Saturday, October 2, 2010

Unsquare my query letter

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”.


  1. Keep at is sis! Perhaps you could include bribes, like dangling the carrot in front of the donkey, so they HAVE to read through to get their 'treat'?

    Or you could just be brutally honest:

    Dear Publisher,
    I'm a bit fed up with repeated rejections by publishers. How about you abandon the 'rules' of the slush pile and actually take a look at the literary gem I have taken the time to write and send to you.

    The book I have lovingly written is awesome, a guaranteed best-seller, and if you don't publish it, someone else will. They will make squillions of dollars and there will be contracts for sequels and movie rights and so on and you will spend the rest of your life wishing you had published this jaunty tale.

    Take a look inside, it'll be worth your while

    Love Heddi

  2. P.s. I am also rather hot, a MILF if you will. If you don't tell my husband, I am sure something can be arranged that will rock your world!

  3. Dear Sharon

    Wow, that's sure to get their attention! I'm so grateful (and relieved) that you like and believe in my book, you being a writer as well. I hope one day to have squillions of readers liking it too. (Is squillions really a word? I like it, will try to insert it randomly into conversations from now on.)


    Heddi Rebecca Goodrich

  4. Dear Sis, squillion is not actually a word if being in the dictionary makes something an official word. However, I feel it deserves a place there. Perhaps with enough use it will become part of common language like 'google' and make it into the dictionary?

    You can't use it randomly Heddi, as deliciously as it rolls of the tongue. It can only be used to refer to copious amounts of something :P

    I believe in your book sis. I am often surprised at some of the utter crap they DO publish, your's is good but they never even seem to read it, so maybe all you are missing is the bribe!!! LOL

    Or you could add some saucy sex scenes - sad, I know, but it seems to get people's attention! Just don't write about having sex with my brother as I may need years of therapy if I have to read that :P

    Love you so very much


  5. Ciao Heddi ^_^ se ti va, passa a ritirare un allegro premio su tazzina-di-caffè. Motivazione: She's a super writer! ^_^

  6. Hey Heddi,

    Have you tried sending you query to this guy?

    He offers free critiques of query letters. He's pretty harsh, but his blog also has a few good examples of query letters. Might be useful.

    Good luck,


  7. Hi Ian,

    Yes, you're completely right about Query Shark. I have actually read through many of his (her?) critiques, revisions and examples and learned A LOT of important tips that other online resources don't offer. The harshness is purely educational, so I'm into it.

    I'm not sure if I'll send him mine, though, because he specifically states that he deals only with fiction queries, not those for memoir or other genres. But maybe one morning I'll wake up and feel cheeky enough to send it in regardless, as it is quite easy to hide the genre. (If writing this doesn't get me in trouble first!)

    Check out my latest post if you're interested to see my newest query letter - a bit wordy but hopefully intriguing. Harsh criticism is always welcome!

    Thanks so much for visiting my blog!