Take time to deliberate, but when the time for action has arrived, stop thinking and go in.
- Napoleon

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Query Tips and Other Helpful Stuff

Since I haven't secured an agent myself, I'm not really the most qualified person to shell out advice on this topic. I am, however, skilled in surfing the web and finding information that may or may not be helpful to my blog visitors.

The most recent awesome query tips come from Lucienne Diver (of The Knight Agency) in her post: Query Dos and Donts. Some of her suggestions seem fairly obvious, but they're there for a reason - and you don't want to be one of the people who become an example of what NOT to do.

Another interesting discussion on a big query don't (at least for Ms. Faust) is over at BookEnds in her follow-up post: Thank You For Your Time. Apparently this whole issue has drawn a shit-storm for her, but I think what it boils down to is: 1) Research each agent and follow their preferences in addition to their guidelines, 2) Don't obsess over every little word. She doesn't like being thanked for her time (at least not upfront), but she's not going drag you out and shoot you for it either. I get her point: Don't grovel. I also get Janet Reid's point: You can look forward to hearing from someone, but telling them 'soon' puts a level of expectation you don't need in your query letter and one an agent doesn't want to deal with. They'll get to you when they get to you. My experiences with Ms. Reid show that she will get back to you soon, but don't give her the impression you're standing over her shoulder tapping your foot.

Personally, my own query letter is now the best it can be. In October (I really thought it was September but the date on the letter says otherwise), I'll be looking at the four year anniversary of my first query letter (and it's subsequent rejection). I've learned a lot since that unfortunate attempt. Now, in honor of everything I've learned, and the subject of this post, I present to you the first query letter I ever wrote. It sucks... HARD. Let's look at it as a lesson in what NOT to do.

Recently I completed work on my first novel, Spectacle, and am now looking for an agent to represent me. After careful consideration and research, of the dozen or so to whom I am considering sending submissions, yours is the agency that I chose to contact first. I was especially interested in your agency after reading the interview you gave for an article in the book Agents, Editors and You. Once you read the materials I have enclosed, I believe that you will be as interested in representing my work, as I am in having your agency represent me.

Spectacle is a literary novel about fighting for the truth against popular opinion and against deliberate ignorance in a world controlled by misinformation. It is a novel about fighting and winning.

When the human race is told it has just four months to live, only Dr. Michael Montgomery has the knowledge that will save mankind—not from impending doom but from itself. A comet is hurdling towards Earth and the scientific community has issued a death sentence to the world. Dr. Montgomery, however, knows the truth about comets and he knows that the scientific community is wrong, but when he tries to make that truth known he is thwarted at every turn. It seems that Dr. Kingsley Hall has other ideas. If the truth were known, Dr. Hall would lose his chance for prestige, his chance for notoriety, and ultimately, his chance for control. While Dr. Montgomery and his allies work to make the truth public, Dr. Hall and his lackeys work to hide it from the world—as civilization slowly decays around them all.

Mr. Maass, I began writing stories twenty years ago but until recently I had neither the time nor the drive necessary to consider writing as a career. I now have both and I am committed to the achievement of this goal. In addition to Spectacle, I am currently working on my second novel and am in the planning stages for several others.

For your consideration I have embedded a synopsis of this novel as well as the first five pages, per your submission parameters. I am prepared to submit the entirety of my novel (MS Word count: approximately 137,000 words) at your request. If you require any further information, please contact me at your earliest convenience. I look forward to hearing from you.

I was actually pretty proud of this sucker. On it's face there's nothing tragically wrong with it, but that's only if you look at it from outside the industry as a standard business letter. Obviously, the first agent I queried was Donald Maass. (Sorry, Mr. Maass.) Needless to say, I didn't even get a rejection - since Mr. Maass only replies to equeries he's interested in.

Don't worry, folks, I've completely fixed these problems (including the inclination to write 137K word novels). Spectacle is now a much shorter book, and my query letters don't suck. This is a learning process. I hope that by giving you these links, and showing you my own foibles, you can learn to make your own queries that much better. And win an agent of your own.

So, if you have an agent, what advice do you have for querying writers? If you're still searching, like me, what mistakes have you learned from along the way?


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