Yes, this is filled with whisky

Yes, this is filled with whisky

Friday, September 04, 2009

Something to remember if you "hate queries"

I don't hate query letters.
I don't hate them even a little.

Query letters work just fine and dandy for me. I meet a lot of my clients for the first time in the incoming queries.

I turn down more good, and publishable, stuff than I say yes to.

What that means is anyone who proposes to change to something/anything else has to show me how it will either save time, or create some other efficiency for ME. ME, not you. ME.

The only person who suffers when a query is "bad" is the writer. If anything bad queries make it easy to click "here's your hat, don't let the door bang your keister on the way out" button.

I realize the ways of literary agents are not supremely logical, and can seem arcane, and mysterious. I figure if I talk about how it works, otherwise befuddled writers might be able to craft a query for a book I'd really like to read. Win/win.

But I'm not looking to change the query letter system at all.
It works just fine for me.


Mira said...

Well, Janet, that's darn clear. I'll stop ranting about it on your blog then - I don't want to waste your time.

I do think it would benefit you, and that the agent suffers from the system as much as the writer. But we can agree to disagree!

Thanks for letting me have a chance to talk about it, and giving me a forum!

I do hope that you're not working this weekend - have a wonderful one.

~Aimee States said...

I think writers get too hung up on rejections. They have to remember what doesn't work for one agent, may rock the socks off another. Even if your writing is at par, it's a crap shoot until it finds the right inbox. If your query is rotten, well...bummer. But there's still a lot of "taste" involved there.

Jennifer said...

As an unpublished writer who has been rejected (by you) but also had plenty of requests and plenty of great feeback, I don't want to change it either.

There are always going to be writers who blame the system and good work that falls through the cracks. But if that makes or breaks your confidence or your seriousness of purpose then you are probably barking up the wrong tree to begin with.

Jenn Johansson said...

I'm almost afraid to say this, but--I enjoy writing queries.

*dons rain slicker, hat, and boots*

Okay, other writers may commence tomato/produce throwing now.

Mike said...

I'm new at this, and still learning...

But I will say that had I known 18 months ago what I know now, I would not have spent 15 months on plot, characters, setting, pacing, editing, editing again and editing yet again -- because nobody reads it. I would have spent the time writing a query letter, that mysterious one or two paragraph letter I believe should be its own literary genre: Buyku.

And, yes,the ways of literary agents are totally illogical, extremely arcane and utterly mysterious. But, sorry, sister, "not right for me" coming from somebody who works on commission is simply a polite way to say "I don't think I can sell this." Right?

Bane of Anubis said...

I like the idea of a form form rejection letter... something simple:


[ ] – The premise didn’t resonate with me.
[ ] – I like the premise, but the query didn’t resonate with me
[ ] – The query grabbed my attention, but the attached pages didn’t quite connect with me.

Something that hopefully wouldn't take the agent more time to send off, but would provide the author with just a bit more insight than what they otherwise receive from most form rejections (which they may be able to decipher and pull out the same sort of info, but if the form form rejections were standardized, there wouldn't be any guessing).

Rebecca Knight said...

I've always liked the query system, even as an unpublished writer. It's logical to me, and helps weed out the crap. I'm a reader first and foremost, so I'm HAPPY that it works that way.

Plus, it makes me step up my game and make sure I have a good pitch up my sleeve. Being challenged is a good thing!

Kyler said...

I may be the only one, but I actually enjoy writing queries. I love the challenge of succinctly including all the necessary details, including a brief plot, getting every word perfect, and personalizing them to an agent. After years of working on it, and thanks to people like you, Janet, I know my query works. I've basically stopped for now as I wait for the results of requests to come back. But if I see somebody who I think is right for my novel, I'll jump at the chance of tailoring a new query to them this fall. Have a good weekend, Janet!

Sarah Laurenson said...

Why write a query? I mean, besides the fact that it's how the system works. What's in it for the author?

When someone asks me what my book is about, I can tell them succinctly and, hopefully, in an interest-generating way because I've written the query and boiled it down into a short, tantalizing description.

That's what writing a query does for me as an author.

I also try to come up with one line (elevator) pitches so I can do the same thing and not have to remember the 1-2 paragraphs of my query. My memory ain't what it used to be.

Kyler said...

If I can be a touch confrontational here, Mira's comment, "I do hope you're not working this weekend," goes with the mindset of not liking queries. Dedicated writers work on the weekend and dedicated agents read on the weekend. It's work, but work that we love - and we wouldn't have it any other way.

Jennifer said...

I totally agree with Sarah Laurenson here - the process of writing your query can be really illuminating. If you're boiling your plot down into a paragraph or two and find that you're leaving out a lot "because it doesn't sound right" or "because it doesn't make sense" or "because it doesn't really have anything to do with the novel as a whole" that's an important thing to have uncovered. It may be what makes you go back and do another valuable revision.

Jm Diaz said...

Being serious for a moment, I think the query system is a good one. I know how irritated I get whenever I get attacked by salespeople anywhere. If there were only a way where I could sort through what they are selling quickly, and not deal with the ones that do not offer anything that interests me, I'd be a happy camper.
And in the end, that's what we are, sales people. We are selling ourselves, and a lot of people are just not buying. The query works in our (the writers) advantage just as much.
Why waste so much time and effort in pitching your creation, your baby, your masterful work of literature (whatever you call it) to somebody who just isn't interested. Maybe they don't like the genre, maybe they don't have the time to read it, maybe they don't need another vampire story (heaven forbid)... the fact is, with the query, you can find your target audience quicker, wondering how long it will take somebody to read your MS and get back to you. Just send the query, make your pitch, if there are no takers, move one to the next agent. And if nobody bites, I assure you, the issue is you. Revisit your query, spend some time on it. If you can't make a query interesting, what will that say about your entire MS?

BuffySquirrel said...

Or trying to write a query can make you realise there's something missing from your a goal.

Not that that's ever happened to me *shifty eyes*.

Jack Roberts, Annabelle's scribe said...

I'm ok with the system. I wish we pre-published knew if our query sucked, but that's what places like critique groups and Absolute Write are for.

Rebecca Knight said... has forums with an awesome group of people just for critiquing queries. Plus, let's not forget the unforgettable Query Shark!

Margaret Yang said...

I love the query system.

I love the form rejection.

I love Query Shark.

Don't let the gnawing nay-sayers get you down.

ryan field said...

Jenn Johansson said...

"I'm almost afraid to say this, but--I enjoy writing queries."

Me too, Jenn.

Jon said...


I really appreciate the information you have on this blog. Thanks for aking the time.

Philangelus said...

Online magazines already have a system that would save a query-reading agent time and possibly money. I presume that the current system is read & reject, followed by cutting and pasting a form rejection, or by nothing at all if the agency doesn't respond with a rejection.

Many online magazines already have an online submission form where you login, upload your piece (in this case, it would be the first five pages) and fill in a bunch of boxes with name, email address, and other things the magazine might want to know.

The editor (or the agent) can login to the system, review the queries, and if something isn't suitable, the editor/agent can click the "reject" button. This closes out the submission, sends an automated email to the writer, and deletes the file.

The agent would still be able to contact for a partial or a full however she saw fit. But it's one part of the querying process that could be automated. Writers who wanted to know the status of their query could log back into the system and be reassured that it still existed, eliminating emails that said "Oh no, did you lose my query?"

That's how it would benefit agents. These submission systems already exist (check out One Story for an example.) The query would still exist. It would just be uploaded and automated.

DebraLSchubert said...

I love writing queries. It's a necessary art form on the road to publication. It also helps you uncover your pitch, the essence of your story, which is something every novel writer should know. I like writing the synopsis as well. It's challenging, but feels great once you've nailed it. It's the whole novel I find rather cumbersome.;-)

Long live the query!

BuffySquirrel said...

GUD, although a print magazine, has an online submissions system. It works for us. In fact, it's essential, as two of our editors live in California, one in Connecticut, one in New Hampshire, and one in the UK.

It might work for agents, but more likely they'd be deluged by emails wanting help with the form, wanting an explanation of the form, not seeing why they have to use the form, claiming the form doesn't work, wanting agents just to read their emailed query so they don't have to use the form....

Les Edgerton said...

There was a book in print about rejections years ago, and I still remember my favorite. It read:

"Dear Sir,
Your material is both good and original. Unfortunately, the part that is good isn't original... and the part that's original isn't good.

Mr. Agent

Mira said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mystery Robin said...

How in the world is it a "broken system" for a writer to write a polite business letter, describing their product, to an agent whom they want to convince to sell their product.

Makes sense to me.

Dan Krokos said...

I really, really love queries.

A lot.

Thank you Queryshark!

Travener said...

I'd love to see the query Thomas Pynchon sent for V.

Lilit Hotham said...

Call me crazy but I'm kind of looking forward to my first query letter. You know what... I might even frame it.