The Writer as Hairdresser

June 7, 2018

A hairdresser with awful hair.

That’s what I challenge fledgling writers to think of when they ask for advice on writing an effective query letter.

I often find that unpublished writers seem to have two sets of writing standards: one that applies to their novel and one that applies to the tedious business of trying to get their novel sold. I think that’s a mistake.

My short answer to the question of how to write an effective query letter (or any of the other document related to trying to interest an agent or publisher in your novel) is to convince the recipient that you’re a great writer with a great idea.

I think the former is particularly important. Great writers tend to make virtually any groupings of words sparkle. Whether they’re writing emails, thank-you notes or novels, they’re cognizant of engaging the reader. That doesn’t mean being pretentious . . . just the opposite, in fact. It means respecting the reader enough not to squander the opportunity to form a connection, to express some personality, to be persuasive.

That’s why it stymies me that aspiring novelists can give such short shrift to their inaugural correspondence with an agent or publisher. This is their chance to sparkle, and if they don’t, they probably won’t get a second chance.

Maybe they’re thinking, “A query letter is just a necessary evil involved in getting my foot in the door. It’s once they see my novel that they’ll be blown away.”

But they’re more likely to blow off such writers than give those writers a chance to blow them away. Are you really reassured that your hairdresser will blow you away if her own hair looks like Betty Rubble’s? Even if she assures you she’s really, really good at styling hair, and she promises she’ll prove it on your head?

Shouldn’t she be able to prove it on any head, including her own? Shouldn’t it be part of her DNA? Shouldn’t she show you, rather than tell you, how gifted she is?

That’s a writer’s mission in crafting an effective query letter. The letter itself should sparkle. That doesn’t mean being ponderous or cloying. An agent or publisher doesn’t want to be convinced of how desperately you want to get published; he wants to be convinced of how desperately talented you are.

“Show, don’t tell” is a timeless axiom of good writing.

And it begins with the query letter.

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© 2020 Christine Hurley Deriso