The Six Stages of Writing a Query Letter

At first I thought about writing an in-depth explanation of what makes a good query letter.  But I soon realized that this was a terrible idea because 1) it would be exceptionally boring, 2) all of that info is already on the web about a million times over, and 3) I am not an expert at all, so why should I tell you how to do it?

Instead, here’s the process, the steps of writing a query letter.

Step One – Panic. 

Spend at least a week procrastinating everything related to querying and agents out of sheer fear and trepidation.  Writing a query letter is [hopefully] that first baby step into the world of being published, so the thought of starting is… well, scary.

Step Two – Research.  Like Crazy. 

Google.  A lot.  Read about twenty different articles telling you “how to” and “how not to” write a query letter.  What to include and leave out.  What to say and how to say it.  Next, read some sample queries, get a feel for the flavor and tone of them.  This step usually leads to a bit more panic, but that’s normal.

Step Three – Write the Darn Thing.

Take a deep breath, and bleed onto the page.  Not literally.  But it feels a bit like death, trying to condense a 68,000-word novel (that contains a piece of your soul) into an 200-word query.  Once it’s finally done, and you’ve eaten too much chocolate and shed some tears (again, not literally), then you are ready to share it.  But not with agents yet.  Oh no.

Step Four – Get it Critiqued.

This is why I love Critique Circle — there is a forum dedicated to query- and synopsis- critquing.  So, you finally get up the courage to post your freshly-written query onto the forum, and then you nervously await responses.  Emphasis on the nervous part.  If you’re not part of CC, you [hopefully] get it critiqued by other people elsewhere.  Your friends, parents, writer buddies, that lady who works at your college writing center… you get the idea.

Step Five – Re-write it.

You asked them to tear it to pieces, and they did.  So you go back to the drawing board — er, keyboard — and totally start over.  You see it improve, and it’s better, and oh look it’s actually not horrible now.

Repeat Steps Four and Five Indefinitely.  In the meantime, continue to research query letters, and also give critiques of other people’s queries!  It’s a sure way to help you get better at writing your own.

Step Six – Send it Out.

That list of agents you’ve piled up?  Start submitting.

And then turn on Netflix, have a Lord of the Rings marathon, watch all of Classic Doctor Who, or, uh, start editing your next novel, because there’s a long wait after step six.  A long wait with a lot of tears (actual tears are possible with this stage), and usually lots and lots of rejection.  But there’s a light at the end of the tunnel!  A long, dark, smelly tunnel dripping with water, but a bright light at the end.  In the meantime, you’re writing the next novel, dreaming the next dream, furiously typing away at your keyboard, pouring your soul into another story.  Because you’re a writer, and that’s what you do.

Let me know in the comments what your experience is with query letters.  Or your thoughts on the new Star Wars movie.  Or on Classic Doctor Who.  Or whatever.

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