I sent the question about some agents wanting a two paragragh "intriguing" query and some wanting a full on synopsis, and what to do when you don't know what they want. I've encountered many submission guidelines like Wendy Sherman's unfortunately, I didn't write them down and can't remember who the heck they were.
Here are the guidelines from Wendy Sherman Associates.
- Write a gripping query letter
- Tell us why your project would be a good fit for our agency
- Tell us why this book has an audience, and why you’re the one to write it (particularly for non-fiction)
- Include information about your credentials to write this book, publications and prizes, awards, and conferences
- Compare your book to other titles that are similar
- Tell us which well-known writer’s work yours resembles
- Limit your query to one page
- Include a double-spaced table of contents and overview (non-fiction)
- Include a double spaced 1st chapter (fiction)
- Provide us with your email, phone number, and address
- Tell us what happens in your book. It’s not a book jacket or a movie trailer–don’t tease us, we need to know!
- Read the books on how to find an agent – there are several. There is much valuable information that will help you throughout this process
Only when I actually read these guidelines did I understand how query guidelines can be disconcerting for the sophisticated querier.
The sophisticated querier is someone who has spent a lot of time and care researching guidelines, publishing terms, looking for what an agent wants.
The vast amounts of information now available to queriers means that more of you are sophisticated, and savvy about the process than ever before.
Look at that list again. There are 12 bullet points. Tally up how many of them you already knew. My guess is between 10 and 12, right?
Here's where the trouble starts. "Tell us what happens in your book" means something different to you than it does to the casual querier. I have only to look at my incoming queries to understand that "tell me what your book is about" is NOT a given.
However, if you've spent any time at all in the query trenches, you KNOW to write two enticing paragraphs. When someone says "it's not a book jacket or a movie trailer" you think...oh! I should be writing something that isn't the standard two paragraph enticement.
In fact, this bullet point is asking for EXACTLY what I've been hammering you on over at Query Shark. It's asking for the main character, the choices s/he faces and what's at stake.
If you're reading various agency guidelines, and all the bullet points seem pretty obvious to you, don't over think the one that isn't. It's probably exactly what you thought it was the first time you saw it. Don't over think. Don't over analyze.
I've quite often been asked for a synopsis at the query stage. The first time was a bit jarring, but it was actually really good practise for me, writing it. After that I had the synopsis for whenever I needed it.
Am I to assume you thought my choices for which movie stars would play my characters in the movie adaptation of my query was "overdoing" it? Is this blog post a direct response to my recent query about Felix Buttonwheezer and his Carkoon alien adventures? Does this mean you don't love me? ;)
For me, I like to think of querying as a business proposition to an agent. In business, you follow guidelines to a reasonable degree. That means if they are there, and they make sense, you do them. You follow directions as a professional courtesy to show you care about the guidelines and aren't afraid of the potentially added work.
If, however, what is being asked doesn't result in what the asker seems to want (aka a normal well-crafted query), it may be best to ignore the confusing piece or take it more lightly in order to send the intended or more standard materials. I'd assume the agency (or the writer of the guidelines) had some particularly strange fringe queries that brought even the use of sentences or punctuation into question, and thus felt a need to request materials that are not written in Carkoonish (sorry guys... it was my fault).
In business, you follow guidelines. When approaching a business partner, you also follow guidelines, right up until the moment where your ears start buzzing. Because if they really do mean "abandon all reason and send every other word of your query," my guess is you probably don't want to work with that particular agent/agency.
Great question! Great post!
And you'll have to excuse my enthusiasm. I'm on coffee #6 and my favorite baristas just made me test a few espresso shot pulls, so things are starting to fly by at the speed of light.
I watched a video once of an agent reading and rejecting query letters, ostensibly to shed light on the reason so many are passed on. The vast majority didn't make it because the story idea just didn't appeal to the agent. In fact, many seemed to tire, even annoy the agent. Not once did the agent say, "See? Here's someone else who just can't follow instructions."
I respect submission guidelines like all of us do. But before we get worked up over compliance, we should remember that compliance is a matter of professionalism. It is not a password. It won't gain us entry if a tired or annoyed agent is for-the-love-of-sharks, looking for something s/he hasn't seen before.
As a little forest animal, I learned that I will live longer if I do both: craft the perfectly compliant query letter, but still know that outcome depends on lots and lots of things that can't be articulated on the guidelines.
Hmmm. You see, I look at these four:
*Tell us why this book has an audience, and why you’re the one to write it (particularly for non-fiction)
*Include information about your credentials to write this book, publications and prizes, awards, and conferences
*Compare your book to other titles that are similar
*Tell us which well-known writer’s work yours resembles
and I think, "really? This is required?"
And as for "Read the books on how to find an agent"--you don't even need to crack the spine on a book. There are plenty of online resources that will steer you right (this place, for example).
Surely a query that fulfills "Write a gripping query letter" has already done the job, and the rest is just the fruit and yogurt on the bowl of Special K? Sorry, it's breakfast time... :)
Brian, now you've done it. Do you hear that? That's a bell clanging to announce, "We have another Felix ButtonWHeezer spelling variation!" We gotta start a list.
And that comment about your sixth coffee? I almost shot coffee out of my nose at your "things are starting to fly by at the speed of light." Hilarious!!!
kdjames, if you're reading the blog this a.m., I just wanted you to know I just read your comment from last night and I suppose yesterday's topic was one of those where a lot can be "lost in translation," when it comes to sharing information/thoughts. After you wrote your comment in reply to mine, I could see the direction you were headed. Thanks for explaining where you were coming from and I agree, none of us really knows enough about the questioner's situation, but hopefully they did find a few possibilities to help them through the tough times.
As to the post, I love this, "Don't over think. Don't over analyze." I gotta put that up somewhere b/c it is SO relevant to certain things going on at the moment.
If you've got some time, here's an interesting roundtable discussion with literary agents Jodi Reamer (Writers House), Kim Witherspoon (Inkwell Management), Robert Gottlieb (Trident Media), Sloan Harris (ICM), Eric Simonoff (WME), Christy Fletcher (Fletcher & Company).
In the gleaning of the day you need a beacon. You make a pyre of you query. It needs to burn brightly to suck in agents light moths to a flame. It must also burn through the brillig and until dawn.
The trite, contrite and cute are just flash in the pan kind of things. You need to supply all of the elements of sustained combustion or risk a form rejection. Those elements are the four Cs:
Whatever any agents asks for those four things must be found in the ashes.
Rats, I was hoping to skimp on one of those so I could get my query to get past the two initial mysteries and into the thriller part that comes later. Such is life when you want to write a manuscript to read like a house afire. I want my products to be difficult to put down. I want the first page to light the fuse. I want my readers up all night because it pulled the sleep from their eyes.
Doing that is a mother to query though.
For good or ill, I reached a point in the query process where I decided that my "regular query" (that is, the one written based on the learnings of the Query Shark) was the one I was going to use for all my queries. Aside from a bit of personalization from time to time I stopped trying to change it to meet whatever "guidelines" different agencies suggested. It was making me crazy!
So far the Query Police haven't...
Hey wait, there's someone at the door.
Basically it all comes down to the writing. The guidelines are out there for direction, but there are some fantastic queries on Query Shark that break all the rules and are still amazingly enticing, and that's because the writing is so darn good! I second Craig about having the four "C's," but as a caveat, those "C's," have to be incorporated using good writing.
Thanks for posting this. I read this as I choke down my gruel. I am on the dreaded d-i-e-t, which requires things like whole grains instead of biscuits and gravy, Virginia ham steaks, eggs over easy, and lots of hashbrowns with more gravy. Oh, the inhumanity!
I could use some of Brian's coffee.
I slavishly read guidelines and confess if they are too confusing for my woodland creature brain, I set them off to the bottom of the list. A friend has offered to refer me to her agent when I finish revisions. He keeps a very low online presence, so I won't be able to do my usual stalking. Can you see me getting the jitters even thinking about no pre-contact stalking?
Eric Ruben, Esq. does #tenqueries every now and again. He recently posted that he would no longer post queries from people he passed because they didn't follow instructions. If you glance through that feed, he passes on a lot for that reason. "I don't rep this." "Never, ever send attachments. You were told this." "No, query letter, just a chapter." etc.
He doesn't have outlandish instructions. They're pretty straight forward and short and yet people still can't get it right. I weep, but that kind of puts us ahead of the game, doesn't it?
You know, thinking back to the conversation a couple of days ago about elevator pitches, I have actually perfected mine. It's I'm pretty sure would surprise any agent. It might even delight them...or make them flee. On the plus side, the Gnomies have a bail bond slush fund, because...reasons.
I'm going to, in a relatively empty elevator, say, "I'd like to pitch to you, Ms. Reid." Then wind up and throw her my imaginary baseball.
Spelling is by no means my strong suit. When I was in fourth grade, they put me into the spelling bee because I was reading at the highest level in the class. And then they watched me spell...
Needless to say, I wasn't e-n-v-i-t-e-d back. ;)
Felix just seemed like a wheezer. Perhaps from smoking too many cigars in an attempt to look cool?
I'm happy to report my hand and eye movements are finally back to 100x normal human speed -- which is just a pinch above average for me.
Colin, I took some of the points you highlighted to be of the sort which would be covered with comp titles plus, perhaps, previous publishing credentials and/or degree work.
I've found that the spread of agents who DO want a synopsis up front and those who do not have been keeping me off balance. Because I hadn't written a synopsis yet. But, in the wake of my first full request (!!!!), I've banged one out and have folks looking at it. So there's that.
Congratulations! A request for a full is huge.
Jennifer: To echo Julie, CONGRATS on the full request! :D
I would be the last one to snub my nose at submission guidelines intended to help the querier. As much as I may scratch my head, I honestly believe agents are trying their best to help us, and are, perhaps, often as confused about what writers need to know as we are about what agents want.
That said, I wonder how many, in their heart-of-hearts, really just need the QOTKU query structure:
1) Appropriate greeting (using some form of the actual agent's name), and maybe a mention of where the agent might know you, if relevant ("I cried on your shoulder at the last Synopsis Summer Camp on Carkoon").
2) A paragraph or two selling the novel to the agent, incorporating the 4 Cs (see Craig's comment).
3) Title, Word Count, and best approximation of genre (more than "novel"--never "fiction novel"--but don't sweat it if you can't nail your precise marketing demographic).
4) Appropriate sign-off.
5) Do the above in 250 words or less.
The hardest part about writing the query should be (and really is) #2. Yes, writers often over-think these things, but I think agents, in their desire to make the process as clear as possible, over-explain, and try to get too granular in their expectations, which only ends up fueling writers' over-thinking.
My question(s) to agents: When was the last time you requested because the querier spelled your name correctly, gave good comp titles, had an MFA, or correctly identified their novel as YA Urban Fiction? And how many queries have you requested from because they sold you on #2 above?
That's what I think anyway. :)
Julie: aside from people not paying attention, one of the problems could be agents not updating their Querytracker profile. Spend any time on the comment thread and you will probably see some cautionary tales. And there's always the agent mea culpa tweet where they finally realize why woodland creatures were submitting whatever genre irks them. And you have to be in-the-know to submit to Janet correctly. The agency site, I believe, asks for a synopsis, which we all know is a big no-no. So, just a rambling way to say that's there is so much wrong information out there that a lot of the dunderheads could be in the right.
Congrats on the full, Jennifer! Fingers crossed for you!
And thank you Colin for the QOTKU query structure! I agree the writing itself is most important, and while we shouldn't over-think #2, it's probably good to ensure #2 has been through beta readers (with teeth) before submitting.
As far as an MFA goes, I'm getting one, but not because I want to put it on a query letter. From what I understand, agents see "MFA" on a query letter so often they can probably make a drinking game out of it.
I'm interested in the genre question too--my guess is agents probably want to see if the querier knows their audience, and which category their book would land in a bookstore.
If it helps, I think there's a pretty good genre break-down somewhere on Absolute Write. YA is trickier, because in most bookstores, YA is the only designation and sub-categories aren't always mentioned.
But all this does is echo Colin's wonderful point: "...agents are trying their best to help us, and are, perhaps, often as confused about what writers need to know as we are about what agents want."
And, to quote Elizabeth Gilbert, "We are all students."
Seen on her Facebook page this morning:
We are all just students
Ahhhhhhhhh, a full for Jennifer.
Congrats and good luck. I would be up all night, every night, until, "I love it, please let me be yours", comes through.
Not that I worry or overthink these things (much). I have come to the conclusion that queries are like interview outfits, or speed dating get-ups, every once in a while you have to wash and iron or get a new one.
Which makes me wonder, do I look fat in this?
BTW I've been thinking a lot about yesterday's OP. So sad and near desperate. There's gotta be a job out there, something, anything, on line or local. I just can't get that person's situation out of my mind. It's like seeing a guy holding a piece of cardboard, "will work for food" and then driving by because you just spent your last dime filling your tank. (Do you give the guy a buck and he drives away in a Hummer, or does your dollar feed a kid)?
But, my God, what happens when the only hope you have is MS Word, a ream of 20 weight and a stapler?
I wish we could do something.
Just to be clear: I'm not trying to speak for QOTKU. That break-down of the QOTKU query is a distillation of my understanding of what she has said here and on Query Shark. If I'm wrong, I hope she or someone will correct me. :)
Brian - you aren't the first, you probably won't be the last on the ole Buttonweezer, Buttonweazer, Buttonwheezer churn of spellings.
As we discussed out here before when Felix's name was last butchered (which is really an excessive expression for the fact you added one letter too many), try having my last name, which is my married name, but still. The horror.
I'll let your mind wander on the possibilities. :>/
CONGRATS JENNIFER DONOHUE!
Oh, I agree with this. I drive myself nuts following agents who complain when someone sends them yet another WWII or southern fiction and they don't like them. Then I go to their site and there is nary a word about not like these genres. I mean if these bother you enough for an auto pass, then please mention this and save everyone some time.
Mr. Ruben, on the other hand has a very few, very specific guidelines that are very easy to follow. The primary ones being no attachments, these are genres I don't rep.
JW Which is also stands for Jess Waten
Jennifer, congrats on the request for a full! Hope it leads to great things for you.
Donnaeve, I am reading the blog today (pm, not am, because nocturnal). Thank you for your comment, you're very gracious.
Something I've found surprisingly helpful in writing a short synopsis is to ask a friend who has read the story to draft something. Or preferably several friends, so you have a selection. And then re-write it, in your own words and voice, using their input. Other people often see a story more clearly than the writer does. Good readers are worth their weight in wine and chocolate and gratitude.
Thanks to our dear QOTKU, I'm no longer as worried about my query letter. I can shift and change the copy fairly easily - it's just moving words around. And I no longer fear synopses - after having written a few for a couple different novels, it no longer seems so daunting.
And thank you, Janet, for clarifying this topic. I have seen a few agencies or agents who tend to go with other formats. In a workshop I was in, Kristin Nelson mentioned she wanted the title and wordcount up front. P.S. Literary gives very specific guidelines for what they want in each paragraph of a query letter. These don't throw me - again, it's just moving copy around. As long as we know the four Cs, writing a query letter is a piece of cake.
Julie, I know some people don't like #tenqueries, but I honestly think more people should read them - especially if they don't follow Query Shark. So many of these tweets are as you've said: "I don't rep this genre." "I don't open attachments." "I don't care if your mom/dog/friendly ghost likes your story." Yes, there are a lot that are: "I'm not excited by this concept." "I really don't like vampires." "I like the idea, but not the characters." As Janet has said many times, you don't want an agent who doesn't LOVE your book. And this 'love' is subjective. But I would much rather be rejected with "I don't love these characters (even if they must be heartless souls to think so)" than with, "I say very specifically in my guidelines that I don't open attachments."
Brian: Felix Unger was a wheezer. Perhaps that's where that idea came from?
Jennifer: Congrats on the full request!
Lizzie: I don't trust agents to have updated profiles everywhere a writer might look. I'll always go to the website, because that should always be up-to-date. It may not always be correct - as in Janet's case - but it will be the first place an agent looks to see if there's something wrong. QueryTracker is a good tool for writers, but it's not necessarily a priority for agents. Even Publisher's Market may not have up-to-date querying information. The only thing that might be more up-to-date than the website would be the agent's blog (assuming they post regularly.)
And I am sorry if I seem to be a bit out of sorts today. No, I'm not out of coffee, but I am trying two days without coffee. My celiac tummy has been complaining for over a week - it never goes on this long - so I'm avoiding anything that might irritate it. That includes coffee. Good thing I don't have to talk to anyone in person today. Kind of hard to edit spoken nastiness.
Julie, I wish I could say that I'm putting this in after my 'big' post because I was writing the post when you posted it... but I can't, in all honesty, do that.
I honestly didn't get 'Jess Waten'.
Unless it's not supposed to be a pun. In which case, please ignore this and every other post I make today, because my brain is fried for lack of caffeine.
Congratulations Jennifer, making it to the next rung of the publication ladder.
Felix Buttonweezer/weazer/wheezer: I guess I imagined him...buttonshaped with a loud, striped suit, and a bejeweled gaudy gold ring on his finger.
As several of the vommenters have affirmed--Don't over think. Don't over analyze--is a good mantra for the query letter. Now, if can I just figure out how to apply that to my own writing of a query letter. Easypeasy? Ha!
Querying is a lot like bungee jumping. Scary as hell, and it might kill you, although most people get away with only injuring only their dignity.
The first time I went bungee jumping, I was in Florida back in my late 20s. I *may* have imbibed a giant alcohol fruity drink or three. I said, "I wanna do that," and my husband said, "Don't be crazy, you're afraid of heights." Well that did it. Nothing like a challenge, right? So we paid our $25 and I went up the elevator thingie 1000 feet up to the jumping off point. Tell you what, 1000 feet up is a LOT higher up from the top than it is from the bottom. Meaning, by the time I stood (shaking violently and now totally sober) on the ledge thing, it felt like 10,000 feet. The guy explained the very simple instructions. I said, "Wait, what?" and made him go over it again. And again. I said, "Do I count to three and THEN jump, or jump on three? Do I hold my breath? Do I hold the strap? What were the instructions again?"
Finally, I just DID IT. I held my breath and jumped. Booya! It was so fun!!! When I was done, I thought, what the heck was the big deal? Sure there are basic instructions, but it's not brain surgery. It's not as hard as say, writing a novel or winning a Janet Reid flash fiction contest or eating a plate of lima beans. Sometimes you gotta just jump.
Yesterday’s commenter has been on my mind as well. I wish there was a way to donate a little to the cause, without revealing the OP’s identity. If someone figures out a way to do that, please let me know. Woodland creatures need to stick together.
bj: Every agent should require queriers to read Query Shark before even attempting to write them. :)
You may have noticed that the Buttonweezers have a long history with Carkoon, and I have it on good authority that the current spelling of the name is only the latest variant. The Buttonweezer family tree has Buttonwheazers, Buttonweazers, and Buttonwheezers among others, so who's to say what's right and wrong?
There are even rumors of a lost family of Buttockwheezers. I rather think they were disowned rather than lost. :)
Colin, isn't that where the Buttonwheazer Scholarship comes from, which covers one unlucky writer's tuition at the Carkoon Reform School For Writers Who Say "Irregardless?"
Also, the Carkoon rumor mill has it that Felix had a cousin, one Una Zipperwheazer, whom everyone considered rather fast.
Christina: The very same! In fact, there was a representative from the Reform School sniffing around here yesterday looking for "fiction novel" writers.
Ah... Una. I heard she was a bit loose, too. :)
I can't breathe. Ya'll are killing me.
Don't forget about Vel Croweezer.
Oh, Donna--the sad story of Vel and his other half. Torn apart so tragically...
I heard Lacey Upwheezer was kind of a prude, but if you pulled the right strings, she could be very loose.
Since today saw the release of the second trailer for the upcoming Star Wars movie, I thought I should point something out. Fans of the series might notice a name resemblance between this planet we call Carkoon, and that dread pit on Tatooine in which dwelt a ravenous sarlacc.
Just to set the record straight: the pit was named after our beloved armpit of an exile planet. That sarlacc was a former dictator who managed to escape assassination when he tried to ban lima beans. He fled to Tatooine, but, still feeling much affection for his home planet, named the pit after Carkoon.
This will all come to light in Episode CIII. Just wait... :)
Weren't the Upwheezers related to the Grommitwheezers? I remember when their son Levi came out of the closet. Oh snap!
And this - friends - is how an innocent Buttonwheezer turns a comment board into a disaster zone.
What have I done...
Lacey refused to talk about Levi. Said his parents disowned him when he started to fray at the seams.
I'm sorry. I'm a terrible gossip.
Some people even said Lacy DENIM in ...
So, who do you think will run with Hilary Buttonweazer? Bill Buttonweazer as VP...I don't think so.
I love her mother Betty-White Buttonweazer and her kids Chelsey, Donny and Marie Buttonweazer.
Christina, I just got it, hahahahahah !!!!
Hmm. Maybe that's why Lacey refused to talk about him. I always thought the tales of him were stonewashed...
The reCaptcha made me choose coffees from a list of beverages. But how do I know some of those liqueur's weren't coffee liqueurs?
And if I were able to delete my own post, I could go back and remove that rogue apostrophe...
Now it wants me to choose the wines. I'm too stuck on coffee to think about wine...
Laughing in court is highly frowned upon here. And I've been the recipient of several frowns today........... =)
"Sorry Your Honor. They had me at Zipperwheezer. No it's not referring to Your Honor. Yes Your Honor, I agree I need to put my phone away. Thank you, Your Honor, for not finding me in contempt."
It's the Baskin Robbins of querying. Guess you gotta pick your favorite flavors. Vanilla or chocolate plus whatever.
Craig, did you see you made the top of QOTKU blog? Thanks for those 4 C's.
Ugh, just finished a condominium meeting. Felix wasn't there but I wheezed through it anyway.
By the time I got to the bottom of the comments I'd been laughing so hard about the plight of the poor -wheezer family I forgot what the original question was.
Have just reread.
Being one of the more timid of woodland creatures, Wryterrus timidus, a cave dweller, I agonise over the submission requirements. Will try and take onboard the QOTKU advice to not overthink.
@ Kitty - Thanks for the link; very very interesting watch.
@ Jennifer - Congratulations!
@ Karen - Liz Gilbert rocks! She's my fave author.
I just heard, there's a *insert prefix name here *weezer,wheezer, weazer reunion on Carkoon!
Levi's coming (hide your hearts) Oh and Vel says the Croweezers won't attend. They can't seem to hold it together.
BJ, according to Brian, if you drink enough coffee it's better than wine.
!!!Weird, I just had to select SOUPS for reCAPTCHA. (all of the images of soup)
My favorite question: "and why you’re the one to write it."
Umm, the words were in MY head.
Lol, AJ I sometimes read from the bottom of the comments before I read the post to see how long it takes me to work out the general topic. ;)
As a woodland creature, I never know whether to be frustrated or relieved by how many #tenqueries are people not following the guidelines. On the one hand, it's frustrating because you don't learn anything about the agent from that. But on the other, it's nice to get a picture of what (surprisingly large) percentage of the hundreds of queries they get a week because that's an easy way to dispense with half the competition for their attention!
I actually made someone's #tenqueries last week - at least I think I did. That was pretty fun!
Fantastic news, Jennifer! Congratulations. :-)
Donna and Bj: don't try Brian's coffee at home alone. ;-)
Kitty, great link: thank you.
Karen, I just liked Elizabeth Gilbert's FB page.
I'm so tired, I'm bumping into walls…goodnight Janet and lovely commenters.
Back in a former life, I used to write cartoon strips. I'm not much of a cartoonist, but I did sell a few, but I was pretty good at coming up with ideas and writing the strips. Jess Waten was one of my old cowboys in one strip. It is a play on words. "Just Waiting"
When I had my real estate company, it was JW Realtors and the agents who got along with me went along with the Jess Waten thing. "Hey, JW, how's it going?"
"You know me, jess waten."
Unless, it was Sarah. She was there one day when the secretary had a come to Jesus meeting with the agents about turning in their signs before they got their commission checks.
"You just pretend like she's God and this is the eleventh commandment."
Sarah showed up with some post it notes the next week that said, "From The Desk Of God" It had a cloud with a lightning bolt on it.
When she called, she asked for god.
I know, I've already asked for forgiveness.
Oh good. I got the joke, and it was a joke, after all. I'm okay then. :)
And it's a great cowboy name. :)
Thanks for supplying the answer to the hardest question of the above query requirements.
learning more about the Buttonweezer family tree has been....instructive. Funny what comes out when you shake it, sometimes (or other appropriate metaphor, if Carkoon is in fact Desert Planaet [not to be confused with another planet which uses said moniker])
Thanks for the congrats and well wishes everybody! I've sent off the synopsis and my full and we'll see if that tree bears fruit ^^
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