JJ and Kelly revisit that evergreen publishing topic: queries! We revisit query letters and what makes them successful. There’s also a long tangent about tropes and singing the praises of homemade cold press coffee.
Pitching vs Crafting
- Crafting or drafting is intimate, but pitching requires a certain amount of distance from your work.
- Sometimes there’s a disconnect between what you want the work to be and what it actually is. Getting some distance and objectivity from your work is helpful.
- Switch on the marketing side of your brain! Queries are essentially promotional copy.
Identify the Archetype
- There are only a handful of stories told over and over and over. Girl Meets Boy, The Chosen One, Coming of Age etc.
- Find the heart of your story, the handle, and use that as the starting point for your query letter.
- The simpler the idea the more commercial it is. Not every book has to be commercial! But if you can distill your book into a one-sentence commercial hook, it’s easier for people to talk about it.
Example: The core archetypal story in JJ’s WINTERSONG is a coming of age narrative.
The Building Blocks
- The premise is the unique way in which your book tells that core, archetypal story.
- Details are important, but they require context! Your query needs to be specific, but make sure you’re including details that are relevant and contribute to illuminating the stakes.
- The tone of your query should invoke the tone and genre of your book. If you’re writing a comedy your query should be humorous. If you’re writing a mystery the query should create a sense of, well, mystery.
Example: The premise of WINTERSONG is that Liesl needs to rescue her sister from the Goblin King and in so doing discovers who she really is. As for the tone, the query for WINTERSONG invoked fairytales and folklore, because that quality is woven into the book itself.
We need to know who the protagonist is, what the protagonist wants, what’s standing in the way of their goal, how they plan to overcome those obstacles, and what the they stand to lose. We don’t need to know whether or not they succeed, we don’t need to know how the book ends, but we absolutely need to know the stakes. Stakes are what give us a reason to care.
Expectations: Set Up and Deliver
- A query letter should establish a good-faith expectation of what the book is going to be about and the tone it will have.
- It’s such a disappointment to request a manuscript only to discover that is wildly different from the expectations set by the query.
- Movie trailers are a great way to study how (or how not!) to deliver expectations about a property.
Example: The Suicide Squad trailer led JJ to believe it was going to be a fun, anarchic romp! And that is…not…the experience she had in the theater. The trailer for The Two Towers on the other hand, is a great example of setting clear expectations that the movie then met.
Queries Are Not Book Reports
- The query is not the place to talk about the larger themes present in your work, how you think this book will revolutionize the publishing industry, or the emotional impact the book will have on readers.
- Don’t waste precious query real estate talking about your intentions, because your intentions matter less than the actual result.
- Agents don’t request more material because they like what you said about universal literary themes, they request more material because they have a burning desire to know what happens next.
- And please remember: queries do not have to be perfect! They just have to show promise. They just have to convince someone to read more. Do your research, get as much distance as you can, and go forth and query!
What We’re Working On
- Kelly is working on client projects and hustling to catch up on queries and requested reading. And personally, she is training to sustain a 5 minute plank! (Ooof).
- JJ is working on Book II (Also known as SHADOWSONG. Have you seen the cover? Its preeeeeeeetty!) and a SECRET PROJECT!
Other Things/Books Discussed
- We went off on a verrrrrrry long tangent about Archetypes this episode, so of course TV Tropes was mentioned.
- WANT by Cindy Pon
- WARCROSS by Marie Lu
- The Attolia Series by Megan Whalen Turner
- Kelly is very into non-alcoholic spritzers made with some combinations of herbs, simple syrup, fruit, and club soda.
- Homemade cold press coffee! <3 (hint: try it with cashew milk!)
- Ben Platt’s astounding, award-winning Tony performance of “Waving Through a Window” from Dear Evan Hansen. (Caveat: Kelly hasn’t seen this show, nor listened to the full soundtrack, but has read a lot of criticisms about the show and its subject matter, including its treatment of mental illness and suicide, as well as other aspects of the show which may be problematic).
That’s all for this week! We are back to a regular posting schedule and will return with a QUERY CRITIQUE next week! Our submission call for queries to be critiqued on the podcast is still open, so if you would like feedback on your queries, please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line QUERY CRITIQUE. As always if you have any questions, feel free to leave them in the comments below, send us an ask on Tumblr, or tweet using the hashtag #askpubcrawl!