"I've learned that it's amazing how much you don't have to do in your query."

Queries—they can be rather frightening beasts. After all, you get 450 words to sell 100,000. And if you’re at all like me, you might tend to overthink those 450 words.

Which is why I was drawn to this advice from literary agent Ann Collette and Rachel Kincaid, the latest from Promptly’s Top 20 Tips From WD in 2010 series (the
quote-worthy quips that branded themselves in my mind when we were
creating these magazines throughout the year). A regular prompt follows.
Simplify!

No. 14: Simplify Submissions

Submissions that simply follow our guidelines … will automatically graduate from the slush pile into the ‘contenders’ pile. In other words, if you follow instructions, you’ll already be ahead of the pack. Trust me, you’d be amazed at how many people don’t.”
—Literary agent Ann Collette, “Keys to the Gate-Keeper,” October 2010 (click here to check out the rest of the issue)

I’ve learned that it’s amazing how much you don’t have to do in your query. You don’t have to give us your life story, you don’t have to include a 20-page synopsis, and you don’t have to list every publication you’ve ever had since your school newspaper in the 10th grade. Instead, start with a terse summary of your book and its genre (just one, not ‘fantasy/thriller/paranormal/suspense/romance/chick lit’). Next, briefly touch on your literary background. If you have previous book publications, list the publisher and the publication date. We don’t like to see letters where writers note they’ve had ‘several books published’ but neglect to mention they were self-published.”
—Rachel Kincaid, “Keys to the Gate-Keeper”

One of my clients once told me that writing his initial query letter was as hard as writing his book, to which I responded, ‘It should be!’ If you show that you’re in control of your query, I’ll know that you have control over your book. In my experience, if your pitch is overwritten, then your manuscript probably is, too. Keep in mind that this is the first impression I’ll get of your writing.”
—Ann Collette, “Keys to the Gate-Keeper”

***

WRITING PROMPT: Unhappiness is a Lost Gun
Feel free to take the following prompt home or post a response (500
words or fewer, funny, sad or stirring) in the Comments section below.
By posting, you’ll be automatically entered in our occasional
around-the-office swag drawings. If you’re having trouble with the
captcha code sticking, e-mail your piece and the prompt to me at
writersdigest@fwmedia.com, with “Promptly” in the subject line, and I’ll
make sure it gets up.

A woman buys a gun for home defense, but two days later she can’t find it. (From The Writer’s Book of Matches, by the staff of fresh boiled peanuts, a literary journal)

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7 thoughts on “"I've learned that it's amazing how much you don't have to do in your query."

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  2. John

    Which is why I was drawn to this advice from literary agent Ann Collette and Rachel Kincaid, the latest from Promptly’s Top 20 Tips From WD in 2010 series canvas picture (the quote-worthy quips that branded themselves in my mind when we were creating these magazines throughout the year). A regular prompt follows.

  3. Mike

    Thanks alot for sharing this with us, was a really interesting post. canvas art
    Queries—they can be rather frightening beasts. After all, you get 450 words to sell 100,000. And if you’re at all like me, you might tend to overthink those 450 words.

  4. Dare Gaither

    “What the hell happened here?”
    Jack couldn’t believe his eyes.
    The place was a total mess.
    Karla was flat on her belly, straining to feel under the sofa.

    “It’s gone!”

    Karla stood up, red-faced and breathless.

    “I’ve looked everywhere and it just gone!”

    Karla struggled to hold back tears.
    She was trying hard to keep up the image of
    a strong, independent woman. She had bought
    the gun to feel safe and secure now that she was alone.
    How could she lose it after only 2 days?

    Jack walked over and hugged her.
    He had come as soon as she had
    called about the lost gun.
    Since Tim’s death he had been her rock.
    He had promised his big brother he would
    take care of her after he was gone.

    “When did you have it last?”

    “I went to practice at the shooting range yesterday,”
    Karla sniffled as she tried to think, “I remember
    bringing it in and laying it on the kitchen counter.”

    She dragged Jack to the kitchen to show him.

    “Right there! I’m sure that’s where it put it.”

    The counter was completely bare.
    The toaster oven and coffee maker were on the floor.

    “I moved everything and even felt down the garbage disposer.”

    “Oh Jack, what do I do now?”
    Karla stared up at him, her eyes wide with fear.

    This was serious. Had it been stolen?

    Jack checked the tops of the cabinets
    and even went through the trash can.
    Nothing.
    He turned to check the pantry and tripped over the
    toaster oven. He pitched forward, banging his head
    on the edge of the counter as he fell. Jack’s cursing
    made Karla forget all about the missing gun.
    She rushed to his side, and gently touched a big knot
    that was forming on his forehead.

    “Ouch!”

    “Sorry. I’ll get some ice to put on that.”

    Jack grunted, gingerly rubbing his sore head.

    Karla gasped when she opened the freezer.
    Giggling like a child, she pulled out the lost gun.
    Jack’s forehead was irrelevant.
    Relief flooded through her as she hugged the
    sleek Glock pistol to her chest.
    Her face glowed with joy.

    “I found it!”

    She decided she must have stuck it in the freezer
    when she got ice for her drink after shooting practice.
    Thank God Jack had hit his head!

    Karla lovingly cradled cold the gun in her hands to warm it.
    Abandoning the injured Jack, she headed for the living room
    to place the gun in its leather holster.

    “Thanks for caring,” Jack snapped at her.
    He grabbed a bag of frozen peas to put on his quickly swelling knot.

    “Next time just get a Doberman.”

  5. Mark James

    “Where’s my gun, Em?”

    “There’s a new Harry Potter movie out tonight. Let’s go see it.” Emily knew she sounded too bright, like Snow White on crack, but the truth wasn’t an option. Well, it was the bottom of the gutter, fallen in really deep, lava flowing down toward the village option.

    Sammie, her brother, went silent, his dark eyes on her.

    “I think it’s the last one in the series,” Em said. “I bet it’s really good.”

    His eyes didn’t move. He just kept right on staring, keeping his mouth shut.

    “It’s not here.” Em fidgeted with her phone, wondering if she’d have enough fingers left to use it when her brother finally got up.

    “Did you send it away?”

    Em jumped up, hands on her hips, looking down at him. “I only sent it a few centuries back. It’s been two whole days. It should be back. ”

    “But it’s not.” Sammie pulled out his razor sharp knife, balanced it on his fingers, did that walking across his hand trick that gave Em the chills.

    “You have your knife.”

    “I want my gun.”

    “I bought it.”

    Sammie looked up from walking his knife between his fingers, but he didn’t bother to answer.

    Em knew better. As First Assassin, any weapon brought into the house was his. She’d begged and whined and nagged for weeks. The gun had been the first job he’d trusted her with. She let out a little sigh. And now—no gun. It felt like first grade when she’d pleaded to bring his marbles to school, and lost all of them.

    “Easy, little sister,” Sammie said. “Don’t let that guilt steam roller flatten you.”

    “But it’s my fault. I should have just put it in the safe like you told me to.”

    “Can you make something else look like them?”

    Em brightened. That was just like Sammie. Always thinking of a way out of her messes. “I think so.” She tucked stray stands of hair behind her ears. “But you can’t let anyone touch them.”

    “True deal, little sis,” Sammie said. “Go do it. Fast as you can.”

    Her feet didn’t seem to touch the ground as Emily ran down to the kitchen. She was in there for hours, and was just putting on the finishing touches when Sammie came in.

    “Ready?” he said.

    She handed him a silver tray, on which lay the replica. “The safe’s cold. It should be all right. Don’t let them touch.”

    Em was by the fire, knitting her brother’s latest sweater when he came in behind her.

    “Well?” she said.

    “Did you put anything special in the guns?”

    “Of course not.” Em knitted a few stitches. “The poison’s in the icing.”

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    Besides the crackling fire, Em’s knitting was the only sound.

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