C.J. Redwine Knows How to Write A Query Letter

Here’s my second to last installment from Killer Nashville and in my mind the most important. Why? Because I stunk at writing query letters until this conference. And C.J. Redwine’s workshop was a big part of turning that around.

This is just a brief summary from the 1 hour panel at the conference. I highly recommend taking C.J. Redwine’s  Query Workshop. It will be the best $50 you spent if you are serious about becoming an agented and published author because it includes multiple critiques of your query letter by an amazing query writer–that is priceless.

Ms. Redwine is an electrifying public speaker, who immediately captures the audience’s attention and keeps them engaged, making an hour fly by.

She opened with an honest explanation of how she got into teaching this workshop–her first two years of querying sucked. She struggled with putting 90K words into 1 page–it all sounded state and boring. Draft after draft of her query was sent out and rejected.

Unfortunately revising only made it worse. She didn’t know what to do. (Sounds terribly familiar doesn’t it?)

She submitted her query to the Janet Reid Query Shark blog and it got ripped apart for being stale/boring and synopsis like. Ms. Redwine threw out everything and read the back of a book cover. She made her query sound that way. She resubmitted to Query Shark and 4 hours later Janet Reid requested the manuscript. This was the turning point for her and soon after she queried more agents and got her agent.

After everything she went through, she understands how frustrating the query writing process is and how hard that elusive breakthrough can be. She has a comprehensive online workshop run once a month which teaches what a query letter is, the dos and don’ts and how to write an effective query letter.

Golden Rule: Books sell on concept and hook, not on deluge of information.The query has to make the agent worry and wonder just like the back of a book cover.She is a master at helping you sift through all the extraneous information to get to the heart of your concept.

A query is not about showcasing your writing ability. Being a great manuscript writer, does not mean you can write a killer query. They are two different writing skillsets.

Query Dos:

  • Addressing agent correctly
  • When emailing queries always sent to one agent at a time–Never cc
  • Only send what agent wants to see based on their guidelines (shows you can follow directions and meet expectations)
  • Write a  hook that makes you want to read book
  • Include 1 paragraph of stats (writing creds if any, memberships in national writing organizations)
  • Use the proper business format
  • With e-queries send it to yourself to make sure formatting is okay after pasting into email from Word doc.
  • You want the query to stand out–but not because you use scented paper or include a gift. Focus on your hook
  • Remain professional at all times. Thank agent or stay silent when get a rejection email. Keep in mind you will be googled so check that your web presence is professional
  • Generally 8-10 queries at a time in manageable. Keep track of it all in  a spreadsheet. Don’t re-query same agent
  • Query 1 book at a time

Query Don’t:

  • Never ever reference rejection letters in query
  • Don’t pitch an incomplete manuscript
  • Do not say you are the next J.K. Rowling or better than what on the market now
  • Don’t say your book is life changing/important
  • Don’t dare the agent to take you on
  • Avoid rhetorical questions
  • Avoid cliches

In terms of a web presence, a blog is free to have, but you must maintain it. Having a presence on Facebook and/or Twitter is useful. A website is great, if you can afford it, but content has to be updated.

The query is composed of 3 parts:

  1. Salutation–Get agent gender correct.
  2. Hook–concept of book–NOT A SYNOPSIS. Introduce main character, give glimpse of their personality, introduce antagonist, and tell what the stakes are and key conflict is.
  3. Stats–Title. genre, word count (approximate) in one sentence. List any publishing credentials. Membership in national writer’s associations. Reason why query agent.

During the second hour of her panel she went on the critique several audience query letters. It was a great experience to hear what was and wasn’t working. I think everyone in the room benefited from it. I know I certainly did.

I hope this summary helped, though it is a poor substitute for the actual workshop. It’s one thing to read about it, another to be there participating and her on-line workshop is far more in depth than the condensed version at the conference.

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