Workshop Report: Query Letters by Lisa Verge Higgins

At the fabulous New Jersey Romance Writers “Put Your Heart in a Book” Conference, I attended a great workshop on writing query letters.   Multi-pubbed author Lisa Verge Higgins presented a well-organized, information-packed class on how to write a polished, professional query letter that will have an agent/editor begging to read your manuscript.  She calls it Get Your Foot in the Door: Writing a Killer Query.

For those who are just venturing into the crazy business of getting your book published, a query letter is the one-page introduction you write to an agent and/or editor.  It describes your book in two or three paragraphs and includes any biographical information relevant to your project.  It’s a bear to write, mostly because of having to do such a short summary of your 90,000-word masterpiece.

So, without giving away all of Lisa’s trade secrets (come to the conference next year!),  I will share with you her excellent tips on how to write that darned book summary:

Don’t tell too much.  Include just the basic premise: main characters, their motivations and conflicts, and their growth.  Make it emotional!  Use verbs that hit you in the gut.  Include the following:

1. Hook ’em with your characters.  Describe each main character in 2-3 sentences.  What’s interesting/different/unique about your character and his/her goal?  Pick two adjectives to attach to each character. Then pick a third adjective that contrasts with the first two.

2. How do you torture your characters?  What is preventing that person from getting what he/she wants?  Again use 2-3 sentences.  You can use juxtapositions to show conflicts, rather than having to explain at length.

3.  Choose one of the following to show the action of your book:

          a) Inciting incident–what gets the conflict rolling;

           b) Major crisis;

           c) Point of growth–a plot point where the character decides to change.

Lisa emphasized that :

1. Your pitch should be emotionally compelling with high stakes for the main characters;

2. The “voice” or tone of the pitch should match the tone of your manuscript;

3. You should not be afraid to be creative and mix things up a bit.  However, keep it professional at all times.

The great thing about writing this summary is that you can use the same pitch when you meet an agent/editor face-to-face at a conference.  It’s all there!

 After Lisa’s workshop, I went back to my room and rewrote the pitch for my current work-in-progress. Guess what?  The first editor I emailed it to requested my manuscript!  Thank you, Lisa!


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