They say that to stir things up in life sometimes you have to “think outside the square”.
My house isn’t very square and, as far as I know, neither is my brain. Come to think of it, I’m not very square either, though I have been known to do some square things like write a thesis on the sociolinguistic aspects of political correctness. However, I’ve come to realize that the query letter I send out to entice literary agents is most definitely, undeniably, square. As square as a 52-year-old dad attempting hip-hop moves in a business suit at his daughter’s prom.
I’ve already rewritten my basic query letter fourteen or fifteen times, so much so that My Documents reads like an inventory of oven cleaners: Query Letter, New Query Letter Template, NEW New Query Letter, SUPER NEW New Query Letter, BEST Query Letter, Better Than Ever Query Letter, SUPER SHORT Query Letter, Different Approach Query Letter, NEW IMPROVED Query Letter, NUMERO UNO.
Writing a great query letter is a tough, demoralizing task. The general advice floating around out there is that your query letter should be confident, courteous, stylish, straightforward, bold, captivating, personal, professional, informative and witty. In one page. Trying to be all these things at once is a bit like attempting to do that yoga posture where you bend one knee and keep the other straight, square your hips to the wall and face the door, point one arm forward and the other back, tighten your pelvic floor, loosen your shoulders, constrict your throat and relax your face. In tight pants. (It is no coincidence that this pose, as yoga fans will recognize, is called the Warrior Pose.)
In addition, in your query letter you need to: provide a hook, summarize your book, provide its title and genre, state its word count, outline your main characters, show an understanding of your target audience, include a salutation and a closing, exhibit your writing style, state your qualifications, explain why you’ve chosen the agent, intrigue them, list your publications, follow the agency’s submission requirements, thank them, and knock their socks off. Still in one page. Which is a bit like being asked to do the Warrior Pose wearing oven mitts, with a cat curled up on your head and a tea set balanced on your bent knee, while you attempt to blow bubbles into an ice cream sundae through a straw in your nose. Naked.
But I don’t give up easily. I’ve torn up my old query letters (a metaphorical act, given the digital age we live in) and started afresh. This time, instead of trying to adhere to all those rules, I’ve tried to follow the wisdom of Madagascar’s Alex the Lion, who advises Marty the Zebra to: “Throw out the old act…Make it up as you go along. Adlib. Improvize. On the fly…Make it fresh.” That is, think outside the square. Be exciting. Be different. But still be, you know, cool. With this in mind, I’ve started writing a new query letter, which, after a mere nine and a half hours, is nearly complete.
Once I’ve added the finishing touches, I hope the only issue I’ll have with my new letter will not be whether or not it is capable of luring a literary agent but simply whether it should be called “NEW NEW SUPER BEST Different Approach Query Letter” or “My Query Letter Unsquared”.