Just Write Cat

One Writer, One Journey

Query Me This…My Queries November 17, 2009

Filed under: Agents,Query — justwritecat @ 11:04 pm
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As promised, below are the before and after queries.  I sent the first one out to two agents, both passed.  Looking back, I’m not amazed by that fact.  More like upset with myself for sending out a clearly not-yet-ready query.  I thought it was…but I was wrong.

 The Before:

(note that I included a couple of lines customized to the agent, not included here)

Medical examiner Joe Cooper is a vampire with an insatiable appetite for booze, blood and women—and a hunger for justice. 

Joe would rather be drinking scotch.  Instead he’s up to his fangs in murdered Innocents, partnered with a suck-up profiler sent by the Council, and chasing rogue vampires on a killing spree during Baltimore’s peak tourist season.  Using his vampiristic abilities and skills acquired as a medical examiner, Joe tracks down the vamps responsible for the murders.  When he does, he discovers there’s more at stake than a group of bloodsuckers hell-bent on breaking all the laws that govern his kind.  And that the vampire calling the shots is the same one who turned him sixty years ago—a female with the darkest of blood running through her veins.  As the story draws to a close, Joe realizes that before you can knock down all your demons, you have to SET ‘EM UP, JOE. 

My 92,000 word manuscript, SET ‘EM UP, JOE, is an urban fantasy similar in style to Richelle Mead’s Dark Swan series; with flavors of noir similar to those found in The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher.  It is my first novel and the first of a proposed five book series featuring Joe Cooper. 

May I send my manuscript for your consideration?

Thank you for your time, 

Catherine Misener  (contact information was included with query)

I’m going to comment on why I think this one didn’t work, but first: 

The After

Dear, (again, I included a few lines customized to each agent I queried.  More on this when I compare the two queries.)

SET ‘EM UP, JOE is a 92,700 word paranormal noir similar in style to Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files.  It is my first novel.

Being undead has its perks.  And for medical examiner Joe Cooper those include inhuman strength, good looks to spare, and the ability to get what he wants from any woman, anywhere, anytime.  Joe’s a vampire with a lust for booze, blood and the fairer sex.  And while Joe could spend all his nights with one hand on a bottle of scotch and the other on some curvy dame, being a member of the walking damned does carry baggage.  That tug on his conscience that for every ounce of blood he takes, he should give a little something back.  So to his other appetites, add a hunger for justice. 

Sure, Joe likes his blood direct from the source—and that doesn’t mean cud-chewing cows or big-eyed deer—but in his world, that doesn’t mean his mark has to die.  Take what you need and never leave the human worse for wear.  When others of his kind fail to follow that dictum, Joe doesn’t hesitate to point out the folly of their ways.  And in Baltimore, the latest place Joe calls home, more than one rogue vamp needs redirection. 

In this novel—the first of a proposed five book series—Joe finds himself up to his fangs in murdered Innocents and chasing rogue vampires on a killing spree during Charm City’s peak tourist season.  Using his vampiristic abilities and skills acquired as a medical examiner, Joe tracks down the vamps responsible for the murders.  When he does, he discovers there’s more at stake than a group of bloodsuckers hell-bent on breaking all the laws that govern his kind.  And that the vampire calling the shots is the same one who has hunted him for decades, the same one who turned him sixty years ago—a female with the darkest of blood running through her veins.  A nasty bit of goods he’s done everything he could to avoid, but the time for running is over.  Joe soon realizes that before you can knock down all your demons, you have to SET ‘EM UP, JOE. 

May I send you my manuscript for consideration? 

Thank you for your time, 

Catherine Misener (contact information, plus personal and character blogs included)

And there you go…two queries.  My thoughts on why I feel the second one is better, and the thought process behind my query next!


Query Me This…Part II November 16, 2009

Filed under: Agents,Baby Steps, Baby Steps,Query — justwritecat @ 2:42 am
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In part II, Catherine worked her way through part of the definition of Query (A one page letter to entice a prospective agent or producer into requesting and reading your work – provides only brief and relevant information.)  She made it as far as the part about enticing, when suddenly the urge to work on her novel overtook her sensibilities.  She swore to come back to her four-part blog on the query process, but Joe–charming cad that he is–kept her enthralled with his story longer than she expected.  Finally freed from his debonair ways and sharp bite, she is back with the second part of Query Me This.

We are now at the prospective agent part of the definition of query.  This is where you need to give serious thought to who you want to query, and why.  Some do take the ‘catch-all’ approach, meaning–they query to any agent they hear of/read about/find on the internet.  O.k….that was not my approach.  As I mentioned at the end of part one, I took the slow and steady way to sending out my query. 

I follow several agent blogs, and that’s where I started my ‘who to query’ search.  I’m not going to mention specific names of agents I queried, but I will provide a list of agent and editor blogs worth checking out (below).  Even if you have no intention of querying any of the agents, I suggest you check out their posts.  There is a ton of practical information and encouragement to be found by reading agent–and editor–blogs.  You also get to know something of the personality of the agent, as well as his or her genre interests.  When it comes to the query, you may also be fortunate enough to find specific guidelines posted by an agent.  Things such as how many paragraphs should cover your novel (some want one, others two to three); should you include just the hook and a few lines about the plot or should you also include how the novel ends (usually, not…but I’ve come across a couple of agent guidelines that call for giving away the ending of your story); and what other material should accompany the query (synopsis, first five pages, etc.).

All of this information is given freely to you by the agent, so why not read it…and then, follow those guidelines.  This helps ensure that you submit a query package in a way preferred by an agent.  It’s like dressing the part for a job interview–you want to start off on the right foot my making a good impression.  Showing you took the time/made the effort to read the agent’s guidelines and that you can follow directions is part of that good impression. 

The other reason you should read agent blogs is to get a feel for their genre interests.  Many agents are open to a wide variety of genres, while some focus on just a few.  Do not waste anyone’s time by submitting a query to an agent who does not represent the genre of your novel.  Often you will find an agent blogs about his or her interests–including, what he or she is looking for right now.  To me, that is like gold.  If her interests match your genre or more specifically, novel, then you know there is a potential match.  When I come across something like that, not only do I say to myself ‘hey, maybe this is a good agent to query’, but it strengthens the belief that my story is one of interest to others.   

I could pen an entire blog on the benefits of reading agent and editor blogs (hey, maybe I will), but for purposes of the query process just keep in mind that there is only so much time in a day.  You can either query at random, or query at will.  To do the latter, you need to research.  And while there are viable guides to literary agents, nothing beats going straight to the source. 

Note:  If the agent you want to query does not blog, be sure to check out the agency website.  Often, you will find a short write-up on each agent, including genre interests and what they are looking for right now.  Plus, you need to find the submission guidelines specific to that agency and agent.  Checking out the website is one step better than relying on possibly outdated information found in more general written or online guides.  One exception is the Guide to Literary Agents blog, which usually offers current and correct information.  Again, check the agent’s blog and agency website to be sure…before you send out a query.

Before I move on to the last part of the definition, here are some stellar agent and editor blogs worth reading.

http://arcaedia.livejournal.com/  When you pop over to Jennifer Jackson’s blog, you can view her tagline:  Et in arcaedia, ego.  (and then) Saving the world, one book sale at a time.  I just love that.  One of my favorite things to read on her blog…her weekly ‘letters from the query wars’ where she provides a numbers review of how many queries received to how many partials requested (w/ genre).  Read some of those weekly posts.  If nothing else puts things in perspective in terms of how many queries are sent out each week (and to just this one agent, so do the math), this will.  From what I’ve read on other agent blogs, the numbers are comparable.  Agents receive hundreds of queries–per week.  I’ll write that again.  Hundreds, per week.  Don’t you want your query to stand out (in a good way)?

http://cba-ramblings.blogspot.com/  Rachelle Gardner’s blog is one of the most uplifting blogs around.  Yes, she gives you practical advice on being a writer/finding an agent/being part of the industry, but what she really gives you–encouragement and advice in an unbelievably supportive environment.  She’s just so darn kind. 

http://blog.nathanbransford.com/  Nathan Bransford is hilarious.  And witty.  And also supportive and helpful.  Did I mention hilarious?  Sure, I get all manner of advice from how to format a query to the Ten Commandments for the Happy Writer–but it’s the laughs that get me every time.  And again, with the hope.  Geesh, what with all the positive advice some agents give you, you’d think they actually want you to succeed as a writer.  Oh, wait…

I would be remiss if I didn’t include the unflappable Janet Reid.  Actually, I have no idea if she’s unflappable as I’ve never met her, much less tried to…uh, flap her??  But in her blogs, she comes across as cool and collected.  Though not always calm (and I mean that in the best way possible).  Ms. Reid has two blogs–her own, which is great for following the weekly/sometimes daily thoughts of a kick-a– agent, and the one she might be better known for.  Query Shark is the first place you should go to get some serious–and straightforward–insight into what makes a query letter work.  Although, you more apt to find what makes a query not work.  You can submit your own query for attack review, but from what I understand there’s a hell of a waitlist.  Just keep that in mind if you’re eager to send out your query.

 http://www.therejectionist.com/ The Rejectionist is…well, it’s…ok….the blog is like this…oh heck, just go check it out.  It’s…unique.  And certainly worth reading. 

http://editorialanonymous.blogspot.com/  Editorial Anonymous is covered by a children’s book editor.  I don’t know who…because, it’s, uh, anonymous.  It’s also very helpful if you write children’s books.  Or maybe read children’s books.  Hey, why not? 

Another one worth your browsing time is The Rejecter.  In the description, the Rejecter states she or he is the first line of defense for the boss.  Isn’t that a great image?  I like it.  Puts things in perspective.  And perspective’s good. 

And now, on to the last part of the definition:  provides only brief and relevant information.   Brief and relevant.  Keep in mind you get one page.  If two to three paragraphs are devoted to the hook and the book, and one paragraph is customized to the agent, then that leaves about a paragraph for the cook (about you).*  What’s relevent is a hard call.  If you have writing experience–professional writing experience, you should probably include it.  Meaning, you’ve written articles that have been published in magazines or journals; you’ve written other novels or stories (again, published); or something you’ve written (including the novel in your query) has won awards.  That you wrote your family’s holiday newsletter when you were ten…that’s cool and kinda cute, but not really relevant to your current project.  I’m going to leave more on this part of the definition to the pros.  Below are links to sites that cover what and what not to include:

Writer’s Digest  

Guide to Literary Agents

Nathan Bransford on whether or not to list your publishing credits and what to do if you don’t have any.

This concludes Part II of Catherine’s four-part Query Process blog.  Methinks Joe has caught her attention again (bad vampire…naughty, naughty vampire).  When she returns, she will post her before and after query.

*The Hook, the Book and the Cook is a term used by Barbara Poelle.


Query Me This… November 9, 2009

Filed under: Agents,Baby Steps, Baby Steps,Life,Write — justwritecat @ 3:57 am
Tags: , , , ,

This is Part One of (what will be) a four-part rant blog on my thoughts on querying.  The first two parts offer my general views or approach to the query process.  Parts three and four walk you through the steps I took when working on queries.  Included are two versions of the one for Set ‘Em Up, Joe.* 

A Query: The Sum of Its Parts

Query:  To pose a question.**

Rather succinct definition.  To the point, though not extremely helpful–unless you think of the question being asked as  “Will you read my work?”  Because that is the fundamental goal of any query.

Here’s a more detailed definition:

A one page letter to entice a prospective agent or producer into requesting and reading your work – provides only brief and relevant information.**

Let’s break that down.  One page letter.  Hmmm….might need to break it down even more. 

One Page.  ONE.  Not three, not one-in-a-half.  One.  Yes, it’s possible.  Yes, it’s what agents typically want.  If you can’t boil down the premise of your novel to one page, you may need to rethink things.  More on this later when I discuss how I worked on my query.

Letter.  This is actually important to think about.  A letter is a form of written communication.  When you are writing a letter, you consider the recipient as you craft it.  This means you consider your audience and structure how and what you write accordingly. 

A note to your mom might be done on the fly, filled with more lax prose or cutesy language.  Maybe you share a beef or make a snide remark about something that’s got your jammies in a bunch.  A letter to an agent, not so much. 

The query should be professionally approached, written and sent.  Think of it as a job interview (in a way, it is…you want to be hired as a writer), and put your best self forward.  Warning–this next sentence is very long. If you’re reading this out loud, for some strange reason, take a deep breath first. 

If your best self is a ranting, whining, angst-ridden writer who believes the only thing standing between his book being on the shelves of every bookstore in the world and author obscurity is an army of agents, editors and publishers who wouldn’t know a good book unless you told them they were a mere request for a full away from it–get thee to a shrink.***  Or your spirtual advisor of choice.  Or the group of friends and family who always get that creative types are perpetually misunderstood and underappreciated.  But whatever you do, don’t query.  Not until after several therapy sessions and some serious self-contemplation.  And maybe a stiff drink because you need to chill. 

Agents are not the enemy.  If you send a query that is in any way pushy, rude or disparaging of the industry- you’re your own enemy.  Politeness, respect and an appreciation for the process is a better way- to not only approach an agent – but to approach anyone.  And why would you not want to be professional?  Don’t you want to be treated that way?  Remember that whole do unto others lesson you learned as a child?  The lesson doesn’t become moot when you make the transition to adulthood.  I stress this part because lately I’ve noticed an alarming trend in agent blogs.  Many are sharing common problems with query letters they receive (and pass on).  From what I gather, many queries are borderline rude.  Some go so far as to criticize other agents or editors, or the industry as a whole.  I don’t get it.  Why would anyone want to be part of something they seem to hate so much??  Anyway, point made.  Be a professional (as in you want to be a professional author, right…so start by being a professional writer).

** From the best source for finding information–Google (o.k., maybe not, but my dictionary is upstairs and honestly, I go online for just about everything anyway).

*** Never underestimate the power of a good shrink.  Er, psychiatric professional. 

Entice.  Ooh, this is a good part.  I’m all a tingle here.  Again, we must turn to our trusty google dictionary.  To entice means to lure; to attract by arousing desire or hope.  And while the lure part almost sounds a little stalker-like, the rest is great.  To attract by arousing desire or hope.  I mean, doesn’t that get you all a tingle, too?  Arouse, desire, hope.  Good stuff.  It’s what you want your novel to do, right?  So you need your query to do that, too.  

How do you entice?  Hmmm, maybe I shouldn’t have dismissed that lure part so quickly, because what is another word for lure?  Bait.  And when you see the word bait, what do you think of?  Come one, quick word association 101.  Bait: Hook.  Ah, now we’re cooking, because the HOOK is what gets the interest of an agent–in fact, it gets the interest of any reader. 

So you want to lure an agent by dangling that hook, that thing which makes your novel a must-read.  Now, you don’t actually say that.  You don’t write something along the lines of “this is the greatest book you will ever read!”  or “you must read this book, it’s the next BIG THING!”.  Because first, that’s just obnoxious.  Second, and please don’t take this personally (I don’t), but really?  The greatest book ever?  Cuz, there are some really, really great books out there.  I’m not saying your book isn’t incredible, but pride goeth before the fall and all that. 

You don’t state your book is fab–you show it.  Show, don’t tell.  I know you’ve read that before.  This goes back to the One Page part, but essentially you need to present that which makes your book unique/fantastic/at least a great read.  Seriously, you need to let the agent know why your book is what it is–the premise and how the premise is met.  This is where that ever elusive thing known as voice comes in.  Entice an agent by offering a glimpse of your novel—the tone, the character(s), the conflict, the driving passion if you will.  And you allow your voice to come through it all.

By the way, one other reason not to state your novel will be the best one that agent will read?  How do you know?  Hey, maybe it will be.  But it’s a subjective call.  Only that agent knows what she or he loves.  Although that does tie in with the next part of the definition–Prospective Agent–which is covered in Part Two.



*In a nutshell (what does that mean, anyway?) – I worked hard on the first query I sent.  I read books on how to write queries, attended a query workshop, asked for outside input…and sent it to two agents (I took the slow and steady approach).  Both agents passed.  So, I did more research–this time, reading agent blogs and pouring over agency and agent guidelines.  My revised query was sent to four agents, three of which requested partials (current status-still on cloud nine due to requests, hoping partials turn to fulls, fulls turn to…oh, you know).  I did research, I read, I revised…and I honestly feel good about the query I sent out the second time.  My sincere hope is that my comments might help any other writers who are struggling with the query process.