Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Give Good Query

George: Since we began our new agency a couple of months ago, we've gotten a few dozen queries, but there seems to be little consistency in how authors present themselves. Basic information about writing a query letter is all over the Net. While I appreciate creativity and can be pretty tolerant of unorthodox queries, sending an email saying essentially "hi, would you read my fabulous book" is a not much of an incentive to do so.
Joan: Think of a query as a way to present yourself and get your foot in the door. This is the first thing an agent will see about you. Be sure to do your homework. If an agent says, I don't represent short stories or children's books, then why waste your time querying about your short stories and children's books to that particular agent? Spend the extra time it takes making sure there are no grammatical or spelling errors in your query. Would you go to a job interview with your resume loaded with errors? Of course, you wouldn't. When an agent asks you to include information in a query letter, be sure to do so. When you write a query, remember that no matter how good your query is, the manuscript still has to stand on its own. If you say something in a query such as, "This is the world's greatest book" or "I chose you out of thousands and you are being given a once in a lifetime oportunity to represent my book, the next Harry Potter," an agent is immediately going to react and probably not in a positive way. 
George: For me, it's ultimately about the manuscript, although Joan's right that if you can't get a query letter correct, it casts some doubt on your seriousness. It's true that the formal process required for publishing is not exactly the same as the creative process you use when you're writing a novel. It's more like the research process you do for a novel: you check your dates and facts and figures, and you try to get the time period details right.  In any case, all a good query does is to get an agent to look further.  A book still succeeds or fails on its own.
Joan:  I think a book about queries is a good investment; however, you can find on the Internet, with a little research, lots of examples about how to write a good query if you don't want to buy a book. To me, this business is a food chain. You write queries, and you get rejected. I write queries, and I get rejected. I know what getting rejected feels like. I write the best query I can so I know I am getting rejected for another reason than not writing a good query. I do my very best at what I know I can control: the quality of my presentation. That way, if I get rejected, I know I did my very best, and the rejection had nothing to do (I hope) with a poor presentation of my product. Most important, I look on websites and make sure that no matter where I am sending my material, I provide exactly what the agent, editor, or publisher requested. I follow the guidelines like they are specs for a military technical publication.

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