Tuesday, January 13, 2009

I want to stand out! I want to be memorable!



You don't even have to be alive to get query letters these days if you're an agent.

You don't have to want them or need them.

Query letters arrive each and every day. They come by mail, they come by electrons, sometimes they pad in on their own two feet and sometimes they come by telephone.

If I had a sawbuck for every query I got in a week, I'd take everyone who regularly reads this blog out for lunch and have enough left over to pay my bar tab.

This fact of life is not unknown to the many of you who are writing queries. From that knowledge comes the overwhelming desire to STAND OUT, to be *~*~memorable~*~**~.

Thus you do things you think are memorable:

Send your query letter by FedEx.
Send your query letter registered mail.

Send your query letter on lovely stationery.
Send your query letter on lovely stationery with an inkwell graphic.

Send your letter on lovely stationery with !*writer!* underneath your name (just in case I thought maybe my plumber was querying)

Carefully organize everything into a three ring binder.
Carefully organize everything into a bound packet.
Carefully organize everything, then staple it once, or maybe even twice...can't be too careful!

Send photographs.
Send gifts.


Do NOT do any of this.
NONE.
No one, not a single agent in the entire world, selects a query based on how it arrived or what it was printed on, or all the extra junk that comes with it. They READ it.

Let me repeat.
They READ it.
No one thinks "oh, a clever binder/notebook." They think, oh crap, my wastebasket is already overflowing where am I going to put this, and is it recyclable.

Even our very nice, very gracious and forgiving, and God bless them, EAGER TO READ YOUR QUERY interns get over their interest in gimmicks after the first two.

I read all my own queries, so you don't even get the first two gimmicks if you're querying me.

I'm looking hard for good stuff.

If you query me with a gimmick, it's not a failure of logic to conclude you don't take yourself or your work seriously.

You stand out ONLY if you have outstanding writing.

That's it.

No gimmicks, no tricks, no shortcuts.

Don't waste your time or money.

If you don't believe me, come open query letters for a week.

25 comments:

Catherine Haines said...

I was going to say something along the lines of "Well, at least the email queries should cut down on most of the bulk" but then I had a thought of someone rigging an email to open a link automatically (can you do that?) to a website where they have a query, the first chapter, a potential cover design and a musical tribute to the book's potential awesome... all done in Flash.

Oh well. Hopefully people will learn.

BJ said...

"then I had a thought of someone rigging an email to open a link automatically (can you do that?)"

Not if you have your e-mail program properly set to NOT do this. It's a security risk. I wouldn't doubt most such messages wind up in the spambucket.

clindsay said...

I also wonder about the writers who included headshots with their queries. I was sitting with the interns one afternoon while they were opening queries and within an hour, they'd received three queries with headshots. It was odd, to say the least.

Anyway, great post!

Scott said...

Headshots aren't a good idea? Darn, the cats are giving bad advice again. I can't help it that I switched them to diet food. They could no longer get through the kitty door. Note to self: cats are very, very tricky when angry.

Seriously - the post was great. The more I read, the more I am amazed. I never would have thought of a fancy binder or a headshot. I had enough trouble writing the query, let alone trying to think of a gimick to get an agent's attention. Thanks for the post.

ICQB said...

I don't even query anymore. I send out brainwaves. I've gotten just as many requests for fulls that way as the old fashioned query method.

Eric said...

Oh hell, I wonder if I've got time to cancel the male stripper clown with my YA proposal.

kyler said...

I used to be an actor, and we used to send our headshots and resumes to agents. Now, according to this talent agent book I just saw, actors are required to send query letters along with their mugshots. So actors now have to be good writers, too. Lucky for us we just have to be good writers.

Crimogenic said...

Eric, send the clown my way. :)

I say again, when I read posts like this one, knowing that I haven't done any of the above, I feel a tiny bit happier.

ryan field said...

I just hope you don't start getting sawbucks now.

jnantz said...

Make you a deal. I'd be happy to read queries for a week this summer when I don't have to grade, if for no other reason than it might make me feel a little bit better about my chances. All you have to do is provide the transportation up there from NC, and room and board, maybe a lunch or two, but that's really all.

(Just kidding...maybe...)

What worries me is that I'm absolutely certain that every one of the no-nos you described came from a real experience. I mean, my God, people actually write the word "writer" under their name in some of your queries? Ugh!

Janet Reid said...

jnantz, yup they all come from real life. And this post doesn't cover some of the more hilarious examples that are too distinctive to be anonymous.

BJ said...

I've heard of brownies (possibly 'special' brownies), knitting, pet pictures, and so forth. Those brownies probably cost a lot to make and to send.

Would a gift certificate to the bar of your choice work? Or... there's a pub in NYC I've always wanted to visit, just to see inside, but I'm not much of a drinker and neither are my friends. Maybe we could help each other out the next time I'm in town...

Julie Weathers said...

Yes, what's sad is all of this has been done or you wouldn't see numerous agents discuss exactly the same list. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to soak in even though it's expounded on at length.

I've said it before and I'll say it again. This is a golden age for writers. There is no excuse for not presenting a professional package.

*Dashes off to cancel order for Texas Trash to agents.*

Margaret Yang said...

Remember that "Far Side" cartoon by Gary Larsen? A bunch of penguins are clustered together on the ice when one of them busts above the crowd and sings, "I just gotta be meeeee!"

New query strategy: stand out by being the only one not doing any gimmicks. Stand out by being a professional.

BJ said...

Stand out by showing VOICE. Voice is the one unique attribute each of us has.

Word verification: fitedn. Kind of appropriate.

pegasus358 said...

Coming from an agency assistant, this might be the best post EVER.

Janet said...

Noah Lukeman actually recommends using FedEx.

He recommends a lot of things that seem to run counter to what other agents say.

Amber Lynn Argyle said...

Send your query letter by FedEx.
Send your query letter registered mail.

Send your query letter on lovely stationery.
Send your query letter on lovely stationery with an inkwell graphic.
Send your letter on lovely stationery with !*writer!* underneath your name (just in case I thought maybe my plumber was querying)


Carefully organize everything into a three ring binder.
Carefully organize everything into a bound packet.
Carefully organize everything, then staple it once, or maybe even twice...can't be too careful!

Send photographs.
Send gifts.

~You should, however, use all of these when sending your wish list to Santa Claus

Becky Mushko said...

So, I should tell the monk who is using calligraphy to hand-copy my novel onto gold-edged parchment that will be bound in a cover hand-woven by several women in a sweatshop in a third world country before being hand-embroidered and packed into a box surrounded by handcrafted chocolates to just forget it?

And I guess the singing nun and her tap-dancing dog who were going to hand-deliver it in a horse-drawn carriage are out, too?

Sheesh! You try to use a little imagination. . . .

Sarah Jensen said...

Great post. And I'm with Crimogenic, I feel better knowing I haven't done any of those.

And ICQB...Heehee. I'm not quite to brainwaves yet, but that made me laugh out loud, so thanks. :)

Christina Farley said...

Your loss. I make divine cheesecake.

:)

Jenny Graman Meyer said...

>>come open query letters for a
week.<<

I'd love to read query letters for a week! What better way to figure out how to do it right than to read examples of how everyone else is doing it wrong!

Jenna said...

>>You don't even have to be alive to get query letters these days if you're an agent.

No, it's worse: you don't even have to be an agent. I'm a writer and I get query letters sent my way at least twice a week. What in the world are they querying me for? Hoping I'll be so impressed that I'll change careers?

P.S. I am not admitting that I used to have pretty stationery with an inkwell printed next to my name. Nope. Not I.

Steve Stubbs said...

Jnantz: "What worries me is that I'm absolutely certain that every one of the no-nos you described came from a real experience. I mean, my God, people actually write the word "writer" under their name in some of your queries?"

Um, yes. I took a screenwriting class at a local university some years ago and the teacher told the class to write "Your Name" on a paper they were to hand it. So somebody wrote the words "Your Name" on his or her paper. When the prof told the story in class I looked around the room for a red face, but whoever it was had no shame. Either that or he was the fellow who won the World Poker Championship in Las Vegas the year before.

That person, I am reliably informed, queries Janet on a regular basis and includes all sorts of ridiculous crap in the envelope. No, I don't mean the query letter. I mean OTHER ridiculous crap.

Matt said...

Come on... If I sent my query over with a pony, you wouldn't throw it out would you? Not a pony! That's just heartless.

Great post!