Author Topic: advice on writing a query...  (Read 15397 times)

Offline coll

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advice on writing a query...
« on: August 27, 2007, 04:41:45 PM »
...from Stephen Barbara of Donald Maass Agency.

     Learn to market yourself intelligently. Don't spend two years writing a novel and ten minutes on the query letter. That letter is your introduction to the editor or agent you're seeking -- craft it carefully and get it critiqued, just as you would a manuscript. Remember that the purpose of a query letter is to interest an editor or agent, not to inform them -- so don't bore them with a blow-by-blow description of your book's contents. Instead your book's description should have a hook, a sense of your authorial voice, suspense, conflict, compelling characters -- all the same things that make a novel great. But at the same time, treat your query as a business letter, not a narrative. It should be clear, professionally formatted, specific to the agent or editor concerned, and succinct -- that means just one page.


Coll :)
« Last Edit: August 28, 2007, 05:49:15 PM by Lotheus »
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Offline justwrite

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Re: advice on writing a query...
« Reply #1 on: August 27, 2007, 07:58:20 PM »
Good info, Coll. There's also good advice on Miss Snark's website. She's an anonymous agent who recently shut down her blog, but has the archives up. She had a query contest she called the Crapometer. Great stuff!  misssnark.blogspot.com

Also agent Rachel Vater has query info on her blog:
raleva31.livejournal.com
« Last Edit: August 28, 2007, 05:51:29 PM by Lotheus »

Offline audal

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Re: advice on writing a query...
« Reply #2 on: August 27, 2007, 09:04:04 PM »
My contribution to the topic: http://dglm.blogspot.com/2006_12_01_archive.html

Miriam Goderich's entry of 12/12/2006 truly stripped away all the useless info I'd been hearing about query letters.  Put everything squarely in focus.
« Last Edit: August 28, 2007, 05:51:44 PM by Lotheus »
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Offline joanjunkmail

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Re: advice on writing a query...
« Reply #3 on: August 27, 2007, 09:09:41 PM »
interesting!  thanks.  takes away the nerves...and, funnily enough, the entry beneath it talks about publicity!!  very interesting blog
« Last Edit: August 28, 2007, 05:51:54 PM by Lotheus »
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Lotheus

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Re: advice on writing a query...
« Reply #4 on: August 27, 2007, 09:13:44 PM »
Wouldn't it be nice if every agent just posted a query on their website and said, "Here is what I want.  Give me this?"
« Last Edit: August 28, 2007, 05:52:07 PM by Lotheus »

Offline coll

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Re: advice on writing a query...
« Reply #5 on: August 28, 2007, 03:33:42 PM »
 
   But then we wouldn't suffer so much.  Only those with tenacity to research what they want win the golden ticket.

   Yes. I wish they did that--Nathan Bransford does.

   Coll

   ***apologies for the typo on advice***
« Last Edit: August 28, 2007, 05:52:19 PM by Lotheus »
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Lotheus

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Re: advice on writing a query...
« Reply #6 on: August 28, 2007, 05:51:11 PM »
There!  All taken care of.  Even those that do the research and work ofen don't win the golden ticket, though.  I've even heard agents say that if you don't know someone that knows them, the chances of you getting through to them are almost nil.  That's depressing...

Offline coll

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Re: advice on writing a query...
« Reply #7 on: August 30, 2007, 12:25:39 AM »
Sure is.

Well, here's a girl who knows what she wants. Tina Wexler from ICM.

 How Your Query Letter Should Sound

    * The tone of your query letter should match the tone of your work.  Don't be cute if your book is serious; don't be serious if your book is cute. That said, you are writing a professional letter, a business letter, so you should conduct yourself as such while letting your personality and your writing style shine through.

    * You should take the same care writing your query letter as you would with a resume and cover letter.  That means no typos, spelling mistakes, or grammatical errors.

    * Have every single person you know read your query letter.  Not only is this a helpful way to catch grammatical errors, it's also a great way to test out your plot summary.  If the reader has questions, it might mean you're not explaining the story well. 

    * Write the letter yourself.  Don't have your poor sister or husband do it.   It won't impress me if you're assistant writes it, or your dentist.  You don't need a mini-agent to get an agent. And since you're writing the letter yourself, please, for the love of Pete, don't talk about yourself in the third person, not even in your bio.  That drives Tina batty.

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June 6, 2007 - Wednesday
   

WHAT YOUR QUERY LETTER SHOULD NOT SAY

 

*  Do not tell me how many people have rejected your work before it got to me.  I don't want to know.  This is the equivalent of being on a first date and talking about how many times you've been dumped.  Yikes!

 

*  If you're going to flatter, get your facts straight and try to be specific.  I recently received a query letter praising my impressive list of authors (thank you) who have "inspired and entertained throughout the ages."  Now, let me be the first to say it: I love compliments.  I don't take them well—I'll disagree with you well into the night if you dare tell me my hair looks nice today—but I love hearing them about the authors I represent.  Still, the truth is, I haven't been in this industry for ages.  I haven't been ALIVE for ages.  And most of my clients are debut authors.  Certainly, they are all capable of inspiring and entertaining, but I can't say that many of them have been doing either (by way of their books at least)  throughout the ages.

 

Now, I know it seems like I'm a bit obsessed with the wording (because I am) but let me explain why.  The wording of this query letter tells me that this same praise was doled out to everyone who received this person's query letter. I'm sure it saved him plenty of time, but it also got him a form rejection letter.  (Okay, it was actually the lousy plot summary, but...)

 

The lesson here is this:  If you admire one of my client's books, I'm happy to hear it.  If you have heard good things about me (really??!), I'm glad it prompted you to write.  But know that I decode query letters for a living and I'd rather get no praise at all than false praise.

 

*  Do not tell me how much money your book will make me, that it's going to be a New York Times Bestseller, or that it has great film potential.


 

*  Do not babble.  Do not complain. Do not start with an apology.  Do not be hostile.  Do not intimate that anyone who doesn't ask to read your work is a complete idiot.  Do not, if I reject your manuscript, write to tell me "I wouldn't know a good book if it landed on my head." (True story.)


 

*  Do not lie.  If you tell me you have a Fulbright, I'm going to look it up.  Trust me.


 

Now, enough of what NOT to do.  Let's get to the body of the query letter...in the next post.

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May 31, 2007 - Thursday
   

What Your Query Letter Should Say, wrap up

    * Your bio needn't be very long.  Let me know if you're a recognized expert in the field of X if your book is about X.  Tell me where you went to college (if you recently graduated), what you're currently working on, what you do to earn a living, anything to give me an idea of how you fill your days, but nothing so personal you wouldn't tell a stranger.  Because really, that's what I am. 

    * If you have publication credits, please include them in your bio.  Tell me the title and the publisher and the year the book was published—-TITLE (Publisher, Year).  Don't tell me you're a published author and not give me the details.  Sure, I can look it all up online, but I don't want to and chances are I'll find that the reason you have alluded to publications, but haven't include details is because 1) you self-published or 2) you don't think the book was "big" enough and that just writing "published author" is better.  It's not.  Be specific.

    * If you don't have publication credits, that's fine.  Just skip this part of your bio if you've nothing substantial to include. I base my decision of whether I want to represent you or not entirely on if I'm interested in the current project you're querying me about. 

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Tina is one of my dream agents. She read a full of one of my novels but, unfortunately, passed. She's really nice and wrote me a personal letter with the reasons explained fully on why she did decide to pass.

Coll :)
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Offline coll

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Re: advice on writing a query...
« Reply #8 on: August 30, 2007, 12:30:56 AM »
More helpful hints from Tina.

 Querying effectively--Questions and Comparisons

*  Questions may seem like a great way to lead into a description of your manuscript, but I'd be careful about using them.  Sometimes they read like bad voiceover or like the query writer is badgering me. ("What would you do if you knew the world was coming to an end? Would you blah, blah, blah?  Would you...") Other times, they are so bizarrely rhetorical they give me hives.  "Have you ever dared someone to eat 100 pancakes in one sitting only to find that the only person willing to accept this ludicrous bet is your long-lost father?"  Have I—huh?  Sure, it's sometimes easier to come up with questions than to find a succinct way of summarizing the plot, but I'd advise against it. 

 

*  Comparisons can be great.  They can help me get a sense of what your style is like where your query letter might not (or at least of what you think your style is like).  That said, not everyone can be the next Joan Didion, John Grogan, Dan Brown, or J.K. Rowling.  Try a comparison that everyone hasn't already made about his or her manuscript, one that will still prove illuminating. (So don't pick someone too obscure either).

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May 8, 2007 - Tuesday
   

What Your Query Letter Should Say (continued)

    * It can be a good idea to start your query letter by indicating how you got the agent's name ("I read your interview on www.ridingwiththetopdown.blogspot.com") and/or why you're querying that particular agent ("I'm a fan of your client Lesley Dahl, whose writing style is similar to mine.") Then introduce your work—title, word count, and genre.

    * Your synopsis (or summary) should follow and be about a paragraph or two long.  It should be plot specific, with details that could only describe YOUR manuscript.  "A heartwarming story about first love" isn't going to make me sit up and take notice.  Try to avoid sounding like flap copy.  And don't just list adjectives.  Sure, I want to know if your manuscript is hilarious, frightening, enlightening, or touching, but most of all I want to know what it's about. 

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May 4, 2007 - Friday
   

WHAT YOUR QUERY LETTER SHOULD SAY

To begin with:

    * Always include a salutation.  "Dear Ms. Wexler" works best for me.  Never use "To Whom It May Concern" or "Dear Sir/Madam."  If you don't have the agent's name, you can't possibly know what he or she is looking to acquire.

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April 28, 2007 - Saturday
   

What is a query letter?
Category: Jobs, Work, Careers

A query letter is a way for you to introduce your manuscript to an agent.  It should include a brief synopsis, a bio, and any other relevant information.  The goal is to pique the agent's interest so he or she will ask to see your work.

 

Over the next couple of weeks, I'll be posting my tips on how to write a great query letter.

 

Let's start with some basics:

 

WHAT YOUR QUERY LETTER SHOULD LOOK LIKE:

 

    * Your query letter should be roughly a page long.  If you send your query via email, it should be the equivalent.

    * Your query letter should include all of your contact information: mailing address, email, telephone.  Never include just your telephone number or just your email address (unless there are extenuating circumstances). 

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Coll :)
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Offline justwrite

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Re: advice on writing a query...
« Reply #9 on: August 30, 2007, 08:18:24 AM »
I went to Nathan Bradford's blog last night, and was so impressed with him I emailed him the query I'd been sitting on immediately. I changed my intro into something a little more personal and informal based on what he seemed to like. Not sure I'd do that with every agent, but he seemed to enjoy getting a nod about his blog and his fun personality. He'd be such a cool agent to have. (and he's not half-bad lookin' either  ;))


That's really cool about Tina WD. She rejected me with a form. I haven't got a decent rejection yet.  :'(

Offline joanjunkmail

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Re: advice on writing a query...
« Reply #10 on: August 30, 2007, 08:27:59 AM »
I went to Nathan Bradford's blog last night

JW, did you mean Nathan Bransford, of the Curtis Agency?

Also, anyone... what's 'narrative nonfiction' as a genre?
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Offline justwrite

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Re: advice on writing a query...
« Reply #11 on: August 30, 2007, 09:02:22 AM »
Yes, JJ, that's the guy. Have you any experience with him? Narrative nonfiction, although I'm not entirely sure, may mean factual information, such as a memoir, biography or historical event told in narrative or story form. Please, someone, correct me if I'm innacurate.

Offline joanjunkmail

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Re: advice on writing a query...
« Reply #12 on: August 30, 2007, 09:05:16 AM »
JW, I have experience with no one!  I was just following leads, and found him through you.  His MySpace page says 'narrative nonfiction' but I don't know what that is!

also, where's his picture?
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Offline justwrite

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Re: advice on writing a query...
« Reply #13 on: August 30, 2007, 10:55:22 AM »
He has a blog...I think the link is somewhere on here.

Offline justwrite

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Re: advice on writing a query...
« Reply #14 on: August 30, 2007, 11:09:01 AM »
http://nathanbransford.blogspot.com


Here you go..got my rejection just now with this link in it.