If you're serious about getting published, at some point in your writing career you will have to write a query letter to an agent or an editor. When you do, how will you get their attention? Knowing what it is like to be an agent or editor who has to read submissions is a very powerful tool. Here's how you can know.
Two Pages, 100 Novels
Have you ever read two pages from 100 novels in one sitting?
I have, and it was extremely -- painfully -- instructive.
Here's what I did:
I went to the library and randomly picked out books from various genres. I picked everything; romance, literary, mainstream, sci-fi, western, historical, etc. I chose genres I liked and didn't like. Very similar to what an editor / agent has to suffer. (Yes, I said suffer. Read on.)
I did all of this work for my book project : Fiction Writing By Example (Learn to write fiction by analyzing excerpts from 26 published novels).
By the time I was done, I learned an important lesson, although I was the epitome of jaded:
1 : fatigued by overwork :
2 : made dull, apathetic, or cynical by experience or by surfeit
Dreaming of the Good
Each time I'd open a book, I would dream of it being well-written, interesting, anything that would keep my attention for two short pages. Keep in mind that these are published books. 999 out of 1000 of the books the editors / agents receive aren't even as good as these.
[-- If you really want to experience an editor's / agent's life, try reading 100 excerpts from self-published authors online. I've done that too, and afterwards my wife found me hiding under the bed, sucking my thumb and mumbling incoherently. :-) --]
Switched My Process
After getting through the first fifteen books or so, I became so annoyed with poor level of writing I decided to select only books that were best-sellers, had well-known authors, or were from authors who had published more than one book.
Maybe 1 Out of 5
However, even doing this, I found that only about 1 out of 5 was something that would keep my interest for two pages. Even after paring the books down, most of them were unreadable; terrible writing, disjointed ideas, rambling and/or uninspired.
Never Read Again
I was angry, annoyed, irritated and disgusted. Why are these books published? What is the deal?
At one point, I honestly never wanted to read another novel again.
After the 100th
When I completed the last one, it wouldn't have made me sad if 99.9% of the publishing companies fell off the side of the earth and their books with them.
Agents and Editors Experience
Imagine how an agent or editor, who does this every day, feels? No wonder they become so jaded. No wonder it's difficult to get through to them.
They Already Know
Agents and editors have read it all. They know what you're going to say, before you even say it. My point? Stop beating around the bush.
So many of the lame beginnings I read, were so abstract and clouded you could tell the author didn't know what s/he wanted to say.
To make your query better: Be bold!
Write only what you mean and only what you want to say.
Stop beating around the bush, because the editor/agent already knows what you're going to say anyways.
Say Something Different
Do you have something different to say? Or, are you just trying to say, "I'm the next J.K. Rowling. I have a fantasy."
Or maybe you're saying, "I'm the next Stephenie Meyer, I have vampires."
The Editor / Agent Is Already Gone
By the time you've said that, the agent/editor is already gone.
Mystery Is Often Writer Confusion
Find out what you really mean.
Many (most?) writers don't even know what they mean or what they think. That was obvious in many of the 100 Beginnings.
While reading those 100 beginnings, I would scream (inside my mind, since I was in the library),
"Please say something that I can understand. Be obvious!"
Most of the time, mystery written into queries and stories is simply there because the author doesn't know what s/he is talking about.
The editor / agent already knows you don't know and is already gone.
2 Steps to Great Queries
Step 1 : Get Jaded, Baby
If you're trying to write a great query, I highly suggest you first go and read the beginnings of 100 novels. Get jaded, baby. Once you are, you won't even want to write and you specifically won't want to write crap or boring uninspired stuff, because you'll know there is too much of that out there already.
Step 2: Write Your Novel In 10 Lines
Write your novel as a flash fiction. Super flash.
Does your novel sound interesting in 10 lines or do you want to say, "Oh, but if you knew this part, then you'd like it?"
Do you have to say, "Oh, it's like [famous author's] so you'll like it when you read more."
If you were to really go through this process you'd step outside the boundaries of the amateur writer and become a professional writer. It works and will help you get noticed and published. You'll become an industry insider, because you'll be thinking with the mind of an editor/agent.
It'll open up a lot. Try it.
Keep on learning, keep on writing.