Sunday, March 01, 2009

Query Letters

A lot of posts on this blog are about query letters (85 in the Query letter category, another chunk among the 32 in the rant category). If you read all of those one after another, you might get the idea I loath query letters.

Nothing could be farther from the truth.

I find my fabulous clients MOST OFTEN via query letter. I found Gary Corby there, I found Bill Cameron there, I found Patrick Lee there, I found Amy Minato, and Adam Eisenberg, and Richard Gilbert there. I found Jeff Somers there.

And those are the clients that queried me cold: no intro from anyone.

Many of my other fabulous clients also arrived via query, but with some sort of intro (Eric Stone from his editor for example; Evan Mandery from a colleague of mine; DawnRae Downton from Stephany Evans who said "this is a terrific idea, and you're just the one to sell it.")

A good query is exciting. A good query about a project that makes your heart beat faster is wonderful. I love those moments.

But, you need to remember the default answer on all query letters is no. I'm not looking for reasons to say no. I assume no.

I'm looking for reasons to say yes. That means I'm looking for voice; I'm looking for an idea that I think is fresh and new; I'm looking for a project I'm confident I can pitch and sell.

I don't go through your query letters and tic off all the "mistakes" you make. I don't go through your queries and think "ok, you spelled my name wrong, you're done." I don't go through my queries and think "Arial font, not TNR, you're toast."

The default answer is already no.

What I look for is language facility and dexterity; amazing voice; compelling story. You can write in GaramondSansSerif 2 if you want. You can spell my name "Barbara Poelle" if you want. If you write something I want to read, I will read it. I'm going to rant about it, you bet, but I'm going to read it.

So, you might ask, why all the ranting and carrying on about query letters and how to do them? Why say "write your query in TNR, not Garamond SanSerif 2" if it really doesn't matter?

The fewer barriers to seeing your work, the better. The fewer barriers to reading your pages, the more likely I'll read more. The means if you send it in easy to read TNR 12, with enough white space in an equery that I'm not looking at a block of text, the MORE likely I might see the phrase that leaps out at me from paragraph four. Or six.

The default answer is no. Getting your form right, getting the presentation right, getting the right kinds of information in a query letter and keeping the wrong kinds out, just helps me see your work, not get bogged down in 'oh man where does the good stuff start."

Because the default answer is no, I'm reading queries with the idea I will be rejecting most of them. Getting the form right, getting the presentation right, getting the right info in, and the wrong info out, that makes me pause in my blisteringly fast reading rate and pay more attention.

More attention is what you want. More attention = good.

I value your queries, and I'm glad to get them and read them.
I hope that comes across here.

If not, I guess I too need to work on showing, rather than telling!


kyler said...

Good to hear this, Janet. Question: Is being voted a semi-finalist in a contest worth mentioning in a query? I realize that winner or finalist sounds better, but in my case, that wouldn't be the truth. So is it worth mentioning, along with other pertinent information? Thanks.

BJ said...

Thanks, Janet! Another good post all writers should read.

You don't come across as not liking queries. You come across as wanting to see good, well-thought-out, researched queries. You tell us what you want to see so we can help you like our writing.

Thanks again!

Janet Reid said...

Kyler, the very next post above this one addresses that issue.

pegasus358 said...

This was wonderful and informative. Thanks for posting!

Beth M

Elissa M said...

I sure wish you repped my genre. I just love the way your mind works. Sort of a Dragnet, "Just the facts, m'am" style. Marvelous.

Dawn said...

Thank you. This was very helpful.

Melanie Avila said...

Janet, thanks for clarifying that you don't dread queries. It wasn't going to stop me from querying you when I'm ready, but now I'll be a teeny bit less frightened.

Jessica Milne said...

I'm starting to think of query letters as the junk mail colleges send you. (I'm a sophomore and just finished going through a huge stack of college mail...) You want to find something interesting, something fresh, something new in all of the stuff you're not interested in.

It can also drive you insane.

Robert A Meacham said...

I believe a query should be these things:
1. genre (s) the agent is looking for
2. About the book.
3. Thank you
4. Looking forward to your reply

Broadway Mouth Blog said...

Thanks so much for posting. While I do nothing related to the work of an agent at my job, I do sort through many cover letters. It's so helpful to get the "inside scoop" to find your way to the top. Thank you so much for writing. I just found your blog, and I look forward to reading past posts.

Anonymous said...

Janet, how can I send you my query letter?