that The Notebook is the last book my querying friend would pick up and read. Me, I loved the book and cried my head off during the movie (but that’s another story but not for this blog).

I referred her to Sparks’ query letter because it is the best example of a query letter I’ve ever read that says, “I am very confident about my work and this book and my ability as a writer. I believe in this book!” without ever using those words.

Sparks knows what his book is about. Without being arrogant, he tells the potential agent why his book is special.

And he did his homework regarding its marketability. He mentions that there aren’t many commercial books that have grappled Alzheimers as a theme. He even adds a postscript that says the following:

“P.S. Because 22% of the people in this country (40+ million) are over 52 years old and 4.5 million people suffer from Alzheimer’s, this book is unique and marketable to a wide audience. In addition, at 52,000 words, it is short enough not to be cost-prohibitive to most publishing houses.”

He added a P.S. Who has ever seen that before? Not me. I’ve never heard anyone say, “Never add a P.S. to your query.” But I’ve never added one either.

But I have heard experts advise: The query letter should NEVER exceed one page. His query letter was more than a page. I’ve always tried to keep my query letter to one page. Why? Because I didn’t want to flout convention. See, I was more interested in being seen as one who makes nicey-nice than one who whose goal is foremost to sell her book.

Because I’m not Nicholas Sparks, I’m not intending to write a two-page query anytime soon. I’m not suggesting that you dash the rules either. What I’m suggesting is that you consider selling your book, your premise, yourself–unabashedly and unapologetically.

Whether you like his work or not is immaterial. What matters is the confident tone of his query. There’s a world of difference between confidence and arrogance. Nicholas Sparks couldn’t have been more confident about the product he was selling. Is it any wonder he’s a bestselling author.

So, whatever you do. Please don’t apologize in your query letter; don’t even give off a whiff of apology about the book you just spent untold hours researching, writing, editing, revising, writing a synposis for, etc. You owe it to yourself to present your book as the jewel you believe it to be, that you want it to be. Your integrity as a writer demands it.

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3 Comments»

  globalwrite wrote @

I think confidence is something he earned by doing that homework–writers want to believe their book is suitable for everyone but the truth is we all have a niche market. We don’t sell our books to everyone who reads–or even all the adults who read.

Christine

  rachel wrote @

Three paragraphs max, I was told, for queries. I was fretting about my five paragraphs just this morning, and feel better now.
Talking about confidence, you glow with the stuff! It comes across in your writing, both creative and practical (ie these columns). I admire that. Keep on trucking.

  Vern wrote @

As the saying goes, “Rules are meant to be broken.” Or is it, “For every rule, there is an exception.”? The trick of course is to know when and how to do that. One thing for sure is that if the rule doesn’t work, then what have you got to lose by breaking it?

As far as the query rule, I’ve broken it many times and stuck to the formula many times also. If there is such a thing as a “good rejection” and I believe there is, then I have had positive results from both. Go figure.

I think the most important thing ultimately (assuming you have a good story) is the timing. You need to reach the right person at that particular time they are looking for the type story you have written. It doesn’t really matter how good your story is if it doesn’t fit their selective criteria. Case in point is a rejection I received personally from the president of an agency which called my beginning a “Wow” among other positive statements. BUT, he couldn’t take it on because it did not fit their specific market (Christian). It is likely that many a great story would not be published today because it probably wouldn’t have found the right agent at the right time. One of my favorite anecdotes is that Steinbeck had a stack of rejections two feet high before he was published. Imagine what that would be in todays tight and paranoid market.

So, keep plugging with those queries and keep the faith in yourself and your work. Just as in any type sales, you must believe in the product. That product is you.

Nice blog BTW. Take care.


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  • my author bio . . .

    I began writing creatively three years ago, fueled by midlife and a Curves' addiction. Since then, I have published short work in The Christian Science Monitor and Sirens Magazine in the same year. How's that for versatility!
    Sirens Magazine

    Sirens Magazine

    Also the Duck & Herring Company's Pocket Field Guide, The Giggle Water Review, Alighted, Wet Ink Press, America's Funniest Humor, Brilliant!, Laughter Loaf, Flash-Flooding, and the Greensilk Journal where my short story, "How I Boinked John Cusack" won editor's pick.
    The Greensilk Journal

    The Greensilk Journal

    My newest novel, THE SHAKER PROPOSAL, has received numerous accolades, the latest a fifth-place in the 2008 annual NWA (National Writing Association) Novel Contest.
    THE SHAKER PROPOSAL

    THE SHAKER PROPOSAL

    I am a marketing professional by vocation (but not by choice). My husband and I live in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania—the sounds, sites, smells, and flavors of which are a never-ending source of literary inspiration.
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