Thursday, January 19, 2012

January Query Time: What it's not

Now we now why a query is important and what it is. But what isn't it?

It's not:
  • A synopsis
  • An apology
  • Begging
  • A mass letter
  • One line asking the agent to look at the attached materials
  • Two lines asking if the agent is accepting queries
  • Three lines asking what sort of genres the agent accepts
  • Unaddressed
  • A business letter
  • A letter to a friend
  • A solicitation
  • A complaint
  • An opportunity to sell me your self-pubbed book
  • An opportunity to brag
  • An opportunity to blame
  • An opportunity to whine
Wow, that was actually a lot of fun.

Next week, I'll go over what to include in a query and what not to include. If I don't cover something vitally important or you'd like a clarification, please leave a comment.

Happy writing!


Anonymous said...

Could you elaborate a bit on "not a business letter"? I have been under the impression from other agents and advice-givers that it IS a business letter of sorts, and that as such it should be approached professionally (and formatted similarly).

I'm interested to hear what part of "business letter" should stay out of the query.

The Wondering Writer said...

Gotta laugh at the contradictions in this industry. The agent/author is a business partnership/now it isn't a business partnership.

Colin Smith said...

I'm not an agent, nor do I have an agent (yet), but I have done a lot of research for my own querying purposes, and it seems to me that it is quite accurate to say the query letter is and isn't a business letter. The agent-author relationship is also both a business relationship, and it isn't.

I am interested to see Vickie's response to the comments, but as I understand it, the query letter should be approached professionally. The agent should be addressed by name, and the overall tone should be respectful and business-like. But your query will also reflect the voice of your novel. You might include personal information (perhaps in a witty or engaging manner) according to the agent's submission preferences. In these ways, the query can deviate from the business letter. You're not addressing the CEO, but you're not writing your best friend either.

And the author-agent relationship is a business relationship in that the author is the producer of a product, and the agent is helping the author sell that product. There is often a legally-binding contract between them. And they are both components in the publishing industry. However, authors and agents need to be able to get along with each other. They will discuss dreams and hopes, share victories and commiserate lost opportunities. I know of agents that often get gifts from their clients--especially around Christmas and birthdays. So it's both a business relationship, and it's not.

That's my understanding, at least.

John said...

The best explanation of a query letter I ever received came from Andrew Zimmerman of Writer's House LLC. And he came the closest to representing me that I've ever known. Close but no cigar.

He said a query letter is a chimera. It starts with the sort of two or three teaser paragraphs you find on the back of a book jacket to get the reader curious. Then it's a little market analysis to explain what audience you've got in mind for the book, usually referencing similar works in the popular media. Then it links why the author is approaching this particular agent, indicating the author's done his homework on the agent's previous accomplishments (always seemed a little hypocritical since the agent never really cares to know the author. And the acceptance rate is so low that a new author will probably be submitting this query letter to around 500-1000 agents, which amounts to a lot of research for not much reason). Then it explains why the author is qualified to have written the book (which again seemed a little odd since the point of a fictional novel is entertainment and a person who does enough research needn't necessarily be a cop to do a crime novel. But, as he said, it's not enough simply to be a writer anymore).

It's all fairly straightforward and not particularly difficult if the writer can actually, you know, write. The trick is paring all that information down to a single page, especially if your story has lots of ins and outs.

Angela Cothran said...

I think the blaming one is funny. Do people really do that? Weird.

Anonymous said...

The only takeaway I have is that there are few hard and fast rules about queries. Either find out what each agent wants individually, or hope you get lucky.

Janice Sperry said...

I bet agents are relieved about the whole email thing. I can't imagine what you used to get in the mail. Who knows where those letters have been... Come to think about it, what have you received in the mail?