Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Query question. Except not.

A question for your blog:

Many QueryShark query letters have the form:

Query text
Novel title, word count and author bio.

The more common format I have seen is:


Novel title, genre, word count and hook in single sentence
Query text
Author bio.

I think the form I see in QueryShark flows better. Is it OK to use the QueryShark format in actual queries to agents, or is it better to revise to the second form?

Do you really think I'd spend five years and 250+ queries urging you to use a format that WASN'T THE ONE TO USE IN AN ACTUAL QUERY??


I'm sorry, I just have to chalk this up to a prank.


Lance said...

But what about the Query Police?

Dave Clark said...

Much as the Query Shark makes us tear out what little hair we have left--despite gallons of Rogaine--her advice is designed to GET US OUTTA QUERY LIMBO! I'd take it. Everyone should. It's your best shot, I'd say. (Never a guarantee, of course, but the best shot, nevertheless.)

Anonymous said...

No comment on query, but that dog's face! The classic, "Really?? Really??" look if I ever saw it.

kregger said...

Ms. Reid,
I doubt it's a prank. I have seen this advice given on other sites. Of course, these are not agents giving the advice. Don't we all know that everything on the "intranet" is true? I've also seen the terms "pitch" and "query" used interchangeably. Too much information is almost as bad as too little.

Charley said...

Not sure whether LOL or *sigh* fits better. One point is that agents are different. Some specifically state on their websites to start with title, word count, and genre. Not Janet. Some want the "log line" as a hook, which QueryShark hates. Tailor your query to your target. (Well, "target" may not be PC....)

But for the guts of the query, for the "query text," Janet's massive advice on clarity and intriguishness (intriguosity?) is the way to go.

Ellipsis Flood said...

I don't know about other people, but I find the "query first, info then" makes more sense. Titles and word counts are subject to change during editing. Genre is relative. And shouldn't the query text start with some kind of hook, line and sinker anyways?

...I find myself imitating the dog's face now.

Sure, if the agent wants a certain format, go by that one, but most submission guidelines I've seen only state they want a query, not how it's supposed to be formatted.

PS: "Should I use the thing I think is worse, but more common?" is a question that should not be asked.

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

I much prefer the Query Shark Method™ to all others when it comes to query formatting. The other way looks rather strange to me, and I can't wrap my head around it as readily (which suggests I can wrap my head around it at all, but we're not talking about me right now, okay?)

Colin Smith said...

I'm also a fan of the Query Shark Method. Whatever any other agent might say, they're reading the query to find the next awesome book to represent. If they're blown away by the query, everything else in the email is just information that may or may not have any bearing on whether they request. The query itself, however, is determinative, so put it first. It just makes sense! :)

Judith King-Harmon said...

I am fresh off of the MWA Conference just 3 days ago. I had two pitch practices with two different agents from two different agencies. Each read my query letter formatted to the Shark layout and revised 20 times over the last 6 months. I can say that both agents, right away, started to make notes asking for the second format that was asked in this question. It was like a stab to the heart! Both agents wanted


Novel title, genre, word count and hook in single sentence
Query text
Author bio.

I was slightly more than fairly confident with my query, especially the format, and that was the last bit of feedback I had expected.

I will say that the rest of my query- ALL revisions based on Query Shark learnings- went very well.

Judith King-Harmon said...

One more thing- Neither agent had any format preference listed on their website. They had the general notes of their genre and what they want, but not a format of a letter.

I am sure that if you can hook em' with your story and content alone, they would overlook the format.

Terri Lynn Coop said...

Absent specific instructions from the agent, I roll with the QS format.

It puts the interesting stuff up front. Hopefully the query text alludes to the genre and makes the agent so excited they are pushing reply "SENDITNOW" before they even get to the particulars.

Gobsmacked dog is gobsmacked. (and I love that spellcheck does not flag gobsmacked.)


Alec Breton said...

It is no wonder the query process is stress-inducing. There is no industry-wide universal query format … yet. Sure, the "Query Shark Method Of Blunt, Get To The Point, Don't Waste My Neural Cognition Cycles" is heroically fighting the dross and accretions of "old school" query preferences. However, your mileage may vary.

Some literary agents specifically ask for the salutation to be followed with an explanation of why the writer is querying them. Comments, such as "I've read your blog since before the Internet was invented and you mentioned you want more paranormal dystopian YA steampunk vampire romance," seems to be an all-too-common explanation.

[BTW, "Dear Sir or Madam," "To Whom It May Concern," or "Dear (fill-in-the-blank) Literary Agent, CC every other agent at the agency" are strictly in no-go territory.]

On rare occasions, some agents "hint" at a desire for ego stroking: "Oh, I just adore all your clients's work, order all their books before they are printed, write glowing reviews before I've read them, and think you are the greatest literary agent ever."

Up front is where some agents also want to know if the writer met them at a conference and were invited to send the query. [Attempts at deception will get the con man reported to the literary agency secret police.]

Some sly dogs try at this point to say "Agent X, and Client Z, both of which are recently deceased, referred me to you." [Nice try, but it won't pass the smell test.]

Other wimpy writers may try begging up front: "I'm down to my last can of cat food and will be sleeping under the abandoned railroad trestle, if you don't love my query letter."

Some "psycho queriers" go for the jugular and hurl insults about gatekeepers or other negativity — almost as a dare. [This may be reported to the regular police.]

Some want to guarantee their query will be rejected, by pointing out they regularly blog against greedy traditional publishers and have already self-published. [Don't go there.]

After the above "touchy-feely niceties," many old school literary agents ask for:
- Title/wordcount/genre/whether it is part of a series.
- The dreaded logline (only sometimes).
- Synopsis/pitch.
- Any comps (optional in most cases).
- Thanks verbage.
- Author name.
- Contact info (Duh! Some do forget contact info.)
- A few sample pages (only sometimes requested, but must be in the body of the message, not as an attachment).

I am wondering why the "Thank you for your time and consideration" is the stock "thanks verbiage." Who started that? Of course, it pays to be courteous, but isn't this rote statement kind of stale by now?

Still, where would we be without the Query Shark? [End not-so-subtle pandering. Over and out.]

Elissa M said...

Format doesn't matter as long as it does what it's supposed to do: Make the agent want to read the manuscript NOW. So, yeah, if you go really weird with the formatting (you know, so your query will S T A N D O U T), you'll probably get instant rejections because all the agent will see is the formatting and not the story.

I think stressing about things like format is a form of denial. That is, writers never want to admit that the story itself could be the problem. It must be the query isn't hook-y enough, or the format is wrong, or the tone is too desperate, or anything except the actual product (manuscript) isn't a fit for the agent.

Of course, some writers do decide the story is the problem and immediately conclude they suck at writing, they have always sucked at writing, and who did they think they were kidding anyway? It's far easier to give up than to revise or (Shark forbid!) write another book.

Sometimes the problem is the idea. Sometimes the problem is the writing. Sometimes the problem is the agent has a headache and she really shouldn't have had that burrito for lunch. It almost never is the format.

Michael Seese said...

Please remind me... Should I put the fact that I'm an older, non-English speaker who lives abroad in the first sentence or the last?

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

After querying, in every format imaginable, both of my (in my dreams) NYT best sellers, I have come to one conclusion, either agents are blind when faced with brillance or I can't write fiction to save my ass. I wonder which it is.
Love the husky, go UCONN.

Susan Bonifant said...

Off topic, Michael Seese, that was pretty funny.

Jenz said...

I've had the same experience as Judith, repeated suggestions to put the intro and hook first (at least one of these from an actual agent, who also did not have this preference listed on their site).

I've also heard that many agents don't read queries linearly and they'll skip from one part to another. If that's true, it probably makes little difference how you order it. It's just not the kind of issue an agent is going to reject an otherwise good query over.

I'm going to buck the trend and admit that I think it flows better to have an intro and hook first instead of throwing the reader straight into the action of the query. I find that a bit jarring. So, I guess if I were an agent (like that'll ever happen), I'd prefer that format.