Erika Wassall, the Jersey Farm Scribe here, on…
Resumes: A Tangible Perspective on Query Letters
I am a writer. It’s who I am. It’s what I do.
However, while it’s currently a growing supplemental income, I can’t (yet) quit my day job. My day job is that I own and operate a transcription company. The bare-bones explanation is that research centers record interviews and send them to us to be typed out. I have about 15 transcriptionists and a few lead transcript managers. I have an amazing team of people who work with us and we pride ourselves on the job we do.
Recently, I have been in the process of hiring a new transcript manager.
(This all relates, I promise)
I put out a few ads on reputable sites that ran for a modest 6 days. But, the kicker is, people all over the country can apply.
Within 6 days I had over 250 resumes.
This gave me an interesting perspective on how editors and agents may feel as they go through the slush pile.
Writing a query letter was daunting to me. There are differing opinions, some rules that seemed hard and fast, and yet still, I was left with an overwhelming lack of confidence in what I was doing.
A lot of us have more relatable experience with cover letters and resumes than we do with query letters. So I thought I’d share a few things I saw myself thinking that I will definitely keep in mind the next time I write a query letter:
1) Oh geez…. did they even read the job description?
This was by FAR the most frustrating and the most common irritation.
The number of people who seemed to have no idea what the job was and had absolutely NONE of the experience or requirements I was asking for was seriously mind blowing. I know agents and editors often say the same thing. Feeling like you’re just part of a “mass submission” is a REAL turnoff. Even the ideal person can come off as lazy.
So with manuscript submissions, I suggest making an effort, right off the bat, to make it clear that you’ve done your research. A quick line about why you’re submitting to them specifically, a reference to something they did, somewhere they’ve been, or even using their full name correctly is a step in the right direction.
2) Ugh… I have to read ALL this?
With hundreds of resumes and cover letters to go over, it’s important to get to the point. Resumes that were laid out in a quick and easy-to-read manner meant I was more likely to notice the things they were highlighting.
This is something I’ll keep in mind next time I’m submitting. I tend to be slightly long-winded, thinking they’ll get a feel for my unique and relatable writing in the letter and it will entice them to read my manuscript.
Fact is, editors and agents are intelligent enough to know that the style in which you write a letter is not the same in which you write a picture book or young adult novel. We have to trust that they are good enough at their job to know that.
On top of that, one thing you need to be as a writer is flexible. This is not the time to show off our flowery-writing skills, and it’s certainly a time to be concentrating on killing our darlings. This experience definitely highlighted the importance of focusing on showing off your ability to use fewer words to get across the same point.
3) Oh boy, here’s another one telling me how they’ll change my world….
While I ABSOLUTELY want to hear what makes that person special, I don’t need to be told that they will “Totally rock this job” or that “you won’t know how you ever made it without me” (yup, people actually say those things, and more!).
Arrogance? Not good. And really it just comes off as silly and childish.
It’s really a great example of the power of showing, not telling. Obviously we think our manuscript is great, or we wouldn’t be submitting it. But telling them what MAKES it special can be important.
Which leads me to my last point…
4) I read this whole thing! How come I still have no idea what their skills actually are?
Many cover letters and resumes used very vague terms. “I’ve worked in management roles for over six years.” Um… okay. But what did you actually DO? “I have excellent communication skills and am looking for a position where I can grow.” Grow into what? And if you have great communication skills, how come you’re not actually TELLING me anything?
This reminded me of my post on Pitch is Concept, spurred on by the workshop by Jill Corcoran at the state SCBWI conference. She taught me the importance of showing an agent or editor SPECIFICALLY what drives someone to want to read your book. The hook. The teaser. What specifics would you use to convince someone to pick it up and give it a go?
Those are my top four points, and they lead me to one final thought:
Ignore everything everyone tells you!
At the end of the day, there are NO hard and fast rules. If a long, nonspecific query letter came across my computer screen that broke every rule I mentioned, but something about it just caught my eye, I may have brushed aside all the things I didn’t like and contacted the person anyway.
While I’d heard people talk about how query letters are basically a writer’s resume, making a more hands-on correlation between the two has really helped me to gain perspective and confidence in my ability to write when my audience is the ever-intimidating editor or agent.
Getting the right manuscript in front of the right agent or editor, with the right query letter to represent both you and your work is really what it’s all about.
And there’s simply no doubt… your manuscripts are worth it.
Erika Wassall is a writer, a farmer and a liver of life. She is a member of SCBWI and a proud Mad Scientist, bringing science experiments right into children’s classrooms, and hearts. She has a small farm in New Jersey with sheep, chickens, pigs and vegetables. Check out her new website at www.TheJerseyFarmScribe.com where as a first generation farmer, she often takes the long way, learning the tricks of the trade on The Farm. On her website is also The Shop page with tips and a free Q/A from her husband’s mechanic shop, and The Writer page where she shares stories, experiences and characters from the heart. Follow her on Twitter at @NJFarmScribe. She’d love to hear from you!
Thank you Erika for another great post.