Monday, August 13, 2007

Those Fancy Credentials Don't Matter Much

Anonymous asked:

I have recently enrolled in the Institute of Children's Literature writing course. I guess editors probably don't really care that I'm trying to better my skills? I've been playing the slush pile game with publishing houses now for 10 years, I thought ICL might give me a leg up. What do you think?

Editors don’t care that you’ve taken a writing course. Editors don’t care if you’re in SCBWI. Editors don’t care if you’ve written a column on children’s books for the last few years in your local paper.

Editors care that your writing is good. If I read in your query letter than you took a writing course at the Institute of Children’s Literature, it won’t make a difference to me one way or the other. It’s very nice, but it doesn’t really matter very much.

Because, as always, what matters is your writing.

And so the course is valuable if it improves your writing. If it makes you a better writer, a better storyteller, then it is definitely worthwhile.

But don’t expect the name of your course alone (or even stellar recommendations from your professors) to get you through the door.

The course doesn’t hurt, but it doesn’t help, either – on our end. On your end, it might make all the difference.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

How to Write an Attention-Grabbing Query Letter

I don’t need to tell you that 95% of what I read in slush gets an automatic rejection letter. But if you’re curious how I can request anything based solely on a query, this is my process.
If I read a query, and the idea instantly grabs me – like really good cover copy—then I am intrigued. I instantly send a request for more. If I read the query and the idea kind of intrigues me, I put it aside for a few days. If, when I pick it up again, I still want to know what happens, I request a full. If I’m still on the fence about it, it goes into the insta-form rejection section.

How can you write attention-grabbing queries? Here is a tip.

Have you ever read a book because you saw it in the bookstore, read the cover copy and couldn’t walk away without finding out what happens? That is the effect you need to create in your query letter. Practice writing cover copy for books you’ve read and liked. Read lots of cover copy, and get a sense for blah cover copy that sort of sums up the story, and great cover copy that niggles in your brain and refuses to let you walk away, so even if you have no money, you come back the next day and put yourself in debt so you can find out what happens in the book. Because you just couldn’t get that intriguing cover copy out of your mind.

And then write your query letter that way. Write it in a way that doesn’t just sum up what happens in your book like a fifth grade book report, but makes your book sizzle and grab my attention and make me curious. Write a query letter that I won’t be able to stop thinking about because I’m dying to know what happens.

That’s how to write a query letter that will get my attention and give your brilliant manuscript a fair chance.