The Body of an Effective Query Letter, Part 2

In the Building a Book post a few days ago, I discussed what material the body paragraph of an author’s query letter should contain. The body paragraph, to remind readers, is the central paragraph that should resemble the copy on the back cover of a novel. My first tip was to include all of the book’s highlights and key character relationships—what makes your book unique. Now let’s move on to the second tip.

As much as possible, write the material from the point of view of your main character. The failure to do this is the main reason a query letter can read like a book report. When you do that, you are not writing in the same style that you wrote the book. You wrote hundreds of pages in that manner. So why does your summary sound so remote?

I realize that sometimes circumstances need to be brought up first—to provide the framing in which the main character operates. That may take a few sentences to set up. As much as possible, though, the character should be the subject of the sentences enumerating the book’s highlights. This method of attack achieves three important objectives.

First, it closes the distance between you and the material. As you did when writing the book, you are inhabiting the character from the inside out. The text becomes more immediate and compelling to the person reading it—because you are so much closer to it when you’re writing it. If it helps, write the paragraph in the first-person narrative voice first, then convert it to third-person. That type of immediacy grabs a reader’s attention.

Second, it gives the text an attitude. This allows you to set the tone right away. If you want serious, the character displays the major qualities he shows during the book: take-charge, paranoid, or what have you. If you want humor, the attitude might be: how the heck is all this stuff happening to me? All of the events are viewed through that filter. That gives the text a personal slant that matches what you did in the book.

Third, writing from inside the main character’s head informs how you write about the supporting characters. Your heroine has no problem calling her brother a clown. Would you do that if you were writing a book report? Right away you can see how a few words could describe their relationship. The writing style itself enables you to take shortcuts. It compresses the length of the text—which is exactly what you need.

Exercise: Review the back cover copy of a book you like with a sole focus. What sort of attitude does it have? Do you find yourself smiling as you read? That’s because the author is inhabiting the character fully enough that you recognize a part of yourself, as you do when reading the book.

“Marketing is designed to bring people into something.”
—Sue Naegle

Copyright @ 2018, John Paine

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