On American Idol last night the recurring message was (and I'm paraphrasing): You only get 1 chance, 1 chance to shine, 1 chance to leave it all on the stage. And it struck me that writers should be living this motto too.
A query is our one shot, our one chance to stand out from everyone else that ends up in the slush pile. So how do we do it? What makes us shine above all others?
Here are a few tips in helping writers stand out from the crowd.
1. The writing, the writing, the writing. Just like American Idol is all about the singing, for us it's all about the writing, so we have to make sure that the manuscript is ready for submissions. It should be polished. The words should flow just as easily as any other book on the bookshelves across the world. When you read it out loud, does your writing sound ready to be read to an audience? And for sure, be certain there aren't any grammatical errors or typos. No longer can a writer get by with a fabulous idea alone.
2. Query ONLY when the manuscript is ready. It doesn't matter if it's one page, the first two chapters, or the whole manuscript that is being sent..the whole manuscript needs to be ready through and through. And if it's not, then when an agent requests more of your manuscript, you will have set yourself up for failure because the rest of your work isn't as polished.
3. Don't ruin your chances before the agent even gets to your manuscript. Make sure the query letter is addressed properly. Don't mass mail your query letters, and only include a generic greeting like "dear agent"; make sure each query letter is personalized (and don't put the wrong agent's name on the letter).
4. Do your research. If you are sending query letters to agents that don't represent the genre you have written for, then you will just be spinning your wheels. An agent represents a specific genre for a reason. Just because you've sent them your awesome manuscript, doesn't mean they will suddenly add your genre to their list. Probably won't happen.
5. Understand what should be in a query letter. There are lot's of agent blogs, how-to books, and even writing workshops that cover the do's and don'ts of queries. Some of the informaton is conflicting, and some agent's have very specific likes and dislikes when it comes to queries, but find what works for you. And incorporate what works with the specific guidelines requested by the agent you are submitting to.
6. If you don't get results, re-evaluate. Try to determine where you might need to tweak what you're sending. Have you received feedback from agents? Are you getting partial requests but not full requests? Are you sending, sending, sending and not getting any results at all? Don't just stop at the first format and throw your hands up in the air. Even for contestants on American Idol, sometimes they have to audition a couple years in a row before they get a yes to continue on.
The most important part of the process is to be willing to try different approaches. And never give up.