Tag Archives: improve your query

Answers to Three Quick Questions on Queries

Should my query be long or short?

I say err on the side of brevity. That is to say, some agents might not mind long queries but others (myself included) prefer shorter ones. So you don’t turn anyone off, your best bet is to go with something on the shorter side, whilst keeping it catchy and terrific. I’ve blogged extensively on what to include/not include and how to structure a query letter. I can revisit that another day, too.

What’s the scoop regarding comp titles?

If you’re going to use comp titles, choose wisely. For example, perhaps you don’t want to say you’ve written the next Harry Potter or Hunger Games or The Fault in Our Stars. A comp title should be used so that the person reading the query gets a sense of what your story’s about. So, if you said, “My story is like Game of Thrones with a cast of rats,” I’d totally get what you were going for (and I’d definitely pass on that… sheesh!). Or if you said, “My story has the feel of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, only set in New Orleans right after Hurricane Katrina,” it would also be clear. So if you’re going to use comp titles (and it’s not required), make the comps work to explain your manuscript, don’t compare your work to another author’s (especially a blockbuster author’s).

How much should you suck up to the agent?

Don’t suck up. If you’ve met the agent, you can mention it, if you want. If you really adore some of their client’s work, you can tell them. But making stuff up because you’re supposed to try to “connect” usually comes across as inauthentic, in my opinion. It’s nice to know when a blog follower queries me, because I can thank them for following. But it doesn’t earn them “points” or something; I don’t read their queries any differently. So yeah, don’t suck up.

What else do you want to know about queries?

 

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Query Quiz: What Gets an Immediate Deletion vs an Email Rejection?

imagesI’m in a bad mood. But I’ve made a commitment to myself to try to blog weekly. So. Here’s a quiz. Doing which of these things will have me just delete your query unanswered, versus me sending you a curt email? Answers are below.

  1. Send me a query with an attachment
  2. Query me with multiple projects
  3. Query me on Facebook Messenger
  4. Query me with a genre I don’t represent
  5. Query me with an age level I don’t represent
  6. Add me to a cc list with a bunch of other agents
  7. Get my name wrong or do a Dear Sir/Madame or To whom it may concern
  8. Send me a query that, if printed out, would go on for a few pages
  9. Re-query me with something I recently rejected
  10. Query me even when I’m closed to all queries
  11. Send me a query to an email other than my querylinda email
  12. Query me when I’m closed to queries, except for post conference, for a conference over a year ago, unrequested.

untitledOk, here are my responses: 1,6,7,9,10 all just get deleted, unanswered.

 

imgresThe others get curt responses, such as: “All queries should go to my querylinda@ email address” and “I only represent children’s literature” and “Sorry, but I really am closed to queries.”
imgres-1But just so you know, here’s what goes on in my head:

  1. Delete, mother fucker! Bwa ha ha!
  2. Why? Why would you do this? Why don’t you know not to do this?
  3. Really? Just. Really?
  4. You clearly don’t know anything about me. Ugh!
  5. Why? Why don’t authors do their research?
  6. Another delete! Yes! Yes! Bwa ha ha!
  7. What, the actual, fuck? Delete.
  8. Skim, skim, skim, skim.. sigh… form rejection.
  9. I can’t even. Delete.
  10. Delete. Just delete.
  11. How would someone think this is ok? Why would they think they’re special?
  12. Holy moly. Really?

Ok. So, I’m sorry I’m blogging while grumpy. I shouldn’t do that. But I haven’t actually given you any misinformation. I’m sure I’m not the only agent who’s thought these things. And I’m sure there are much nicer people out there than I. But I know you guys count on me for being a straight shooter. And I know you guys know I sometimes lack a filter. So. There you have it!

For the record, I am currently closed to all queries, except for the Open Call to Muslim Writers (who are not exempt from having to follow my submission guidelines).

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Five Things You Can Do To Improve Your Query Letter

photo 1Make sure you’ve sent your query to someone who wants to read it. Does the agent to whom you’re submitting represent the genre that you write? You’re wasting your time (and the agent’s) if you write YA fiction and they don’t represent kidlit. Just because you’ve “done your research” and you think Perfect Agent For You is really cool, they like the same things you like, they have a neato online presence that you love to follow, they say funny things on Twitter, does not mean they are going to throw their stated preferences of what they’re looking for out the window and offer you representation on your vegan, gluten free, Wiccan cookbook for healing cancer, when they only represent fiction. Really. You’re not the exception to the rule.

photo 2Start with a strong hook or log line. Nothing makes me want to continue reading a query and take my finger off the delete button more than a great first sentence or paragraph. Your query letter is a sales tool. Think of it as an infomercial to sell your manuscript. If you start out boring, you’re setting up whoever’s reading the query to be bored (and to move on to something more interesting). If you start out fascinating, riveting, unique, or even funny, you’re inviting whoever’s reading your query to read the rest of it in that mindset. And the name of the game is getting that someone to read the whole query letter and be interested enough to read the manuscript.

photo 3When giving a short synopsis or recap, don’t go into too much detail. Don’t give away the baby with the bathwater. You don’t need to name every character and every situation, and you don’t need to retell the whole storyline. Tell enough about your story to pique the interest of the reader. Is your story about identical twins named Romulus and Remus, left on the abandoned Mars colony to die, who are raised by a Mars native that the Terrans don’t know exist? Excellent! Please don’t tell me how it all pans out. It’s enough to say that some of your story follows the Roman foundation myth, but that it’s just the starting point for your 95,463 word YA space opera. You can mention the key plot lines and themes, but please don’t tell all. Part of enticing someone to read your manuscript is leaving some questions unanswered.

photo 4Only put relevant information in your bio. If you are an award winning microbiologist who has spent the last 10 years in Borneo doing research to find a cure for a rare disease, don’t include that information if you’re submitting a picture book about an aardvark who prefers bananas to raisins in her morning breakfast cereal. Even if you’ve found the cure to the rare disease. Why? Because it just doesn’t matter. It’s not relevant to your task at hand. And that task is to convey information about who you are as a writer. Are you a stay at home mother of three children, who likes to knit, volunteers 20 hours a week for your church, and has an awesome organic garden? Cool! If you’re submitting a legal thriller set in New Orleans in the 1920’s your kids, knitting, church and garden just aren’t relevant. Leave it out. It’s enough to say that you’re a graduate of UCLA, a member of Mystery Writers of America, have attended writing conferences for many years, and that this is your first novel.

photo 5Make sure you’re findable and that what’s found doesn’t scare people away. That is to say, include your contact information at the bottom of your query letter (email, mailing address, phone number) with links to your online presence. Agents and editors will click the links you include and/or Google you if they’re interested in your work. Make no mistake, if you’re someone who’s bashing agents and whining and complaining online, we will see it. We really will pass on a manuscript if you seem like a nutjob on Twitter or elsewhere.

Bonus advice: Don’t use as many italics as I did in this blog post and keep the number of exclamation points to a minimum!!!!

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