Posted by: Kathy Temean | December 28, 2010

HOW’S YOUR QUERY LETTER I.Q.?

Top tips on making your first impression with that editor or agent the best it can be from ‘say it write’ professional editing expert, Jessica Greene of J.R. Professional Writing Services

Interviewed by Dianne Ochiltree, www.ochiltreebooks.com   

The back story:  Jessica Greene is more than a writer:  she’s a writer’s writer, a skilled editor who can help other writers make their words sparkle.  Perhaps the most important marketing document for your manuscript is the query letter that will entice an agent or editor into reading it. After meeting Jessica at a recent  writers conference, it took only minutes to decide her insights on the topic were just too good to keep to myself!  She graciously agreed to a quick Q&A for the readers of Writing and Illustrating.  So…let the questions begin!

Q:  How is a query letter different from a cover letter?

The query letter is a sales document that tells the receiver, “What’s in it for me?” It does this through a fairly standard format that includes three paragraphs – the hook, mini-synopsis, and author bio. These show off your ability to summarize concisely, introduce the agent or editor to a saleable project, and act as an enticement to the reader to find out more. A fourth, closing paragraph should give thanks for time and consideration, and might indicate any pertinent and valuable details the reader should be aware of, such as the relevance of the material in today’s market, or your ability to promote the work.

A cover letter – which may or may not be requested in submission guidelines –introduces the documents that are sent with it, and features any additional information that the letter writer wants to the receiver to have. It can include any niceties that might warm the reader to the writer’s mission. I like to think of a cover letter as the shiny, happy PR rep, whose job it is to draw readers in with genuine friendliness and impassioned appeal, in a professional manner, of course.

Q:  What is the #1 job of a query letter?

A successful query letter generates interest on the part of the reader to know more. Its job is to sell an agent or editor on the concept of your manuscript, enough so that you receive a request for additional chapters, or even the entire opus. Then it’s up to the good work you did in the MS to sell itself into its published form.

Q:  What is the most common error you find in query letters submitted to you for editorial help?

Number one, absolutely no contest, is spelling and punctuation. Surprised? Spell-checks simply don’t catch everything. The problem is mostly misplaced or missing commas, apostrophes, periods, improper quote marks, possessives and plurals, inconsistencies with proper names, and homophones—words with different meanings that sound alike, but are spelled differently. “Peer” and “pier,” for instance.  Simple word mix-ups are common, too, like a misspelling that changes the intended word into another legitimate one—like substituting “y-o-u” for “y-o-u-r.” Also, when writers are cutting and pasting from draft to draft, words can get littered about. It’s easy to miss an unintentional word or phrase duplication if you’ve read through the paragraph five times. Any final draft deserves a fresh pair of eyes.

AgentQuery.com gives a valuable list of do’s and don’ts for query letter writing on its web site. In fact, the entire page on How To Write A Query is an excellent mini course in how to do it right.

Q:  How can a writer make a query letter stand out so that an editor or agent takes notice?

That’s easy. Write well, and follow all submission guidelines as stated.  No more, no less. Forget about crafting a gimmick that you think might make your letter stand out—no FedEx deliveries or “authorized signature required.” The learning curve on writing a query is similar to, but lower than, the curve you traversed to produce your work. Learn from the professional writing resources available to you. Free critiques abound from individuals in local writers groups, instructors in creative writing departments on university or college campuses, and other literate professionals online. Or you can call a freelance editor like me who lives to produce copy that sings for the benefit of her clients.

Q:  In your opinion, what are the hallmarks of good business writing in general? 

Intelligent business writing is an organized presentation of a message using words that are clear, precise, and engaging.  It’s not colloquial, abstract, or rambling, and it should address the reader’s interest, otherwise, it’s not so effective.

Good business writing is simply good writing.

Q:  Why do you believe it’s helpful for writers to hire editorial help?

Every writer needs an editor, if only as a proofreader on a final draft. We become overly familiar with our words and those tiny technical errors can fail to register. Beyond that, writers who take their craft seriously welcome constructive criticism from those who care about words and have an ear for what is humanly appealing. If you don’t believe it, check out acknowledgements given to editors by best-selling authors. I especially fancy the one given by Stephen King in his third forward to On Writing; “…to write is human, to edit is divine,”  he says. That, from one of America’s most prolific and widely read authors.  Editing is an essential component of any written form of communication.

The truth is that writing is something we practice. Expressing cohesive thought is a skill that grows by engaging with language from multiple aspects. We learn to improve our craft through the input of others who are equally concerned with the development of good language skills, and the more commentary we receive, the more we can assimilate and the better writers we can become. 

Q:  What other services do you offer clients? 

Besides writing and editing the collateral materials for book submissions, I also edit manuscripts for publication, as well as academic theses and dissertations. I supply copy for web sites, blogs, (grant) proposals, résumés, and I research and write continuing education manuals for health care professionals.

Q:  How can you be contacted for more information? 

You can check out my web site: JRprowrite.com for complete information on all my services, then either call or email me, both forms of which you’ll find there. Don’t use the contact form on the site, or you’ll wait a very long time to hear back.

Thank you Dianne for taking the time to interview Jessica Greene.  Enjoyed her answers.

Talk tomorrow,

Kathy


Responses

  1. Very interesting…and what I like most is her support of freelance editors!

    Like

  2. Thanks for the blog. This is one that I have to save and refer back to when I’m at this stage of the game! And I’ll refer other writers to it also.

    Like


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