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.