Thursday, April 03, 2008

Stop me before I do this

Several days ago I put out a call asking for query letters to critique so I could show them to folks attending a workshop.

I received 25, and was able to use about 23. Only one person quivered (so far) at my cold cruel hand. (A new personal best for me, usually they drop like flies).

The thing that has amazed me, really amazed me, is how much better the queries got after one or two revisions. Several went from things I would have rejected in a heartbeat to things I'd actually read.

I've long bemoaned how hard it is for writers to get query letter feedback. Writing conferences emphasize pitching. I think that's a serious serious mistake. The writers are panic stricken, for starters. Even if I like the idea I need to see the actual writing, and it's impossible to help someone with a query letter if they're speaking it to you and trying not to hyperventilate.

So, before I reconsider and/or come to my senses, a quick poll. Where are those of you who read this blog in the query letter process?

(and if you're my client, you better not say click any of these answers! I ain't lettin' none of you go, no matter how much you beg, scream or holler.)

I ask because it occurs to me that doing one letter a week or so, with edits, comments and revisions, might be of use to people here. I'm absolutely not going to do some sort of crazy ass free for all with 500 letters and comments on each one. Noooooo. One a week might even be too much.

The thing is, if you've got a good project and the only thing standing between me, and it, is a crappy query letter, I'd be one smart agent to help you fix it so I'd be enticed to read it, wouldn't I?

(that question is not on the poll but I hope you'd all say yes.)





Where are you in the query process stage are you?
















32 comments:

Julie Weathers said...

I'm still a few chapters away from being finished with Paladin. Then more rewrites.

However, I am already toying with the query, pitch, synopsis and outline projects. I'm horrible at this and I know lots of practice is the only way I am going to get good at it.

I'm really looking forward to this project.

I do have to ask, was this courageous idea a result of the recent gift?

Julie Weathers said...

*edit kind of

I am not planning on querying, obviously. I am looking forward to watching the process.

corine @ Hidden In France said...

I missed the chance to get my query critiqued. It would have done me a lot of good. I'm really hoping you'll do this again soon.

Sarahlynn said...

I would LOVE to see this feature. Thank you!!!

(I have deleted so many embarrassing old drafts after reading agent blogs about stupid query letter mistakes.)

Laura said...

I toil over my query letter almost as much as I do the entire novel. It's a daunting task. As a devoted blog reader, I welcome any nugget of information you pass along.

jjdebenedictis said...

Option 5: I have a query letter I've rewritten a bazillion times that apparently works now.

James Goodman-Horror Writer said...

I struggled with writing query letters and probably still would if I ever have to venture back into those waters.

Luckily, I had a few writerly types to help me out in the early throes and managed to come up with one that worked well enough to get my work noticed...

ilyakogan said...

I went through about a hundred revisions of the query letter. :)

Some of the versions were better while others were worse... It feels like it's getter there. I know a published writer who looked at one of them and said it was great... I managed to get it critiqued a year or so ago by Miss Snark (love you, if you are reading this blog, which I'm pretty sure you are) and the critique was basically 'Where is the hook here?' :)

Then that published writer gave me a proposal that he wrote years ago before his book was published and not only it was terrible (sorry Jack, if you reading this. :) but the book was so much more and better...

He said he tortured himself for two weeks writing it and then the first draft took him two months... He also said that writing queries and proposals was the worst part of the job for him...

Just wanted to drop my two cents in the tip jar.

Margaret Yang said...

I'm already agented. BUT, queries are a skill that the writer always needs. I will still have to write a catchy hook for my second novel, and my third, and my sixteenth, if I expect my now-agent to read it.

And what about after the novel is published? When someone asks me "What's your novel about?" I have to have a short, interesting response prepared. If I babble at this juncture, I will not sell a book to that customer.

In fact, it seems you have to query your book over and over, not just to a prospective agent.

So please, bring it on. As many as you can do, as often as you feel able (don't burn out!). Thank you in advance to the victims who are willing to be skewered. Your sacrifice benefits us all.

Susan Adrian said...

I like writing query-letter-type blurbs for my books--I always do one towards the end of the first draft, to get me thinking about what it's really ABOUT.

But then I'm a geek.

Synopses, though...those are a special circle of Hell.

Ryan Field said...

None of the answers on the poll apply to me right now. But I think doing one letter a week is a good idea.

Diane said...

I am also several chapters away from finishing Out of the Shade with plans to rewrite several scenes that are blah to me.

I have written and re-written the query and synopsis several times. My outline is the only thing, I think, that is alright.

I am really excited for this project! And my answer is Yes to your last question.

You are giving a lot of writers who are in the query quandary such an awesome chance to learn!
Thank you!
Diane

Tara said...

This would be so great! I missed the last opportunity and I am days away from needing to mail these out. Actually, I could do it now, but I'm trying to get over my nerves. So, sign me up!! :-)

M. G. Tarquini said...

I'd like to see you do queries sometimes. Not that I'd ever jump ship. What's the use? You swim faster than me.

Mostly, I want to be able to put together a killer couple of sentences I can use when people ask me, "So what's your book about?"

k said...

also already agented. but would have loved some help a few years ago!

Amie Stuart said...

I'm a total geek! I love writing query letters/blurbs...I'm agented and still find myself writing them...even just taught a class online this week.

And I think this is a great idea =)

Just_Me said...

I'm still doing major edits on my WIP. I don't think I'm quite ready to query, hopefully I will have at least 1 manuscript ready for an agent by the end of the year with several other works finished and being edited for query.

DeadlyAccurate said...

Mostly, I want to be able to put together a killer couple of sentences I can use when people ask me, "So what's your book about?"

Ditto. When agents write of being accosted by writers forcing their story plot on them, I'm always thinking, "How do they do that?" I have trouble answering that question without sounding like I'm just regurgitating my query pitch paragraph.

Yon Saucy Wench said...

Great idea. Please, yes! (Just don't fry yourself out doing it.)

Belvoir said...

I think your examining a query a week would be very informative, and mightily generous of you. Great idea.

Heather Wardell said...

You did mine for the workshop and I really appreciated it. As long as it didn't end up overwhelming you, I'd love to see you do one a week.

I think getting a query from, say, zero to 50% there isn't that tough. Getting to 80% is a challenge, and getting the last polish on it can be insanely difficult. Seeing a mix of queries, at various levels, would be helpful.

Heather

E.M.Alexander said...

I appreciated your feedback on my query, which I'm still revising to make stronger before sending it back out. A big thanks from me!

No doubt about it, the once a week query critique would be a valuable resource to writers.

Loretta Ross said...

Not that I'd ever jump ship. What's the use? You swim faster than me.

Don't be silly! She'd just turn the shrieking eels loose!

When I was a teenager Writer's Digest had an article on how to write a query letter that they'd reprint on a regular basis (maybe with different examples). It always flummoxed me that their "bad" examples were always SOOO bad (Dear Sue, I've writ a great book and my poor, dying old mother thinks so too . . .) and the good examples were always ridiculously good (Dear Sir: What are the ramifications of the new flibbitigibbert regulations on the overall flibbitigibber industry? As the world's most reknowned expert on flibbitigibbertiness, that is a question I am well-qualified to answer. As the author of over a thousand published books and articles, three-time winner of the Pulitzer and Nobel prizes and Poet Laureate for the Commonwealth of Kentucky . . .)

ANYWAY . . . good idea, Janet!

J Reynolds said...

I would love to see this, even if you only get around to a few queries.

Question: Can I submit a query you've rejected?

Margaret Yang said...

Good points, Loretta Ross and Heather Wardell! Seeing a totally worthless query and an extremely polished one side by side does nothing for me. Seeing a so-so query polished into greatness? Now that is something I'd pay admission to see.

RedDuck said...

You did mine for me too, and it helped SO much. I think it's a great idea to do one a week, as you're able. It was also valuable to read your comments on other queries so that we don't fall into the same traps.

Great idea! Love it.

I agree about the so-so query polished to greatness. That's what I want to see.

Picks By Pat said...

After I got my first novel accepted for publication, I thought snagging an agent would be a breeze. After all, they say to get and agent, you have to get a contract, right?

Well, not exactly...I sent out a slew of queries, and received some negatives, some that were positive but said, "not quite right for us", and one or two that basically said, "If you've gotten an offer, why do you need an agent?", which kind of floored me, since I was seeking representation during negotiations.

But, it made me think that perhaps I needed to focus a little more on my query letter, and how important it can be in getting the right attention. So now I'm focusing on the killer query that will get me an agent for my next recently finished manuscript.

Live and learn.

Abi said...

I love this idea and would jump right in to take advantage!

pixydust said...

That would be awesome! I always love reading those. Querying is just one of those things (You know, the things that make you want to scream and pull your hair out one thick stran at a time).

:D

Ello said...

I love it when agents take leave of their senses and offer to critique query letters! You are too awesome. Thanks for offering!

Jamie Hall said...

I have a specific request (I don't know if you can do it because it really depends on what you receive).

Anyway, I've noticed that there are practically no nonfiction queries critiqued on various critique sites, it seems to be 99% fiction. Is there any way you could throw in, say, 5% nonfiction queries? At one query a week, that would be 2 or 3 nonfiction queries a year.

Janet Reid said...

well, if someone sent a non-fiction query in, I'd do it. The problem is no one wants to because non-fiction ideas are so individual.