Wednesday, January 18, 2012

PS I'm a mammal!

Why query letter writers waste precious space, particularly the first few lines, with information I already know or don't need perplexes me.

Here are some examples from recent queries:

1. Query writer's address.  
When you query electronically, you put your contact information UNDER YOUR NAME. At the bottom, not the top.  This is not how they taught you to write a business letter at Katherine Gibbs, I know. It's a new century. Get with it.

2. MY address.
I know where I work. Honest. I may not know what year it is day to day, but I know my address.

3. The querier's name: "Hi my name is Felix Buttonweazer and I wrote a novel." 
You sign the letter at the bottom with your name. That's the ONLY place your name goes.

4.  "I found you at Publishers Marketplace" and the link to my page there.  
I know I have a page there. I know what it says. I wrote it. And updated it. Saturday.  If you found me there, ok, but for goodness sakes leave out the hyperlink!

5. "I found your page at the FPLM site" and the link to my page there.
Again, I know I have a page there. I know what it says. I wrote it.

In other words do not waste precious space and time with obvious stuff. Start with what I don't know: what your book is about.  Or "Dear Snookums" if you insist on a salutation.

Anything else is just useless drivel.  And if you write useless drivel in your query, the chances you write it in  your novel are higher than what I like to take chances reading.

PS You also don't need to mention you're a writer, human, a mammal or you breathe air.   I assume you are not an alien life form contacting Earth for the first time.  I know how that will happen.


Michael Seese said...

If I am an alien life form contacting Earth for the first time, should I mention that up top, or with the rest of my contact info?

Mike said...

Querying is a very difficult thing for a novel writer. You spend painstaking hours crafting your story and then you have to reduce it all down to just a paragraph or two.

As we all know, the description on the back of a book or on a DVD case rarely gives us much insight into the ins and outs of the complete story. It's more difficult to write a synopsis than a novel in my opinion.

Think of how frustrating it can be for a writer to know that his or her story was dismissed because they chose to say that they loved writing or that they lived in Kalamazoo. It's human nature for people to want to talk about themselves.

Imagine if someone said to a proud mother, "Describe your children to me, but only use fifty words." She would do it, but I bet it wouldn't come out the way she wanted it to. So many crucial details of her babies would be left out just so she could stay within the parameters of some rigid format.

I realize that a literary agent can be inundated with endless piles of material, but I don't think that you can judge every writer's overall style and quality by a single page document. Sometimes when an idea is strong but the query isn't the best, there may just be a diamond under the coal.

Just my opinion.

Colin Smith said...

@otin: However, one of the cardinal rules of querying is Know Thine Agent! Anyone who is serious about wanting Ms. Shark (or Snookums) as his/her agent will have done their homework (i.e., read the QueryShark archives and trolled this blog for every morsel of info s/he can find about Ms. Shark's likes and dislikes re. querying) so he/she does not make mistakes like this.

When I query agents, I read, re-read, and re-re-read their submission guidelines, and I look for any hints or suggestions I can find from their websites and blogs that indicate query preferences.

I know everyone goofs, and I'm sure Janet turns a blind eye to these goofs every now and again. But it really doesn't take that much effort to find out that Janet Reid likes you to get straight to the point with your query. She's not big on biography (unless it's really important--major contest winner, published in notable mag, etc.), and she's not really picky on salutations (aside from "Dear Agent"--that's an automatic form rejection). Be professional, be direct, give her a sox-knocking query, and she's putty in your hand. :)

What's interesting is that, sadly, Janet doesn't rep my genre, so she's not an agent I plan to query. I just learned all this from reading her blog.

Just saying... :)

Debra Lynn Shelton said...

Otin: The one and only purpose of the query is to have more pages requested. A synopsis, if requested, is where we get to give more of the plot lines, etc. As writers, we need to be able to cull the essence of our stories into pitch form. It's part of the challenge and part of the craft of writing. Like Colin said, thoroughly research the agents you query, and give them as much or as little as their guidelines request.

Janet: Speaking of aliens, when I first got together w/my ex, I told him I was from Mars. (My only defense is youth and a wild imagination.) Anyway, he wrote a song for me called, "Be My Martian Girl," which remains one of my favorites. (Send me soaring through the stars above, To that red hot planet of Martian love, Be my Martian Girl, Be my Martian Girl...)

Andrea Wenger said...

If you can't distill your novel into a two-paragraph hook, then you don't know what your novel is about. And if you don't know what your novel is about, then it will lack the sense of momentum that keeps readers reading.

Mike said...

People's main criticism of movies that are made from novels is that you can't possibly fit 400 pages of writing into a two hour film and have it ring true to the novel. I could say that Jaws is a book about a big fish that swims around and eats people. It may get someones attention, but it isn't really what the story is solely about. I'm not being bitter here. I currently have an agent representing my work.

Sha'el, Princess of Pixies said...

Dear Janet,

As you know I'm a mammal of the goat persuasion. That gives me a unique perspective on human foibles (what ever they are) and I've written a book about them.

Did you know that most humans talk a lot and say nothing. In contrast, Goats talk little and say goat things when we talk. This is a startling contrast. I think ... maybe it is.

Anyway ... about my book: It's not a novel novel. It's a memoir of my life caught between the human world and the forest world of pixie kind. (Pixies have bad attitudes. They're very bossy.)I uncover the dirt on internet trolls, griefers and anonymous posters. Did you know that 40 percent of all internet ne're do wells were really male donkeys? Me either, and that may be wrong.

So, when do I get published?

Bill E. Goat, III
1 Police Plaza (its only temporary; I'm working on an escape plan as I write this)
New York City, New York

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Hey...pixie-goat, baaaa !

Got a hacksaw hidden in some goat-cheese, want it?

Rebekkah Niles said...

I propose a count on how many queries you get addressed to "Dear Snookums" in the next month. With a subcount on how many are actually serious...

Jon Sealy said...

Dear Snookums,

I'm a person of mammalian descent and I've written a long prose narrative with a protagonist, a fictional novel, if you will. Please sell it to New York in exchange for one claw-footed bathtub filled with cold hard cash (tens and twenties please). About me: I'm He-Man and Justin Bieber rolled into one. The ladies will swoon. I await your reply.

-A. Novelist


I totally understand the point of your advice, although I'm not certain why people still need it--should be common sense by now. But oh man, did I need that laugh! Thanks!

Keisha Martin Romance Writer said...

Dear Snookums

LOL so funny, even funnier if someone used it, hey stranger things have happened, and I bet you have a million and one stories by the way I so want to be a alien than human. =o)

Sarah said...

What about bribes? Where do bribes go? At the top or the bottom?

Unknown said...

The problem with queries is the writer doesn't know why their letters go into the abyss of unanswered mail. There are three possible scenarios (as I see it): there’s something wrong with the query, there’s something wrong with the plot tease, or there’s something wrong with the writing. (Of course I left out there’s something wrong with the writer, but that’s easier to conceal in a one page query.) It is not the agent’s job to correct and grade our submissions, so I’m pleased to see at least one who is willing to give her time to constructive criticism.

Anonymous said...

"Dear Snookums"! HA HA! Love it! Seriously, though...

Was reading another agent's blog where she posted a query as an example of what to do. At the end, the author explained how she'd found the agent and that she'd sent her query specifically to the agent because she knew the agent liked "X" type of stories. Then she compared her story to books already published. The agent was very pleased with this format.

Perhaps it was the type of story (historical fiction), but is that kind of information the "useless drivel" you speak of, or is it something an author should include? After swimming for a while with the Shark, I was rather surprised to see that format encouraged.

Thanks for indulging my question.