I'm a fan of odd analogies, but if you asked me to come up with one, I'd give you a blank stare in return. But when inspiration strikes, I like to share.
This time is the realization that the query letter is a lot like your resume.
Think about it. The purpose of a resume is to summarize your skills and capabilities in such a way to garner an interview. The purpose of a query is to summarize your book in such a way to garner a request to read more.
So, then I wondered if resume tips would translate into query tips. There are a LOT of resume advice sites out there, so I grabbed the list off MIT's career office.
Here we go:
- Proofread to eliminate all spelling, punctuation, and grammatical errors.
(So far so good)
- Use action verbs and strong adjectives
(This is also a good idea for a query)
- Make it future or present oriented, suggesting that "I am this kind of person, with these abilities, as my past record demonstrates."
(I've seen queries done both ways, so this could go either way)
- Avoid repeating words or phrases.
(Good advice for ANY writing)
- Leave out unnecessary words, sentences, and phrases such as "Duties included / Hired to / Project involved."
(DO write in complete sentences, but do NOT put in too much detail. Stick to what happens -- and at a high level)
- Avoid stilted or confusing language. Ask yourself, "Would I talk like that?"
(Translation: use YOUR voice)
- Don't use the first person I or any pronouns.
(Unless you're a certified genius don't write the query from your MC's perspective)
- Be consistent and use the same grammatical style throughout.
(Does this really need to be said?)
- Avoid self-flattering terms such as "highly skilled, outstanding, or excellent." Describe your accomplishments effectively and let readers decide for themselves that you are well-qualified.
(Translation - don't puff up your credits and don't proclaim you've go the next Harry Potter)
- Be honest and accurate, but not overly modest.
(Keep it professional -- don't belittle yourself or fawn over the agent.)
- Convey through the style and content of your resume an understanding of your audience's needs, priorities, hiring criteria, and vocabulary.
(You are the master of your story. Let it show.)
- Stick to 1 page; use 2 pages if you have an advanced degree or extensive experience (10+ years).
(I'd keep it to one page.)
- Make the page easy to scan and graphically-pleasing: leave sufficient white space.
(This goes without saying...)
- Select a format that suits your qualifications. Don't automatically follow someone else's, which may not suit what you have to say.
(There's a lot of conflicting query advice out there. At the end of the day, you have to do what you feel works best for YOU)
- Underline, bold face, and use bullets to emphasize your credentials.
(I'd skip this. Not great for a query.)
- Ask a counselor, friend, or someone unfamiliar with your background to review your resume for clarity and effectiveness.
(DO have someone look over your query)
- Tailor your cover letter and resume to the specific qualifications of the job for which you are applying and/or to the specific employer.
(You've heard it before, do your research and customize your query to each agent)
- Include all important information, such as dates of graduation, major, GPA, etc.
(hahaha, no, don't include this in your query)
- Proofread one more time to ensure correct spelling and punctuation
There you have it. A query letter is just like a resume. Surprised?