Query Letter Advice: How to Avoid Being Buried in the Landslide

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If you’ve been writing with the goal of publication you’ve likely read a whole lot about pitching, querying and submitting. There are books and blogs filled with everything you need to know, but if you’re at all like me, there are times when you begin to experience “information overload” – that sense of being buried under a landslide of information.

In 1965 the largest landslide ever to occur in Canada sent approximately 47 million cubic metres of rock and mud careening down a mountain and across the adjoining valley not far from the small town of Hope, BC, 150 km northeast of Vancouver. The Hope Slide left a permanent debris field 85 metres (279 ft) deep and 3 kilometres (1.9 mi) wide*, and buried three vehicles.

The aftermath of a landslide isn’t stable ground. Not that you’d be tempted to hike across the base of one that has just descended – but if you did, you’d feel a worrisome uncertainty beneath your feet. A slight shift. Maybe a shudder. Always the possibility that nothing is quite settled, and if you dare to step out with false confidence you may find yourself carried away by further movement.

There are days when that uncertainty is similar to the hesitation we feel as we prepare to send off a query letter. Perhaps we’ve encountered conflicting information about submission guidelines. We’re not sure what to trust. Rather than risk taking a wrong step, we freeze, paralyzed by fear.

My best advice (and right now I’m talking to my own reflection in the mirror) is to determine which agent/agency or publisher is the best destination for your work, then scrutinize their website for specific requirements. Take the time to investigate the best route, even if it takes a little longer to navigate. You want to be sure there is a solid foundation for your approach.

In looking for help, I’ve found a number of good resources, but one of the best is today’s post on Rachelle Gardner’s website. How to Write a Query Letter: The Definitive Guide is excellent – thorough, yet concise.  Go have a look. It’ll put your querying feet on a solid rock.

What’s your approach to querying? Do you submit the same query to multiple destinations, or personalize each one for specific situations? Have you found a concise and effective way to describe your book… words that, if found as a blurb on the back cover, would hook potential readers into buying and reading it?

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“These words I speak to you are not incidental additions to your life, homeowner improvements to your standard of living. They are foundational words, words to build a life on. If you work these words into your life, you are like a smart carpenter who built his house on solid rock. Rain poured down, the river flooded, a tornado hit—but nothing moved that house. It was fixed to the rock.”
[Matthew 7:24-25 The Message]

* Reference: Wikipedia

Photos of Hope Slide by C. Garvin
All rights reserved

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6 thoughts on “Query Letter Advice: How to Avoid Being Buried in the Landslide

  1. Katt says:

    I love this post Carol. It really made me think. In talking with another writer last week she said she was working on the “blurb” for the back of her book. That has been the most difficult thing for me to write—–I can write 90k words, but to write a couple sentences—well, I’m needing lots of help!

  2. joylene says:

    I remember the slide very well. We had just gone through there 2 weeks before to show relatives from Ontario how beautiful it was. I also remember going back up the following summer and trying to remember what it had looked like. It made me realize how change can so easily overshadow what once was. Interestingly I was young enough not to realize had we travelled through 2 weeks later…

    I haven’t queried in a long time. I’m going to try again and this time I’ll probably do the same thing: search for the best possible agent for my work, then polish the query package until it sings.

    Having got this far in my career, I think the secret is to not shy away from hard work, or something as difficult as building a query package. It’s never been something I’ve enjoyed, except after pulling out all the stops to make it the best I feel it can possibly be. Only then will I send it out. At any stage in a writer’s career, impatience is a huge mistake.

  3. Darlene says:

    Great advice on query letters Carol. I compare a query letter to a cover letter when looking for a job. You would never send the same cover letter to a number of different employers. Each letter has to be tailor made for the position and company in order to stand out and for the employer to want to read the resume. It is hard work for sure, harder than writting the resume. So putting time and effort in the query letter will certainly be worth it if you want the publisher to read your work. I know, I have written so many of them. But then practice makes perfect, or so they say.

  4. My internet server has been down all day so I’m only now getting to check in and thank you for your comments. I’ve been avoiding a commitment to querying but realize that’s not going to get me anywhere. My excuse is that I’m taking my time… even if I’m not being entirely truthful. 😉

  5. Been there, done that. I believe it makes for a good excuse. Keep smiling!!

  6. Love that Hope Slide! I’d like to use that as a title for an article!

    I think it’s best to research and follow guidelines to the t, otherwise your query ends up in the trash. That’s no fun.

    I struggle with synopses. How to crunch 50,000 words into 3 paragraphs?

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