Hi everyone, and thank you for tuning in to another episode of the We Make Books Podcast - A podcast about writing, publishing, and everything in between!
It’s Week Two of Submissions September and we are talking about query letters! What are they? What purpose do they serve? Why are they so freaking hard to write?? Your query letter is an incredibly important part of your submission and Rekka and Kaelyn take a dive into what makes a good QL, so dos and don’ts, and some insight into Rekka’s work on her own query letter.
If you missed last week’s episode, this month Submissions September on the We Make Books Podcast! We’re up to seven (7!) episodes this month all about the process of submitting your novel. We have a lot of awesome discussions lined up and even some special guests. Here’s what will be coming your way for the month:
Week 1 (9/3/2019): Is This Ready For Other People to See?- Submitting Your Manuscript
Week 2 (9/10/2019): My Entire Novel in Three Hundred Words - The Dreaded Query Letter
Week 3 (9/17/2019): Agents of Literature, Part 1: An Interview with Literary Agent Caitlin McDonald
(9/18/2019): Agents of Literature, Part 2: Interviews with Agented Authors
(9/19/2019): Agents of Literature Part 3: Interviews with Agented Authors
Week 4 (9/24/2019):What is Going On Over There? - The Other Side of the Submissions Process
Week 5 (9/30/2019): Now I’m Even More Confused – Submissions September Q&A Episode
We Make Books is hosted by Rekka Jay and Kaelyn Considine; Rekka is a published author and Kaelyn is an editor and together they are going to take you through what goes into getting a book out of your head, on to paper, in to the hands of a publisher, and finally on to book store shelves.
We Make Books is a podcast for writer and publishers, by writers and publishers and we want to hear from our listeners! Hit us up on our social media, linked below, and send us your questions, comments, concerns, and has anyone else watched “Carnival Row” yet? Because we have some Thoughts and need someone to talk to about them.
We hope you enjoy We Make Books!
Kaelyn:00:00 Hey everyone, welcome back to another episode of the, We Make Books Podcast, a show about writing, publishing and everything in between.
Rekka:00:06 I'm Rekka, I write science fiction and fantasy as RJ Theodore.
Kaelyn:00:09 And I'm Kaelyn. I am the acquisitions editor for purpose press. And this is week two of Submissions September.
Rekka:00:15 It's a big month for us.
Kaelyn:00:17 It's a busy month for us.
Rekka:00:18 Well it was busy month was last month when you were editing all these episodes together.
Kaelyn:00:21 Yeah, yeah, that's true. We're going to have a break then. But uh, yeah. So this week we're talking about query letters. Um, what are they, what are their purpose?
Rekka:00:31 Why are they so scary?
Kaelyn:00:32 Why are they so hard to write?
Rekka:00:35 Um, and there's a little bonus in there.
Kaelyn:00:37 Oh yes. And ah, we get to hear uh, we get to hear something special from Rekka with her own experience with this. So, you know, make sure you get all the way to the end of the episode for that. Um, this was, you know, when we were kind of sitting down mapping out, okay, um, what we're gonna do for this. Um, I very adamantly wanted to do an episode that was just about query letters because I think they're a frequently, I won't say overlooked but under emphasized tool.
Rekka:01:05 Until it's too late.
Rekka:01:07 So suddenly you're panicking about your query letter because you have to include one and what goes in it and how good does it have to be. And, um, you, should I write it from the first person perspective of my main character or short -
Kaelyn:01:22 Wait, wait, spoiler alert. Don't do that.
Rekka:01:24 Or should I write it in pig Latin or should I, you know, write it backward? Like should I write it as a poem so that it stands out in the inbox?
Kaelyn:01:35 I got one of those.
Rekka:01:36 I believe you. Yeah. Okay.
Kaelyn:01:38 Um, so yeah, we go over, you know, some of the, like the origin story, if you will, of these, the purpose of them and um, what, what yours should have and what you should be planning for and what to do with it. So, um, I think it's a very important thing to take, the appropriate amount of time to work on. So we definitely, you know, we wanted to talk about that and um, oh boy did we [laughs] so, um, that's the episode. Uh, again, you know we're, this is episode two of it's looking to be five and for Submissions September, we're rolling right through them.
Kaelyn:02:14 So we'll be back next week.
Rekka:02:16 You're getting one a week through September and then we're going to back off again.
Kaelyn:02:19 Then we're going to take a nap for a while.
Rekka:02:22 Easily, easily a month.
Kaelyn:02:23 And um, you know, maybe around December we'll, we'll poke our heads up out of the sand again. Um, so anyway, uh, enjoy the episode everyone and we'll catch you next week
Rekka:02:31 Yeah, enjoy the episode
Speaker 2: 02:35 [music]
Speaker 3: 02:40 [music]
Rekka:02:49 Are you going to be able to have a full conversation? Are you going to just sort of slip into a nap?
Kaelyn:02:54 Yeah, no, it's a barbecue coma, specifically mac and cheese coma. That was, you know -
Rekka:03:00 Free Mac and cheese coma.
Kaelyn:03:01 That's fine. I really want to go look at the order ticket and see like what was on their first verse they actually gave us because I'm convinced we walked away with at least part of someone else's meal.
Rekka:03:13 I mean, part of the meal we ordered that they canceled that, then we -
Kaelyn:03:16 Yeah, no, I mean they definitely handed it, handed us all of it. It's not like we picked up someone else's stuff and walked away with it.
Rekka:03:23 No. And I think the way the bags were spread out, some, like some of all of our order wasn't across two different bags.
Kaelyn:03:30 Who knows. Yeah, we're recording already?
Rekka:03:33 Yeah, of course.
Kaelyn:03:33 Yeah, of course we are. Hey everyone episode or, it's sorry, Submissions September week two.
Rekka:03:41 Is it?
Rekka:03:42 So Gosh, time is funny that way.
Kaelyn:03:45 Yeah. No, week two.
Rekka:03:46 The problem is I was focused on the fact that this was episode 13. So to me, yeah.
Kaelyn:03:52 No, those numbers, they're tricky.
Rekka:03:53 13 doesn't match because week two is the 10th. I'm like, this doesn't make any sense.
Kaelyn:03:58 And you know, episode two, but week thirteen, you know, it's, it's tricky. Uh, so -
Rekka:04:05 Week two, episode 13, you just said it backwards. Now I am confused.
Kaelyn:04:09 See I was, I was seeing if you'd catch that there. That was good. Good. Looking at Rekka.
Rekka:04:14 I pay attention.
Kaelyn:04:16 Uh, so what are we talking about today?
Rekka:04:18 Query letters.
Kaelyn:04:21 Query letters, these -
Rekka:04:22 Do it!
Kaelyn:04:22 The dreaded query letter.
Rekka:04:24 I don't know why they're so dreaded.
Kaelyn:04:25 They're hard.
Rekka:04:26 But they're the last thing you have to do before you can send it to somebody.
Kaelyn:04:29 But they're the last thing you have to do before you can send it to somebody.
Rekka:04:32 And if you get it wrong, they'll laugh at you.
Kaelyn:04:35 It's, query letters are hard. Um, it's, you're summarizing your entire book plus a little bit about yourself in about 400 words. That's hard.
Rekka:04:49 Four hundred sounds a little long.
Kaelyn:04:50 Yeah. Probably 300, one page, you know, whatever you can get on that and maybe use a really small font. So, yeah, today we're talking about query letters, which is the next vital component of getting your submission ready.
Rekka:05:05 By the way, don't use a really small font.
Kaelyn:05:07 Don't use a really small font.
Rekka:05:08 That was not good advice because -
Kaelyn:05:09 That was not an endorsement to that. Um, yeah. So we're talking about query letters today and what they are, what they're used for, why you need one. Yeah. Um, so Rekka I mean, you've, you've written them.
Rekka:05:24 I have um mostly, I have written, uh, one that was submitted, which became Flotsam.
Rekka:05:32 And there were nine different versions of the Flotsam query letter of which I chose one.
Kaelyn:05:36 And you don't understand why this is so scary to people?
Rekka:05:40 What do you mean? You think I wrote nine cause I was nervous?
Kaelyn:05:43 No, but because it's hard because you wrote nine different.
Rekka:05:46 Yeah, no, no. I approached them in different ways. Like this one was character forward. This one was fine and that's great. Yeah. It was just like when I wrote them, I was not planning to submit. We've talked the past about how Flotsam was supposed to be self published. So at this point I was doing this for the practice of writing a query letter so that someday I would be able to write good marketing copy.
Rekka:06:08 And if you think about it in that terms, that's kind of what it is. Well, it's like you're marketing it to a very specific audience.
Kaelyn:06:14 I always joke that like the turnabout here is for the editors when they have to do cover copies.
Rekka:06:19 Yes. And that's where we get in our revenge.
Kaelyn:06:22 Yeah. That's, that's the revenge
Rekka:06:24 Karma. All right. You sell it, you're so good at this.
Kaelyn:06:27 Fine. You think, can you do it? Um, yeah. So query letters, uh, let's talk about why you need one and what they're used for.
Rekka:06:36 You need one because they're telling you to, but like more specifically, you need to stand out in inbox.
Kaelyn:06:45 So even going back a step farther than that, um, the purpose of a query letter as the name implies is you're asking a question. That question is, I either have written or I am planning to write this thing. Are you interested in it? It's a little misleading because what it's actually saying is here is why you should be interested in this. You are selling yourself and your book there. Um, originally, and I can't remember we talked about on this or on hybrid author, um, but when originally part of the purpose of query letters was you'd send them to agents in publishing houses because you couldn't send a whole manuscript.
Kaelyn:07:29 Because you used to have to physically mail these things.
Kaelyn:07:32 Way Back in the dark ages.
Rekka:07:33 Chonky books.
Kaelyn:07:34 Yes. And, um, even more than that, you know, like if you've ever seen like typewritten pages, you don't get as many of them on there as you do using a word processor right today. So, um, that you used to send these letters saying like, Hey, I wrote this book, are you interested in it? And you'd start a correspondence based on that if you got a reply back, yes, I'm interested. Then you sent the manuscript along, um, in this day and age where digital files are uploaded really fast, really fast, and they're small little things that you can keep a whole database on and peruse at your leisure. Um, now they're kind of introductory and I don't want to say sales pitchy, but they are,
Rekka:08:18 They kind of, yeah. And, and what I was saying about like trying to stand out from the inbox kind of is what it is because these days, frequently someone opens a window for querying and income the flood. And so you get hundreds of letters from authors and if it was just a, an author's name in the from field subject line query and then a file attachment, it would get pretty like I would, I mean I would personally probably quit if I didn't even have that sort of like light touch before I had to get into the manuscript.
Kaelyn:08:58 Yeah. And actually that's a, that's a good point is that you query agents still. That's still the verb. Even though um really, you're, you are submitting a manuscript as well, but it's still called querying an agent.
Rekka:09:09 And this is one of those things like hang up the phone. So nobody's phone hangs on the wall and so charming holdover and we aren't getting acquainted,
Kaelyn:09:16 Aren't we adorable?
Kaelyn:09:17 Um, so yeah, that's, you know, that's why you write a query letter. Now it's, we're going to get into what should be in it, but it is sort of your sales pitch for your book. It is not, don't think of it as are you interested in it? Think of it as here's why you should be interested in this.
Kaelyn:09:37 So why are these so freaking hard to write?
Rekka:09:39 Because imposter syndrome, because nerves, because you're writing to someone you don't know well and you are putting this thing that you've put so much blood, sweat and effort into and you have one shot because you can't query the same manuscript twice.
Kaelyn:09:57 It's very hard because you're trying to do two things at once. One is some tell, I won't say summarize because you should not be summarizing your book in this.
Kaelyn:10:07 But you should be talking about your story.
Kaelyn:10:10 Then you should also be talking about what the great selling points of this story are and that especially is very hard to do.
Rekka:10:18 For most authors that's not anything that they've given a lot of consideration to. They've just been working on their story and doing the work, doing the work, writing it, revising it, writing it, revising it, and then when it comes time to actually tell people about it, you're unprepared completely. Even though you wrote the thing maybe more than once.
Kaelyn:10:36 Yeah. And actually, in the previous episodes, we had talked a lot about your elevator pitch and uh, refining it and perfecting it in the debut authors episode. And this kind of goes along with it. Um, now obviously this will be taking place before you, you work on your elevator pitch for the book. Um, but you have to kind of quickly and effectively tell the reader about your book in a way that is going to intrigue them. And that is very hard to do. Um, you can go online and there are some really good resources and articles and ideas for how to do this in your query letters. Some major do's and don'ts. Um, we'll get into some of those once we break down. But, um, this is one instance where I'm like, hey, go online and read about things because even there are some great articles out there that will just kind of give you definitions and structure and some etiquette and what it should and should not say.
Rekka:11:35 Etiquette is very helpful because it gives you the framework around, like it takes away the like, okay, so do I come off like this or should I be saying their first name? Or should I, you know, like, how do I even start this? Because this isn't like necessarily relationship where you will ever call them, you know, Mr their last name or -
Kaelyn:11:59 You know, I get responses with that sometimes. It always makes me a little like, oh, I didn't know my mom was reading these [laughs].
Rekka:12:06 And it, and it is, but it's a strange, like it's a formal thing. Like you can't be too polite. Some people might say.
Kaelyn:12:13 Well, and I will say one in doubt, default to maybe not overly polite, but definitely professional.
Rekka:12:17 Right. And maybe there are some authors that don't even know what the difference between polite and professional is.
Kaelyn:12:24 Yeah. And, you know, worst case scenario, you're overly polite and that's not gonna, that's not gonna make anyone think badly of you.
Rekka:12:32 Just might chuckle a little.
Kaelyn:12:34 Yes. But they're, they're certainly not going to have a bad impression of you if nothing else there is that. Um, so yeah, this is th it's not an easy thing. And like you think, I think a lot of people think like, well I'm just going to sit down and bang one of these out.
Kaelyn:12:49 Don't do that. If you're, if you've written it in less than an hour, it's probably not something you want to send around unless you're just really, really good at these. Which if this is one of the first times you're doing it, you're probably still working some of them or at least you don't know if you're very good at them yet. Um, I mean cause I can tell you like when I write cover copy, which is kind of doing the same, same idea at least, um, I write it multiple times, walk away from it and look at it again later.
Kaelyn:13:20 Cause it's a lot of ideas that you're trying to get down at once.
Rekka:13:27 Yeah. You're trying to encapsulate an entire book, not just the plot. Obviously we touched on, you don't, it's not about the plot necessarily, but you're trying to encapsulate both the opening question, the hook of your book and sort of the tone of the entire thing all at once.
Kaelyn:13:46 And now here's the other thing, we had talked in the last episode about preparing your submission. Oh No, wait, I'm sorry. Okay. We had talked about in the, uh, the debut author episode about how your favorite thing about the book may not be the most important thing about the book.
Rekka:14:02 And that's really key to understand because the thing that you love about this book might be Hogwarts castle. You know, the selling point is the evil wizard war.
Kaelyn:14:15 Um, so, you know, obviously having someone else take a look at it, especially someone that's read the book is super helpful because they can tell you if it's like, um, I mean, I liked your book and I feel like you're not saying the things that are gonna make other people want to read it.
Kaelyn:14:33 So, so that said, what should be in this?
Rekka:14:37 So like without getting too, too over-simplified one way to approach this might be like thinking about the over the voiceover and a movie trailer.
Kaelyn:14:48 Oh yeah. Movie trailer voiceover is always a good, 'in a world -
Rekka:14:52 Yeah, don't do that.
Kaelyn:14:53 No, do it if that's what helps it gets you out of here, like -
Rekka:14:56 Okay, for practice, play around with that. But um, don't put that in your query letter. Your final query letter should not start with "in a world where [laughs]' -
Kaelyn:15:07 In a world where werewolves have gone into space and returning people they encounter into werewolves and turning aliens into werewolves and now those alien werewolves have come home.
Rekka:15:19 So, um-
Kaelyn:15:21 Actually can you write that?
Rekka:15:22 Yeah, I'll write it. If you give me cover your cover art. Um, so I will, apparently really, really will write that .
Rekka:15:34 So the trailer had 45 seconds to two minutes to completely hook you and apparently did a good job because you saw the movies. So, um, think about it in that terms. Like it might help to watch a couple trailers and not necessarily for how much they represented the movie correctly, but the kind of content that they're, they're showing you and keep in mind of course that they also can have dialogue clips and explosions where you don't necessarily get that, but you'll see sort of what I mean as far as like them actually representing the movie.
Kaelyn:16:06 Yeah. So I'll just bullet point kind of four things that your query letters should do. One is introduce yourself briefly very briefly. That should just be I'm such and such. I do this and I'm really interested in this thing that I wrote. Um, I get query letters frequently that the bulk of it is someone's life story or an essay about why they wrote this. And I finished it and I'm like, oh, okay, that was great, but what am I about to read? So if you get through an entire query letter and you haven't really talked about what you're submitting -
Rekka:16:45 Keep in mind if you are, if you are submitting to a publisher, this is for one book, this is not for you, the person they are, they are not going to invest in your career and necessarily like they may hope to be a big part of it, but this is not about you walking in and earning the corner office. This is about you have a title, it is a product and you want them to champion it.
Kaelyn:17:11 Yeah. And so the other thing is that, you know, like obviously your publisher is at some point going to want to know about you. If they're interested in your book, they will get in touch with you and find out about you.
Rekka:17:22 Chances are you've got a bit of a, an Internet trail anyway. They can find out a little bit about it., just scrape the surface.
Kaelyn:17:27 If someone is potentially interested in your book, they will call you and find out about you. For now, your main thing is to get them interested in your story.
Kaelyn:17:36 Um, don't, introduce yourself. It's, it's always good just to have a little bit of context, but do it very briefly. And there's not really much of a need to include a lot of personal information.,
Rekka:17:49 No, no. And only the pertinent stuff.
Kaelyn:17:51 Yeah. Uh, so second is, um, book stats. Kinda tell us about your story. Tell us how long it is. Tell us. Uh, it's genre and, um, that's, you know, the, just, just the stats. Yeah. If you click on it, what they come up with in terms of charisma and um, defence hit points, you know, that sort of thing. The important stuff, you know.
Rekka:18:14 Let the acquiring editor know whether they want to reroll exactly.
Kaelyn:18:17 Um, just very, you know, I'm, I wrote, my book is called, uh, The Containment Unit. It's about 120,000 words long, and it's a science fiction novel.
Rekka:18:29 Hmm. I'm interested in that.
Kaelyn:18:32 That's this podcast.
Rekka:18:32 Yes, I know.
Kaelyn:18:37 It's, you know, and that can be one sentence that's easy. There's, you know, there's ways to finesse the sentence a little bit. It doesn't just have to be a blatant statement of that. Um, so next is tell us about your story. Depending on what your story is, there's going to be certain parts that you want to emphasize more, but you're basically going for setting main character or characters, you know, if it's a group, kind of introduce a group. If it's main character, just that, and then their problem. So you're setting this stuff up and then you're telling them, but wait, then this happened.
Kaelyn:19:13 Either they start with a problem or it gets worse or they don't have a problem and then they have one.
Kaelyn:19:18 You have to explain a little bit of where the plot is going. Um, I get frustrated reading query letters where it's paragraphs about the character and it's kind of like, so what happens to them?
Rekka:19:35 Yeah. Cause that's when the stories really starts to get interesting or that's when it hooks people is when that character runs up against something else.
Kaelyn:19:43 Exactly. So you're kind of and, this is where I went back to, do not summarize it. You're not telling me the, you're not giving me a synopsis or a summary here. You're giving me the, there was, you know, there is an alien who's stranded alone on earth but has made a decent life for themselves and is happy here. But then all of a sudden his buddies come to get him and they realize they can conquer this planet easily. Can he save earth from his friends?
Rekka:20:13 Yeah. His own people. Yeah. Yeah. So one thing you mentioned, um, was the Colin Coyle method where like the first sentence buys you the first paragraph. So your query letter buys the very.
Kaelyn:20:25 First sentence?
Rekka:20:26 But like the very committal act of opening that documents, you know, like that's, that's a whole extra thing. They know that, you know, as an acquiring editor, they know that when they open that document they will be faced with a wall of text.
Kaelyn:20:41 While, so Rekka just brought up point number four, which is hook me.
Kaelyn:20:45 You want to get me at the end to go, I need to know if the alien can save earth from his friends. So you want to make me open the query, the, excuse me, you want to make me open the manuscript based on the query letter.
Kaelyn:21:01 The last thing is you're trying to convince me to read your manuscript. Here is why you should be interested in this. So giving away the whole thing right off the bat is, you know, it's gonna and especially if this is maybe a little bit of a harsh reality, but maybe if you're not writing the synopsis well and then you give me the whole thing and I'm going, well that doesn't sound great.
Rekka:21:29 It's like maybe you wrote an amazing twist, but you just laid it all out for me so it doesn't feel that twisty.
Kaelyn:21:34 Yeah. And maybe I'm not getting the correct emphasis on the plot and the high points of the.
Rekka:21:40 Yeah. And, and that when you write, uh, some, uh, when you write a synopsis, all that tension, all that momentum doesn't necessarily exist the way it does in your story. So all you want to do is give them the trailer that makes them bite and say, buying the movie ticket is opening that word doc.
Kaelyn:21:59 Yeah. So the other thing along the hook me line that you should be doing is, okay, you've written a great query letter. I am really, really like, I want to know does the little green alien managed to help save earth from all of his drunk friends? You know, and I opened your manuscript and let's say there's just something in the writing's good, but for instance, it's really slow, like the first few chapters, just, there's not much happening here. But from your query letter, I know what's coming.
Rekka:22:31 Right. You know the 25% mark hook.
Kaelyn:22:35 Yes. Basically, I know what this is building to. So instead, and this is a good example of why you need one. Because I, we do get a lot of manuscripts that just don't have query letters, which is not great because then if I'm reading, you know, like the first few chapters of your book and I'm like, there's nothing happening here and I have no context for what is going to happen later, that's gonna make me go, well this is, this is too slow. I can't do this. So that's just another argument as to why it's excellent idea to try to hook the reader into it. Um, so now you're probably going, OK, well like, so how do I do this?
Kaelyn:23:15 There are websites and there are articles that will say like, this is the format you should have. Um, I think they're okay to use as guidelines -
Rekka:23:23 If you really don't know where to start.
Kaelyn:23:25 The other really good thing to keep in mind is that not every format is going to work for the best way to pitch your book. So if your, um, if yours works better with, you know, getting right into the, here's the stuff about my story and then introducing yourself at the end, do that. If you feel like it's an easier transition to say, hello, Parvus Press, my name is blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, and then go into your story. Um, do that. It's, I won't say there is a definitive correct way to write a query letter because it's the way that you can best present your work.
Rekka:23:59 Right. And so while I, you know, maybe you don't have to write nine, but play around with different formats and see which feels natural.
Kaelyn:24:06 Absolutely. Actually, you just brought up a very good point of different versions because in the prepping your submissions, uh episode we had done before this, we talked about caveats. If you have a thing that it's like, listen, I know that you said you don't want Werewolf stories, but mine's about werewolves but they're in space and you said you're interested in SciFi, this is a good spot to put that in the query letter. Like I did read your submissions guidelines.
Rekka:24:38 It's not that I'm completely defying them, but here's why I'm defying them.
Kaelyn:24:43 Yes.And it's um, you know, it gives you a little bit of a chance to explain. Now this is not the space to write a 20 page enpassioned argument.
Rekka:24:50 No, but this gives you the intro that you can begin to let her with and actually kind of like kicks open the door just a tiny bit because you're going to be more uncomfortable because you have something to approach them with. Like you already know what they're looking for or more specifically in this case, what they're not. So you are responding to them on a personal level that shows several things. One that you, you know, like you have an interesting twist on something that maybe felt a little tropey to them. Two, that you did read the submission guidelines, which is always a good look.
Kaelyn:25:20 I love when people read submissions guidelines.
Rekka:25:21 Three, it's like your explanation of like, but wait, hear me out. This is your personality.
Rekka:25:27 So you're, you actually are packing a lot of data for this publisher into this opening volley that you are going to start with.
Kaelyn:25:35 Yeah. And you actually kind of then touched on another good point with your query letter and format. The tone of your query letters should kind of match the tone of your book. If you're writing a really dark, you know, fantasy kind of upsetting setting where nothing ever good happens and you start out, this is a journey of friendship and hope, then -
Rekka:25:59 There are puppies!
Kaelyn:26:00 And it's the tone of your query letter, especially the part where you're pitching your story should match what is going on with the book.
Kaelyn:26:10 Um, you know, not, it doesn't, not, not, I'm not talking about in prose and style.
Rekka:26:15 Yeah, and don't write it from the first person of the main character and -
Kaelyn:26:20 Point number two: Now is not the time to be cute. Yeah. Um, I understand that, you know, a lot of writers struggle to do something unique to make themselves stand out.
Rekka:26:31 I think there was some bad advice floating around that you should like make your query letter differ from everybody else's query letter. But like it's not going to be, there are so many query letters that it's going to be a lot like someone else's. And if it's a lot like someone else's and it's like wincingly campy, unless your book is campy on purpose, like maybe don't.
Kaelyn:26:51 A lot of them, um, a lot of them are the same but good query letters, like, you know, it's not that the query letter stood out necessarily, it's that -
Rekka:27:00 It didn't get in its own way.
Kaelyn:27:02 It didn't get it sewed away and that it did a good job.
Rekka:27:05 Mmmhmm. I like to compare, I mean it's not quite perfect, but I like to compare it to a gallery. You go to a gallery and the walls are painted white and the walls are painted white so that the paintings and the artwork and the sculptures, et Cetera can stand out. And that's what you focus on. So if you get clever or cheeky with your language, if you decide you're going to write it in pig Latin because you think that they'll notice you like that's an extreme case. Please don't do that unless your book is about pig Latin. Um, and even then save it for like one paragraph or a p s or something. But anyway, so like just keep your language simple. The tone can match, but don't get overly emphatic with anything. Don't, don't show desperatation. I don't know what you want to call it, but like be let your language in your corner. Let itbe the gallery wall and let your ideas stand out. Not the way you phrase it.
Kaelyn:28:03 Your language should be showcasing your idea. That's, that's it. You should not be having to do, you know, anything too overly clever or crazy to get an acquisition editor or an agent's attention.
Rekka:28:19 Right. They'd been reading through a lot of these. If yours is simple and clean and clear and concise, that's gonna stand out on its own.
Kaelyn:28:25 Yeah. It's, you know, and there's nothing wrong with writing in a very confident way. There's nothing wrong with, um, I, you know, I get, um, I get some humor novels sometimes that, um, you know, especially like fantasy kind of things. And the query letters are kind of written frequently in the same tone as the book and sometimes it works really well and sometimes it's what I would call overly sarcastic.
Rekka:28:57 Ooh, okay.
Kaelyn:28:58 And you'd be sup- that's something that was a weird one that I keep that pops up every now and then. I get these very like, sarcastic, almost nihilistic.
Kaelyn:29:06 Um, kind of tones in the query letter.
Rekka:29:09 And this is coming from someone who claims to be an nihiliist.
Kaelyn:29:11 I'm pretty nihilistic.
Kaelyn:29:14 That's okay. I'm happy about it.
Rekka:29:15 Yeah. So be optimistically nihilistic in your query letters. If you're going to go that way. But like, you have one chance to leave a taste in the, in the reader's mouth about what you are promising them and if it comes off as in like this entire thing is going to be like Dwight from the office. I mean Dwight needs a full cast to stand down. Yeah. So your query letters should not just be Dwight.
Kaelyn:29:41 Yes, that's very true. One of the things we're going to do before we wrap up here is Rekka has very selflessly and generously agreed to read her query letter that got her signed at Parvus actually for Flotsam. Um, so if you read Flotsom, you, which you should go read Flotsam and Aalvage is now officially out for a week as of this episode launch. Um, so we want to read it because it's interesting to hear it and then you know, if you've read Flotsam compare it to what the book is. I think your query letter was a pretty accurate engaging representation, but it, but then things changed.
Rekka:30:21 Right. So, so it was a good representation. Things changed later in the revision process once I was with Parvus, but I had to choose what to focus on for my query letter. So if you've read Flotsam well maybe I'll read the query letter first. So, um, good afternoon. So there's, there's a personal note at the beginning because I thought I knew who it was going to. Ironically that is not who read it. So I'm always, you know, there is a chance that you might address it to the editor and find out that was not actually the person who read it. Obviously we're not just talking about the slush pile, but someone else at Parvus higher up picked it up.
Kaelyn:31:03 Yup. So not me.
Rekka:31:04 I'll start with good afternoon. And then there was the personal note, um, in which case I'd like to present my first novel Flotsam for purposes consideration Talis, tries to do right by the small crew of her airship wind saver. It's not easy when your work isn't legal. You take the contracts, you can get. Her ledgers drip with expenses that she has no idea how to cover, not with the work they've been getting lately. When an anonymous client offers a small fortune to make a salvage run for some old ring. Talis accepts the contract. No questions asked. Hankirk's skills are wasted. His forefather led a revolt against the domineering gods of Peridot, but the Order of Kindness Rising who carry on that legacy only want Hankirk to symbolize their legitimacy. To prove he is more than a figurehead, he needs an ancient ring that was almost lost a time. When the Kindness council rejects his proposal, Hankirk turns elsewhere to get the ring and who better than his old girlfriend turned criminal Talis to snatch it up for him. Talis puts what little cash she has left into the salvage operation in banks on the big payday, which works until the anonymous client turns out to be Hankirk, her instincts tell her to keep the ring as far away from him as possible. The smart thing to do would be to drop the ring overboard again, but she still needs to get paid. Written under the pen name. RJ. Theodore, Flotsam is an action packed ensambal space pop opera of 104,658 words containing creaking, airships, deadly magic and powerful aliens. There is far more room for additional adventures set in these unique world. Thank you for your consideration.
Kaelyn:32:34 Okay, so right off the bat, 104,000 words.
Kaelyn:32:39 That, how many did this book end up being?
Kaelyn:32:42 Okay. Not as much as I thought you added.
Rekka:32:47 Inflation came with Salvage.
Kaelyn:32:49 Right. Yes. Yeah.
Rekka:32:50 No. That's where the inflation rates really skyrocketed.
Kaelyn:32:52 Not as, not as much as I thought you added, but definitely not nothing.
Rekka:32:56 Right. So -
Kaelyn:32:56 For those who have a read Flotsam, you'll know that that's not an incorrect representation of the book, but -
Rekka:33:06 Some names changed.
Kaelyn:33:06 Some names changed.
Rekka:33:08 The length changed.
Kaelyn:33:09 The length changed and some of the focus of what you'd maybe emphasize if you were resubmitting this now would have changed.
Rekka:33:19 Well see, hat's the thing is there are very small details and things that came out of like planning the sequel and the, and the third book in the trilogy, um, that, I might want to foreshadow a little bit in this, but this was pretty close to the version that was done. We just expanded certain ideas and there were certain things that I was asked to like, can you go back through and seed some of this or this scene doesn't make a whole lot of sense. Maybe we can cut it and I go, oh no, there's like something really key happening there. Let me work on that scene. And then that scene got a little longer and stuff like that. But the, um, the things that were emphasized in this, you might not emphasize if you were thinking back on the book, like there's almost no mention of the crew.
Kaelyn:34:05 Well actually, so that's what I was about to ask you. So if he were querying Flotsam as it ended up being published, what changes would you make to this query letter?
Rekka:34:15 But that's what I was trying to say is that this was one of nine and there was a version or two that included stuff about the crew. There was a stuff that included, um, mention of the character Maron who comes in late in the first book. You know, there's, um, more mention of the aliens. You know, there, there were different versions and this one was the most character focused and had the most punch to it. So it was not so much that I needed to when I was writing this broadcast specific details and make the perfect encapsulation of what to expect in this book. It was make this book sound appealing and relatable and get somebody to open this.
Kaelyn:34:58 Yes. And I think that query letter did an excellent job of that.
Rekka:35:02 Thank you. So yeah, it doesn't -
Kaelyn:35:04 Because I mean back cover copy.
Rekka:35:06 Yeah. Yes. Um, I'm talking to the easy crowd, but so the back cover copy of the book ended up being far more focused on the overwhelming odds against this crew than it did on Hankirk versus Talis.
Kaelyn:35:21 Now something else that's interesting, yhat is not in that query letter at all is Peridot.
Kaelyn:35:29 And the setting.
Rekka:35:30 So that is, and this goes back to what we were saying, like the thing that like wows you the most about your own story may not be right for the query letter.
Kaelyn:35:39 Because one of the things that I love most about Flotsam is the setting of it.
Rekka:35:44 I love building it .
Kaelyn:35:45 Yeah and Peridot and this idea of these, the cataclysm that broke apart the planet and it's now the chunks are being held together and there's just garbage everywhere.
Rekka:35:56 Everywhere underneath.
Kaelyn:35:56 Everywhere underneath.
Rekka:35:57 And you don't get that from the query letter. But that's hard to explain and still have room to get into characters and plot.
Kaelyn:36:06 And this where we're getting to with why these are so hard to write because you may have to sacrifice important elements for more important elements.
Rekka:36:14 Or for more relatable elements. I guess like something in order to draw someone in you have to make them care. And in order to make them care, you have to make it understandable what's going on. So for me to say that 75 generations ago, the planet's gods like broke the whole planet in a quest for extra power is neat. But now I've just wasted half of my query letter and I haven't even gotten to what happens in the book.
Kaelyn:36:38 And that's the thing with um, a query letters is real estate.
Kaelyn:36:43 You have to think of it as, I only have so much space. What can I fit in here elegantly? It's anattrition factor. You have to like, you know, I know whenever I cover copy and um, I think a good method for doing query letters, even things like when I do a right announcements, I bullet point, I get a sheet of paper and I actually sit there and write this out in a bullet point. Things that they want the reader to know. And then I go through and I put them in the order of what I think is most important and that's kind of going to give you, you know, and then you'll figure out how to tie them together. Okay. I can move this up. If I bring it to here and get instead of three sentences, I can do that in two and I know it sounds so stupid and so like, Oh, you're just fiddling with sentences. You're going to have to do that. If you think that you're not going to be going, okay, wait, if I change these five words, I can use three instead. Yeah, it's the minuteness.
Rekka:37:43 So obviously that's just one example of a query letter and your query letter, it might not sound anything like that. You might lead with your name because you don't have the personal note to put at the top of the letter. You might have more to say about one character and not so many secondary characters to introduce in the query letter and don't. When I say more to say about one character, I don't mean go on at length. I just mean, you know. Instead of me going character one, one paragraph character to a second paragraph, boom, here's how they fell together. It might be, here's what character one wants, here's what character one is against in the world. And the boom is how does that character going to, how do they plan? Because you don't want to give away how they succeed or fail, but you do want to say like, okay, here's what they're after and here's what's going to happen. Here's their big plan.
Kaelyn:38:31 Yeah. You gotta you definitely have to figure out like that balance in there. But um actually Rekka again brought up another point.
Rekka:38:38 I'm so good at this.
Kaelyn:38:39 No, you do because it just, it makes me think of and remember things. Um, you know, the personal note in the beginning -
Rekka:38:45 Is optional.
Kaelyn:38:47 Well, if you're submitting to someone, like let's say, you know, you ran into me at the nebulas and I gave you my card and said, yeah, you know, you should, you know, I'd love to read that. Putting a little note in the beginning, like reminding me like, Hey, Kaelyn, I'm so, and so we met at the Nebulas, you know, my book is this. That's a, this is a good spot to do that.
Kaelyn:39:04 Um, you know, if it's an agent that also, you know, invited you to query with them directly.
Rekka:39:09 But if no one did, don't put it in.
Kaelyn:39:11 Don't put that in.
Rekka:39:12 Obviously start this relationship off very professionally with honesty.
Kaelyn:39:17 And so I'm going to end this with, with one thing me and Rekka and I were talking about when we were getting barbecue today, um, that I was kind of thinking like, uh, this might've been a good thing to put in the prepping your submissions thing. But I'll start out with the query letters because it's kinda, I don't want to see your fan art of this. Um, I don't, this should be just your query letter in your manuscript.
Rekka:39:44 No supplemental materials.
Kaelyn:39:46 If you drew some things for it, if you did some, you know, maybe a map, but that should be included with your manuscript, if it's relevant.
Rekka:39:57 Not necessarily like here's, here's how I'd suggest handling this. By now I hope you have an author website. So if you have an area that's got your artwork and you have an area that has a map and you say like, this is from my upcoming project, which I have currently titled Blah, it's on submission or it's, I'm querying it right now. Um, and so hopefully, you know, like you don't, you don't want to give away the manuscript on your website, but you can put the artwork because it's probably not going to be the final artwork.
Kaelyn:40:28 Yeah. Um, as a good rule of thumb and not including art work, um, you know, especially cover art because we've talked about this a little bit before and we will do a whole episode on this in the future. You don't really get any say in your cover art. So if you're sending me anything, it's just kind of like you, when you talk about like impressions, that's not a good place to start.
Rekka:40:50 Yeah. If you're not a professional professional cover artist or illustrator, there's a very good chance that you're actually going to sour the impression of your manuscript with your - and okay. I'm using the word amateur, but I mean it in its literal sense which is -
Kaelyn:41:06 You're not professional.
Rekka:41:08 You're, people, amateur comes from doing it for the love of it.
Rekka:41:11 That's where the word comes from. That's what I mean. But if this is not something you are trained to do, this is not something you do professionally where the illustrations you create end up on book covers. There's probably a nuance to book covers that you are missing so it does not necessarily help you. I might even hurt you to include materials for a published book that you are not asked for in the submissions guidelines. So submissions guidelines is probably going to ask you for your mind manuscript and it's probably going to ask you for a query letter and it's probably not going to say, and any artwork you've drawn from your story.
Kaelyn:41:47 And look ,it's great that like you're very excited and invested in it.
Rekka:41:50 Like I said, put it on your website.
Kaelyn:41:51 You can put it on your website -
Rekka:41:53 The publisher, if they're interested, they'll check out your website.
Kaelyn:41:55 Yes. Oh definitely. That's one of the first things.
Kaelyn:41:58 I always do, but like it's, I'm not saying this to be harsh or to dampen the excitement that you have for your book in your characters. It's just one of those things where like we don't need this and this isn't, this isn't a value add yet and this isn't, this isn't the time to put this in there. I would go so far as to say it's not appropriate to put it in there because that's not what we're asking for. I don't your your ability to draw or depict your characters or the world is not going to have any bearing on the decision I make about your book. That's not making me go, oh, this is better because of this.
Rekka:42:39 However, it might make Kaelyn say, oh, they're going to want to use their artwork in the book.
Kaelyn:42:45 Well it's gonna make me wonder if this is going to be a fight.
Rekka:42:47 Yeah. Right. And that goes back to the whole like how easy is it going to be to work with you that we were talking about in the submissions episode.
Kaelyn:42:54 Every little thing you do or don't do in this process is an indicator of what it will be like to work with you. So,
Rekka:43:04 Be cool.
Rekka:43:05 Just send in the manuscript, send in a nice query.
Kaelyn:43:07 Be cool and follow directions. That's, I mean that's the best advice I can give you if you are concerned or if you're unsure about something default to professional.
Rekka:43:17 Right. Always.
Kaelyn:43:19 And you know, so that's, that's the guidelines that I have for query letters. I know I'm making it sound scary. I won't say it's not hard, but it's not scary.
Kaelyn:43:32 Um, it is difficult. So don't go into it thinking that it's going to be easy,
Rekka:43:37 Right. But look at it as a challenge because this is a skill you were going to develop as a result of doing this. So just like, you know, learning how to write better, how to self edit, you know, for an easy pass. There's lots of tips on that online. There are lots of tips on how to write query letters online and you can go and see some examples, see some definite what not to do is out there. And it's a skill that it behooves you, even if for some reason you only have to write one query letter in your life, it's a good thing to practice.
Kaelyn:44:11 Oh definitely.
Rekka:44:11 So see it as a challenge. You know, like, you know, use me as an example. I wrote nine and I got to pick my favorite one. It's way different than trying to want wrtie one perfect one.
Rekka:44:22 And so just like, you know, in your practice overshoot so that then you can like back down and take a look and like this, okay, this is, this one's working and I can tell this one's working versus this one because of this. And then you might end up writing a 10th one. That's the one you actually use. But you, you're building a skillset.
Kaelyn:44:41 Yup. So, um, that's the query letters episode. See that wasn't so bad. We got through it.
Rekka:44:45 We got through it. You can get through it.
Kaelyn:44:46 You can get through it. Um, so next week there's going to be our two parter.
Kaelyn:44:52 We're doing a Tuesday and Wednesday release and it's all about agents. Um, we're going to talk to you some authors, about -
Rekka:45:00 Who have agents.
Kaelyn:45:00 Who have agents, and then we're going to talk to an actual agent, real life, who breathing agents, who has some authors.
Rekka:45:07 As it turns out.
Kaelyn:45:08 As it turns out. And um, you know, ask them some questions on both ends, about, you know, how you got to your agent or agents, how you pick your authors. Uh, so I'm excited for that one because I think that's, that's a thing a lot, that's a big question a lot of people have,
Rekka:45:25 Right, well, it's like who's on the other end of this query letter.
Kaelyn:45:28 Who is this mythical creature, this literary agent?
Rekka:45:31 Right. And literary agent that sounds very like diplomatic and like maybe.
Kaelyn:45:36 They are diplomatic -
Rekka:45:38 And they are an ambassador. So, but, um, yeah, so we're going to get a little taste of actual, you know, just like we shared my query letter, we're going to share some personal stories about, you know, not too personal, but like, you know, individual stories of successful agent landings. Y.
Kaelyn:45:54 eah. So, um, we're still open to and willing to be taking any additional questions of, for things that were not covered in this, you know, if we, like we said, if we get enough, we'll do a, a, a sixth episode this month.
Rekka:46:06 It might be October 1st.
Kaelyn:46:09 Yeah. You know, with just things that we talked about that anyone listening might want to hear more about. So you know, as, as usual, if you have questions, you have comments, hit us up on the a, the socials.
Rekka:46:20 Socials, @WMBcast almost everywhere where we exist, patreon.com/WMBcast. If you are finding a lot of value in these episodes and especially the submission September, we'd love your support and we can't wait to share some bonus content with you over there. But yes, find us on Twitter and Instagram at WMB cast and you can send us a direct message on Twitter if you have questions that you want to be anonymous. If you don't need an animosity no, that's not the right word.
Rekka:46:52 If you don't care if people read your questions,
Kaelyn:46:54 That one! [laughs]
Rekka:46:54 You can directly reply to the tweet about the, the episode in question. So come find us and come chat.
Kaelyn:47:02 Yeah, if you message us in, you want to be anonymous, just, you know, drop a say like, Hey, I just want to be anonymous.
Rekka:47:07 I'm blushing as I ask, but yeah, that's fine. We can honor that.
Kaelyn:47:10 No, I mean, we'd like, there's no like wrong questions here. There's nothing that you can send us that we're going to go, they don't even know that.
Rekka:47:18 Right. So, um, yeah, we'd love to hear from everyone and we hope you're enjoying this.
Rekka:47:24 So let us know if you're finding a good value in these. And if you are, we'd always appreciate a rating and review on your podcast app.
Kaelyn:47:32 Yes. So, uh, we'll be back next week with more, with the agents.
Rekka:47:36 See you then guys.