Go Fish

Wobbler lure (fishing equipment)

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I’m not naked.

Three words, ten letters, two little bits of punctuation. Did they get your attention? I hope so, because that was their job.

At least, it would be their job if this post had anything to do with my state of dress. As it is, they are a bit of a cheat with the sole purpose of illustrating that some sentences have more power than others. This is important when you write query letters.

Freelance writing is a lot like fishing. You craft a query, cast it into the waters among the school of editors, and hope you get a nibble.  Those nibbles depend on the bait you use. In this case the first sentence — the hook.

My hook for this post was obviously intended to surprise you into wanting to read more. No matter how powerful those words are, you can’t begin every query with “I’m not naked”. Unless, of course, you only write about being the only dressed person at a nudist colony, or some similar non-naked undertaking where clothing makes you out of place. Then those words might be appropriate. Otherwise, the words will get attention, but it won’t be the kind you want.

So how do you find your query’s hook?

Start by reading the work of others. Next time you scan a magazine article pay close attention to the first sentence. That sentence is the bait on the writer’s hook. Bait designed to get you reading and keep you reading. Chances are, that same first line was the bait used to hook the editor and make the sale.

How you bait your hook is limited only by your creativity. You might:

  • Open with dialogue: “I knew we were in trouble when I a loud bang rocked the camper.”
  • Start with a surprising or unusual fact: 10 out of 10 doctors finally agree on something.
  • Pose a question that your article will answer: Is your cell phone making you sick?
  • Paint a picture in your reader’s mind: Don’t let the fuchsia necktie and the mutton chop sideburns fool you.
  • Use a famous quote: “I have a dream.”  ~Martin Luther King, Jr.

Give this a try. Next time you begin a query letter, experiment with the opening line. Write one designed to surprise. Write one that informs. Write one that is meant to be entertaining. Keep writing hooks until you run out of ideas.

When you’re done, choose the one that is the best fit for the piece you are pitching and use it. You’ll be fishing with a well-baited hook. Whether or not you’re naked.


3 comments on “Go Fish

  1. The most memorable query I’ve receved to date (memorable in the good way) started out with the author informing me she was unpublished, then immediately following up with, “I know what you’re thinking: Yes!”

    The rest of the query letter was so well written, and the story concept intriguing enough that I really wanted to accept her, but I ended up having to reject her because the execution wasn’t quite there yet.

  2. Interesting post… Very informative. I managed to write a query that attracted two agent attention (it’s a long story). It took me a looong time to come up with it. I was literally drained when I finished it. Now, after a few months, I re-read it and figured that it still needs some work. 😦 It seems that editing process is never ending.

    • Queries for agents are a whole other breed of animal. Good for you for getting the attention of two agents! personally, I’d rather write the query than the synopsis for fiction. I seem to have some mental block when it comes to distilling everything down.

      As for revising, I think writers are a bit OCD. It can be hard to make yourself stop revising long enough to submit something. 🙂

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