Thursday, January 15, 2015

Query Question: I have two queries...

I have two queries. One is a red-hot mess based on feedback from my critique group. The other I perfected with your help from Chum Bucket. (Thank you again! Your response felt like a big hug across the Internet). 

The problem is that the red-hot mess has gotten three requests out of ten. Two months later, the better query has netted zilch out of fifteen.

 The crummier query is starting to feel like a lucky penny, and now I'm looking at the better query like it's a stumble instead of a foot in the door. Figuring out which to use is fast becoming a philosophical question. What if there is no better query, only different queries? If you and the blog readers have a any advice, I'd much appreciate it.

Figuring out which to use? Have you taken total leave of your senses? 
This isn't a philosophical question at all.

I can't believe you're even asking.


Feedback and help and advice is great, but when it comes to results, the only thing that matters is yes or no. You have a query that's getting yes.


I don't care if I said the query is the cat's pajamas. If it's not garnering requests, DITCH IT.


Carolynnwith2Ns said...

The ‘interview’ outfit my friend’s mother bought her was perfect. It was classy, sophisticated and it made her look thinner. Her old suit, had a worn-shiny butt and two buttons missing. I told her that the old outfit made her look dowdy. (She asked, I answered truthfully.) She never got a second interview with the new outfit but the old suit got her the job. Her mother told her to donate the new one to Goodwill. She did.

Stacy said...

Somehow I've managed to find and keep good jobs while maintaining a rather embarrassing low standard of dress.

Susan Bonifant said...

Carolynnwith2Ns (ha ha, I almost typed Carolyn) you made a nice point. Correct is as correct does.

Amy Schaefer said...

Oh, good. Because I wasn't feeling disheartened enough over my query-in-progress, now I can worry about writing a good one that doesn't work.

I guess 8:25am is too early for a glass of red, isn't it. Yeah, that's what I thought.

Colin Smith said...

I love it when I read the question and know what Janet's going to say. It feels like I'm making progress in my studies here at QOTKU University. :)

And if I've learned nothing else here, it's this fundamental principle: The point of the query is to get the agent to read your work. If your hot mess succeeds in doing that, then go with your hot mess. After you've signed with your agent, your query becomes irrelevant. Unless, of course, the publisher uses it for the cover blurb, or someone wants to post your "winning query" for an article on "query success stories" or "how to write a query"... :)

Colin Smith said...

@Janet: Would you say crafting "the perfect query" is more important when the agent does not ask for a sample (e.g., first 5 pages)? I can imagine an agent reading a query and saying "This query sucks, but I like the idea, let's see if the writing's better in the pages." But if those pages aren't to hand, might that agent be more likely to just hit the "form reject" button?

Anonymous said...

Hey Colin - chalk it up to common sense.

Because, when it comes to writing, and particularly in the query realm, us woodland creatures tend to run short of this when a shark temporarily flops onto land just to take a bite out of our silly rear ends.

This question sounded like something I'd do. I would be having the ever internal argument The Shark's teeth and breath," and THIS one can't be the one that's working, it's too CRUMMY."

Sends off another SHARK HONED query.

Yeah. I'd do that.

Anonymous said...

CRAP. Must remember to re-read before hitting publish.

This is what I meant: "The Shark's teeth and breath, honed this" so THIS one can't be the one that's working, it's too CRUMMY."

Off to the liquor cabinet.

Dena Pawling said...

I once wrote a brief on a hotly contested issue [with only murky case law from the Court of Appeal] while I had the flu. By the date of oral argument, I was feeling much better.

[This actually happened, although I'm abbreviating the exchange so I don't put everyone to sleep here.]

Judge: “Mr. X [defense counsel], this brief is very eloquent and well-argued.”

Defense counsel: “Thank you, Your Honor.”

Judge, glaring at me: “I wish I could say the same thing about Plaintiff's brief.”

Me, mentally: Hey now! I wrote that brief when I had the flu. Gimme a break.

Me, audibly: “Yes, Your Honor.”

Judge: “Defendant's brief makes a surprisingly good argument about X [the issue we were contesting].”

Defense counsel: Gloats

Judge: “Does the defense wish to add anything today?”

Defense counsel, with sideways smirk at me: “No, Your Honor. Defendant's brief states all of Defendant's arguments, which I am aware Your Honor has already read and understood.”

Judge nods, turns to me: “I don't recommend using this brief as a writing sample, if you're ever looking for employment.”

Me, smarting from the benchslap: “Yes, Your Honor.”

Judge: “However, I did find one reasonably coherent argument in Plaintiff's brief, on page 12, lines 8-21.”

Me: “Thank you, Your Honor.”

Judge: “Does Plaintiff wish to add anything today?”

Me, flipping to page 12 [which thankfully was the main thrust of the argument]: “Thank you, Your Honor. Plaintiff would just like to draw the court's attention to Plaintiff's reasonably coherent argument on page 12, lines 8-21, which although not as eloquent as Defendant's brief, is a concise and accurate statement of the law [more accurate than the Court of Appeal, although I didn't say that], and is Plaintiff's position.”

Judge: “Submitted?”

Both of us: “Submitted.”

Judge: “Well, as much as Defendant makes a very eloquent and creative argument on this issue that I've never considered before, Plaintiff's argument, although definitely not the best-written argument I've ever read [raises eyebrow at me], does accurately state the interpretation of this issue as I understand it from the Court of Appeal. I'm ruling in favor of Plaintiff.”

So, which brief won?

angie Brooksby-Arcangioli said...

Maybe we should all get the flu.

Dena Pawling said...

My last line probably should have read "use the query that worked".

Anonymous said...


I tried to do the right thing with my query. I put it up on the Compuserve Books and Writers forum where I got some good tips and adjusted accordingly.

I sent it out to a number of agents. One responded to the query alone with a request for full within 8 hours. Another responded to the query within 48 hours, asking for a full. One asked for a partial within 5 days from query and first five pages.

I'd gotten some good nibbles, but what if I started getting a bunch of rejections? Remember, writers worry about everything. I better have a revised query ready just in case.

I submitted it to a critique site.

I entered a blog hop where ten people would critique my query and I would critique ten others. I did a few more in the spirit of good will.

Plus, I entered a contest and won a critique.

The first line is stupid. How can bad news arrive on a dead horse?

It's too long (almost to a man because anything over 250 words is the death knell).

I hate names with commas in them and the name of your people has a comma. The name is M'Eiryn. They suggested I go with something French like Le Meiryn.

You should stick to the solving the murder mystery plot and forget about the rest of the stuff. Well, yeah, except this isn't a murder mystery, it's epic fantasy. The murder is the inciting incident.

Focus on one incident instead of this happens, which leads to this, which leads to this and now all hell has broken loose. Keep the query body to one paragraph.

Don't include your bio. Do include your bio. Include your bio, but get rid of this line.

It was frequently called a hot mess.

So, I contacted my posse members and said I didn't know what to do. Apparently my query is all wrong.

They suggested I change one line that made one of the characters sound like a jerk and then leave it alone.

"It's getting positive responses. Why are you screwing around with it?"

Because like a sheep looking for a place to die, writers look for things to worry about.

What makes it difficult is I am pretty good about taking criticism and advice, but the advice was all over the place aside from a few points. How do I even change it aside from making it shorter? I did change it, but the posse didn't like it.

I'm back to the original query with a revised one line. If I start getting a crap ton of rejections, I'll...cry, then I'll revise.

Anonymous said...

Angie - that made me snort laugh! Little Dog growled at me after.

DLM said...

I've submitted 15 queries in the most recent round and gotten 5 Rs, no other responses yet. This same query got excellent attention before the last novel-polish, so I'm trying to tell myself "It's not me, it's them." That 5th rejection, just this morning, though, has me teetering. And the one from that guy with three historicals in my area of the world (if not my area of time) did bum me out.

I just wish I could in-person pitch 'em all. My in-person pitch rate is 100% - at least for full requests.

And yet: still not agented. Feels sometimes it'll never come.

But I have at least 100 more agents I can research, so this thing where I've been getting on the stick of late could be worthwhile.


Kregger said...

This all goes to the advice of not sending out 10K queries all at once.

Track the success of each query. When one gets hot use it.

Of course, the next thing to worry about is if the MS requests get rejections.

That's a shark bite of totally different proportions.

Colin Smith said...

Diane: This is where things get a bit murky for me (and this is related to my q for Janet further up the comments): Is a "Not for me" a reason to revise the query? Does "Not for me" mean "This is a good query, but I'm not interested in the premise" or "As it stands, this well-composed query doesn't demand my time and attention"? With the first interpretation, I'd assume there's nothing I could do to the query that would entice the agent (short of sending $100 bills with it). With the second, there might be room to spice the query up a bit and get some attention. But how's a writer to know? Perhaps after the 20th "Not for me" we should be looking at the query? Even though your critique group all loved it and are mystified that no-one else seems to?

How is your in-person pitch different? Could you write that pitch out and perhaps use that as the basis for your query? Or is it all in the eye contact, body language, and friendly banter that goes on aside from the pitch itself?

Terri Lynn Coop said...

On my list of "things to blog about."

I honed my query through feedback and opinions and agonized over it. I trimmed it down to a neat 250 words along with a single-page synopsis.

I sent it out into the query-sphere and garnered a number of requests. One of my queries, to a high-end agency, I meant to send to an associate agent and accidentally cut/pasted the email of the agency president. The guy who handles the top shelf clients and literary estates.

Here was his response:


"Thank you for your query. I appreciate the opportunity to consider your work for possible representation, but there’s not enough in your brief synopsis and sample chapter to make an informed decision. I don’t know why authors feel it necessary to make their queries so vague, as it’s so much easier for an agent to say no. If you want to send me a more detailed synopsis and/or the first 50 pages, I’ll let you know if I think [novel] is for me."


Of course, it took me about 8 seconds to submit the additional materials. After a delightful exchange, he ultimately declined, but heaped praise on me in a personalized reply. It ultimately came down to, as it always does, business.

What this shows is that one-size queries doesn't necessarily fit all. Go with the one that works. It must have some quirky note of your voice that is catching attention. All the best of luck with it!


angie Brooksby-Arcangioli said...

Last night when I was recovering from the flu I read through #pitchMAS twitter pitches and the requests from agents. Most ask for a synopsis. I also read, I think on agentQuery connect, that many agents want the bio in the first line.

Furry scurry.

I was in no condition to write a query but I did mentally outline a dystopian: the end to paper books, quel horreur. Feverish nightmares.

By the way I read an add that a paint company is hiring a wordsmith to name their wall paint swatches. I can't recall who.

S.D.King said...

This is completely off the topic, but didn't we just read that the QS office was being painted? Reading the archives (as directed) I noted that the office had just been painted in 2013.
I always think that after living with a paint job for about 10 years, you should take a good long look at the walls and plan to choose a new color in the next five years, or so.
The only reason to put yourself though the trouble of drop cloths and mess is if you smoke 3 packs of Lucky Strikes a day and the paint breaths smoke back at you.
No Shark could smoke like that and still swim.

Colin Smith said...

@SD: New offices. New paint job. The last re-paint was in the old office space which, I believe, FinePrint moved into in 2011...?

Anonymous said...

"How is your in-person pitch different? Could you write that pitch out and perhaps use that as the basis for your query?"

My in person pitch at Surrey was horrible. I stuttered and stammered. Even so, the two people I pitched to, editors with Tor and Del Rey, both requested the full. Luckily, I happened to be carrying my query and some sample pages with me and they asked to look at them. It was a quick glance, but it was enough, I suppose. The editor at Tor seemed interested that I had drawn off Celtic history and lore for one of my clans in the book.

I know I need to work on pitch before Surrey if I don't have an agent by then, but boy howdy, I hates them. I do, precious. I hates them.

Anonymous said...


Perfect example.

I would have paid to have seen the other attorney's face when the judge handed down the decision.

One of my posse members said, "It doesn't have to be a perfect query. I has to make them want to read more."

DLM said...

My in person pitch is conversation. It can't be replicated - facial expressions, chemistry, all those wonderful things that make me just ever so irresistible (no: I do not bring my pets!). I have never read a pitch at an agent, I kind of can't imagine doing that.

I did do Pitchapalooza live twice (if you are not familiar, I highly recommend watching some vids if you can find 'em), and that was fine, but let it be said that David H. Sterry and Ariel Eckstut have less than no use for my genre, so it is what it is. Lots of folks in the room both times were fulsome in their praise, and that pitch is the basis of my query.

Ten more queries still out there. The fat lady hasn't sung yet. (I'm not in the mood and my voice ain't what it used to be ...)

Colin Smith said...

Diane: I thought that in-person touch might be a crucial factor. Not to take anything away from your natural charm and winsome personality, but my understanding is that the request rate at conferences tends to be much higher than from the slush pile. There's something about "being there" that makes a difference. That kinda sucks for those of us who, due to family and financial circumstances don't get to go to conferences (another reason why I'm looking forward to Bouchercon 2015!!), but it is what it is.

Dena Pawling said...

Julie -

Most of us, when we lose a decision, walk out of court with one of three faces:
Righteous indignation
You win some, you lose some
Poker face

The face on the outside is not necessarily indicative of the sentiment on the inside. For example, sometimes when I lose, I leave court with righteous indignation on my face, even though I know full well the decision was correct.

For this specific hearing, defense counsel walked out with a win-some-lose-some face.

So don't pay to see our faces when we leave. Not worth it. It's actually more fun to watch us conduct the hearing. One such hearing [not mine, one I watched], defense counsel was losing and he should have been winning. He waved his code book at the judge and very theatrically demanded "Which one of these codes forms the basis for that ridiculous ruling?"

The sad part was, even though none of us really like this specific counsel, he was right and the judge was wrong. And everyone in the courtroom except the judge knew it.