I am interested to know more about good query letters. You said recently that you can always tell from the letter whether or not the proposed book is quality stuff. Can you elaborate a bit on this?I can't always tell it's going to be good. But the bad writers give themselves away pretty readily. Good writers express themselves clearly and are good at speaking to their audience. They vary sentence length and structure, and don't repeat themselves.
There are some simple things you can avoid to help your query letter overall:
- Don't start with a question that your reader could conceivably answer with a "no." Ever wonder what whales dream about? Not really, no. I'll keep reading, but you've already lost some ground.
- Don't bother with empty adjectives like 'wonderful' or 'charming' (etc). These are solely judgement-based descriptors, and tell me nothing except that you like your manuscript. (Duh.)
- Don't try to be cute. Flowers or inkwells or colored paper says amateur. And if you talk down to me, I'm pretty certain that you'll be talking down to your readers.
I sent my MS to a professional editor (I found her on Editors and Preditors, thanks to you) for character and plot analysis. As part of the package, she writes the query letter and summary.I've never written anything other than school work before and got the impression that the steps to publication are 1) write the book 2) edit, edit, edit yourself and when you think it's done, 3) send to a professional editor then 4) incorporate those changes you agree with. Only then are you ready to submit query letters.
Numbers 1, 2, and 4 are correct. Getting someone who has no interest in being especially nice to you to look at your manuscript is a good idea. And if you want to pay someone, ok, though finding a good critique group has this benefit and others.
It sounds like you and some of your commenters, who are obviously in the same business, are saying that you should write your own query letter so that it's in your voice and not your polishing editor's.
This is correct. The editor who wrote a draft of the letter for you may still have done you a favor, though, if she's pointed out for you what the manuscript is about. She may even have drawn out the hook. See what's useful in her letter, and then rewrite it. Try to suit your voice to the manuscript's voice—when publishers write flapcopy, we try to make it a taste of what people will find inside. Do the same in your query letter.