One of the biggest challenges in writing a novel, other than writing it in the first place, is finding a way to get your masterpeice into the hands of a public eager for new stories. Provided you’d like to get paid for your hard work, frustration and original ideas, you’re going to need to get your novel to a publisher. You can try to contact a publishing company directly, or have an agent take a potential editor to the mat on your behalf, but either way, you’re going to need a query letter.
Query letters are odd things, in that as a writer a little two paragraph snapshot of a work you’ve slaved over should present no challenge. However, you don’t need to simply talk about your work. You need to sell it. The person reading the letter will be looking for evidence in the letter that both you and your work are marketable. With that in mind, here are two examples of how not to write your query.
Dear Publisher X:
Hi, my name is Josh and I’ve written a fantastic new novel called the Adventures of Captain Spanky. The Adventures of Captain Spanky is a great novel because it has this awesome main character and it’s set in outer space. There are space aliens and rockets and laser beams, which are all really cool. I hope you like it too, because if it gets published I’m sure it’ll sell really well considering all the cool stuff I’ve written about.
Let’s leave aside the atrocious grammar and run-on sentences. The main problem with this first example is that it talks way too much about the ‘cool stuff’ in the novel. It doesn’t go into detail as to why these are key selling points, it just claims they are. The author also comes across as a gushing fanboy of their own work. Both of these are turn-offs to potential agents, editors and publishers.
Dear Publisher Y:
I have recently completed a novel entitled the Adventures of Captain Spanky. It is approximately 100,000 words in length. It is written in a science fiction setting, which is one of the more popular genres of speculative fiction. There are characters from a diverse selection of both human and non-human races, all of which are explored in terms of biology and culture. Therefore, this novel should have appeal to a wide variety of readers.
Some interesting points are raised here, to be sure. But they’re presented in a very dry fashion. There might be marketable ideas, but the author comes across as stodgy, or perhaps even arrogant. Hopefully, this sort of thing is obvious to an author who’s written a novel with the idea of having other people read it.
A much better query for the above novel would probably look something like this.
Dear Agent Z:
Captain Gerald “Spanky” McSpankerson is not what you would call an exemplary astronaut. He’s disobeyed orders on a number of occasions, his long orbital assignments and tendency to womanize have ruined more than one relationship, and he doesn’t know as much as he thinks about the nuances of spacecraft maintenance. However, he’s a skilled pilot and reasonably intelligent, so his superiors have elected to ship him to the edge of space for exploratory duty rather than simply firing him. This is the situation Gerald finds himself in at the opening of “The Adventures of Captain Spanky,” a novel of 100,000 words.
Science fiction is by no means an unexplored genre. However, most trends lately have been towards gritty realism. The Adventures of Captain Spanky harkens back to an earlier time, foregoing hard science exposition or deep social or psychological themes for a feeling of retro camp and humorous asides. This atmosphere is delivered through Gerald’s perspective as the newest arrival on an intergalactic space station largely unexplored by humans. Populated with alien species ranging from nearly humanoid creatures with green skin to beings that amount to little more than ambulatory rocks, the station is the setting for Spanky’s first real trial by fire. Invaders from a distant galaxy have come to conquer, and Spanky must rally friend and foe alike in order to save trillions of innocent lives.
I look forward to sharing more of the Adventures of Captain Spanky with you. My writing has been featured in the online magazine Interstellar Dreams Limited and in Quarterly Sci-Fi Digest. I thank you for your time and interest and await your prompt reply.
That’s how I’d do it, anyway. More on querying in weeks to come!