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"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.

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, 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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