I have thieved the title of this post from an old editor friend.
Yesterday I spent nearly four hours on a query letter to one agent. I suppose some of that time was spent editing the "first chapter" that I'm going to send along with the letter, but still: that's a lot of time. Sometimes I obsess over emails to FRIENDS, so it's no surprise I'm obsessing over this letter, which will probably be rejected. But maybe it won't! Maybe, MAYBE this woman who likes "smart psychological thrillers and novels of suspense" will take a look at the work I'm about to send her. Maybe something about it will strike her as interesting. Maybe she hasn't read much psychological suspense lately and will be thrilled to have such a query cross her inbox. But only if the letter I write sparks her interest FIRST.
That's a lot of pressure.
So how do you write a query letter? Sheesh. I studied it in college, in graduate school. That was TEN YEARS AGO. Okay, so I can read about query letters online. Do a little catchy uppy. There is so much advice out there, but really, aren't the only things that matter these?
1. Follow the agent's directions. Follow them. Exactly. Do not stray.
2. Don't send a form letter; the agent will know it. Write her personally.
3. Be interesting, for goodness' sake. Your story had better have an incredible "So what?" factor.
4. Be perfect (i.e., no grammatical errors).
5. Pray to the living God.
Yeah, that last one? I mean really. Say you're not a believer in God but a believer in fate, what have you... Doesn't that play a role here? (Btw, I have little love for the cursed role v. roll.) Thousands of people are sending query letters every day. How in the world is that one agent going to pick up that one letter - mine - and be amazed and then open that one attachment or scroll down in the body of the email to read those few pages of work and shout, "Yes! I have found him! The one I've been waiting for!"
It's like when my husband was searching for a job as an assistant professor of psychology (social). There are so few jobs out there, and more than 200 men and women were applying for each position along with him. How did it happen that he finally found a job? I would argue: "Thy will be done."
So, there you go. I try to be perfect. I obsess. I follow rules. I don't stop. And I pray that part of the eternal story is that my client's work be published.