The (Dreaded) Query Letter

“It’s easier to write the novel than the query letter.”

During the first Ask an Agent session of DFWCon, literary agent Barbara Collins Rosenberg offered this line. I wasn’t sure many people heard it. If they did, I wonder if they understood its importance.
How could writing a few sentences be more difficult than writing a few thousand sentences?
Well, have you ever tried to distill thousands of words into their most compelling and salable points in only a paragraph or two?
If you’re unfamiliar with the process of seeking a literary agent, the query letter is your first impression.
In her excellent, in-depth article on the subject, “The Complete Guide to Query Letters,” Jane Friedman defines the query letter’s reason for existence: “The stand-alone query letter has one purpose, and one purpose only: to seduce the agent or editor into reading or requesting your work.”
I’m not going to go into the technical aspects of writing a query letter. That’s why I linked to Jane’s site. But if you’re intent on seeking an agent, you must craft your query with as much care, time, and patience as you crafted your book.
Completing the writing of your book isn’t the finish line; it’s just the beginning of another step in the time-consuming process of getting published.
When you’re tempted to phone in your query letter, remember this: your query letter is likely your first introduction to an agent, and first impressions are hard to shed.
Read Jane’s lengthy post on the subject. Have an experienced, traditionally published writer critique your query. (Jane offers query letter and synopsis critiques.) Then hone that letter until you’re certain it can’t be honed any more. Then send it to a few second-tier agents, i.e., those you wouldn’t mind working with, to gauge their reception. If you receive proposal requests or hints of interest, query your top-tier agent choices.
If you’ve invested as much time and care into your query letter as you have your book, you may just have agents scrambling to be your new best friend.
What’s been your experience in crafting and sending out queries?
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