I recently participated in an online writing summit, with the opportunity to hear from multiple authors, agents and media speakers. One of the key pieces was a chance to have a query letter critiqued by an agent. As I’m not seeking an agent, I almost dismissed the opportunity, but decided to pull together a draft for my next book anyway. It was partly a writing exercise for myself and partly a way to gather my pitch and ideas for the book.
In the end, I was pretty happy with the letter. It covered genre, word count, main character, inciting incident, and stakes. It included historical details and a bio to show I’m the right person to write it. After a few tweaks, I sent it off for some feedback.
The live critique session took place while I was traveling, so I couldn’t listen in but, thankfully, it was recorded. When I tuned in yesterday, I was happy to hear that my query letter was the first to be read.
And read. And read.
The further the moderator got into my letter, the more I cringed. It was way too long. How did I not notice this before sending?
So many times I come back to this, a lesson I was taught (but clearly often forget) in my very first poetry class: always read your work out loud. Had I done that, I would have heard all the unnecessary details I could have removed before sending the query.
Am I disappointed to have subjected an agent to my long-winded letter? No. Because it served as a lesson to other participants, a reminder to myself, and it set up the letters that followed mine in the critique session to shine brighter. (Because really, who wants to have their work follow something perfect?)
I’m in the midst of revisions on my first book now, and have pasted a prominent post-it note to myself: Read Your Work Out Loud. It’s by far the easiest way to prevent cringe-worthy work from seeing the light of day.