Sunday, February 25, 2018

Wait, did I get it wrong? This other agent says

I always thought the description in a query letter should explain the premise and stakes, but not give away twists or the ending, and that the synopsis was the place to include those things. Today, I saw an agent telling writers that a spoiler-free query isn’t helpful, and that agents want to see the plot outline in the query letter itself. Should I change my query letters to outline the plot?

By some chance was that an agent based in the UK?
I've heard tell that our Across the Pond Duckies like to see the full plot in a query.

Unless otherwised noted, a query contains only the first act (at most) of a book. It gives us a sense of where things change for Our Guyz, and what's at stake. No twists, no endings. No spoilers.

Every time you see advice that makes you question something you've learned here, take a look at who's offering it up.  UK and US agents do have different expectations. And some agents are just wrong. And some agents mistake their personal preferences for industry standards.

Some agents like to hear effusive compliments. The rest of us are ok with just hearing about a good book you'd like us to sell.

I've ranted and raved enough about how I think personalization is a waste of your time but this is the exception. If an agent says she wants the whole kiss and canoodle in the query, well, ok, there ya go.

Social media can be a great way to learn tips for effective querying, but don't believe everything you see.


RosannaM said...

Kiss and Canoodle, I might have to steal that one some day!

Consider the source. Very wise words. Personalizing every query would be a major time waste, but to do it judiciously sounds fine, although I probably would save it for last.

So disappointed I missed your last contest--had an entry (weirdly similar to Timothy Lowe's) but then we had windstorm that took a tree down on our power lines and lost power for 12 hours. Sad, but I loved the winning entry. So clever!

Lennon Faris said...

I've seen a few (US) agents insist that a query gives you a tiny synopsis with the ending included. Since I take the QOTKU's advice as industry standard unless otherwise stated, I figure they're wrong, but whatever. If that's what they want, that's what they'll get from me. Maybe it's just a test to make sure I've peeked at their website.

Our basement sprung a leak (prob several) last night and we've been guiding the gushing rivers towards the drain ever since. Feels like a cold jungle in here. Hope everyone's Sunday is less watery than mine!

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

LENNON, less watery...Ha...I've got a river running through my driveway where a dry-ditch has existed forever. Where's Noah when you need him?

Oh, regarding the subject at hand, if I spring my surprise in a query the wholymacinoly spoiler aspect becomes nothing more than old news BUT if my query can snag 'em enough to blow their panties of...gosh golly gee whiz.

Beth Carpenter said...

It's hard enough to get the whole story into a synopsis, much less in a query letter, but if that's what the agent wants...

It sound like the forces of wind and water are acting out today. Good luck to everyone fighting them. Snow here.

One Of Us Has To Go said...

"Effusive" - there it is again 😍.

"Effusive compliments", "kiss and canoodle"... Or "pulling an agent (into bed)"??

I can only repeat how irritated I was when I saw that tweet from agent I-can't-say-her-name-otherwise-you'll-tell-the-whole-world-I'm-bad-and-I'll-never-get-an-agent :

"I'm not going to lie. When reading queries I'm completely won over by compliments." (December 2017, 43 likes!)

I queried that agent and she rejected within 52 minutes. I had no compliments in my letter... Slap in the face with my manuscript, ha ha...

Julie Weathers said...

My son has Darkest Hour on his tv. I watched it while I was babysitting the other night, so he asked me the next day if I had watched it. "Yes, it was pretty good."

"I haven't watched it yet."

"Oh, then I won't spoil it for you."

"Yeah, because I don't remember who won the war."

"Nitwit. I was talking about some stuff with Churchill's battles in the movie." Then we got involved in an in-depth discussion of Churchill. Thank God, he reads history books instead of anime so I have someone to carry on conversations with.

Anyway, he has this knack for condensing books and movies down to their core in an interesting way. You should read this, it's about _____. You'll like it. It's Mom rated.

Agents in the UK do indeed want a mini-synopsis.

When I get to the query stage again, it will be back to the research wheel. Who wants what how, because they will have changed since the last time I queried.

Those panels at conferences prove how different they all are. Yes! No! Maybe!

MA Hudson said...

I’ve noticed that UK agents ask for a cover letter too, which is a whole other exercise in pulling out hair! Ah, publishing - not for anyone with a remotely faint heart, thin skin, or lazy bones.

Cecilia Ortiz Luna said...

Apparently, that's how it works here in Canada, too. The acquisitions editor of one of the top publishing companies here told me in a blue pencil session that queries should include everything; hook, line and spoilers.

One Of Us Has To Go said...

When an agent says "send a query, synopsis, bio and first 10 pages", what does "bio" mean?

Is it an extra, additional thing on its own (like a resume) or is it the few lines about yourself within the query?


Claire said...

Having spent some time in the UK query trenches, I feel qualified to confirm that what they're looking for is quite different. Every agent I submitted to wanted a cover letter, a full synopsis (1-3 pages) and the first 3 chapters of the novel (or occasionally the first 10,000 words). This is what's known as the standard submission package over here. And the cover letter is much more of a standard business letter, opening with "Dear Agent SuperDeDooper, I am seeking representation for my first novel, RISE OF THE CARKOONIANS, an historical fantasy of 750,000 words..." or similar.

Melanie Sue Bowles said...

One Of Us... I would say BIO means a bit about yourself as it pertains to your writing life. Agents don't need/want to know how you met your significant other or that pistachio ice cream is your favorite flavor. More along the lines of what organizations you belong to, such as SCBWI or Mystery Writers of America and so on. Have you won any writing contests? Been published in any magazines? Write a successful blog?

Lennon, Sorry to hear about the basement leaks. So many folks getting a lot of rain. We got enough here at the sanctuary to turn the pastures green. YAY!

Today, I built two hall trees. Constructed out of beadboard harvested from the old shotgun house on our property.

AJ Blythe said...

Oz is more in line with the US. A query letter doesn't reveal all, that's for the synopsis, and you submit query and x pages.

One Of Us Has To Go said...

Thanks, Melanie.

I had got that I don't put favourite flavour of ice cream.

I meant that, given the order of an agent's requirements list sometimes is "query, synopsis, bio and 10 pages", it is not clear to me whether the 4 lines within my query qualifies as that bio or that a separate "document" is required.

Whenever I submitted I have ignored the bio in that list.

Steve Stubbs said...

Opinions vary. I got an excellent paid query critique from an editor who thinks we should start with category and word count. The reason is of course that agents want to reject as quuickly as possible so they can go on to reject the next one. Give them a crappy first sentence and make life easy for them. One agent said on the internet to PLEASE have a missing comma or misplaced comma in the first sentence so he could reject you.

The most extreme case is getting deleted without anyone even opening the e-mail. I look at the agent's client list. If she reps women only and works for an agency that hires women agents only, I don't even bother to query. No sense wasting bandwidth.

Hiring managers are more blunt in the engineering business. My favorite help wanted poosting said, "Must be an H-1B visa holder. Arrogant Americans need not apply." This was an American company. They don't hire Americans. Managers favor H-1B visa holders on the theory they work cheap. Another one I liked said, "Must be fluent in at least five languages spoken only on the Indian subcontinent." This was also fora job in the US. It did not matter if candidates spoke Hindi, Bengali, or whatever. If the manager himself is a desi, he will not hire a Chinese H-1B visa holder. Cynthia Shapiro calls those "secret hiring requirements," althohgh in the engineering biz there is nothinj remotely secret about them. A Japanese comnpany got in trouble with the government for classifying candidates as "Akis" (Japanese ancestry), "Methuselahs" (over forty years old and therefore to be age discriminated out of their careers), etc. One engineering manager said to me, "You can look around and see what we hire. We hire kids in their twenties." Over thirty need not apply. Now whenever I go to any company for any reason, I look around and see what they hire. One retail electronics company, now out of business, made the news for age discriminating their employees out the door for turning TWENTY.

Another fave of mine was for a technician job. A technician is a rung lower and makes half as much money as an engineer. There was a long, and I mean LONG, list of certifications required, and the offered salary was $4.75/hour, which is way below the legal minimum wage. The posting said candidate would work 90 days and if they liked him, he would take his first cut in pay.

Everybody has secret hiring criteria, and they have nothing to do with performance. If you can spot the agent's secret hiring criteria, self select yourself out of the queue. Maybe you have to have three heads to get accepted.

Other than that I think you have the right idea. Use an inverted pyramid structure. Start a query with the most interesting stuff, then let it get more boring as it winds on.

E.Maree said...

Agented Brit reporting in! Most UK agents request:
* A cover letter, which is a more formal format than a query letter.
* In the cover letter, there needs to be a one-paragraph/'elevator pitch' summary of the book. (Here's a tip: you can usually use a very condensed version of your US query for this, or use your Twitter pitch if you take part in pitch contests.)
* ATTACHED to the cover letter, a one-to-three-page synopsis. (Page amount varies by agency.)
* ATTACHED to the cover letter, sample chapters. (Varies by agency, anywhere from one chapter to 50 pages.)

It seems like a daunting format change, but it's not too bad apart from the dreaded and very vital synopsis. I'm always slightly boggled that all the agencies here still use attachments, but it's nice not to have to worry about e-mail clients screwing up my formatting!

E.Maree said...

Forgot to answer the actual question in the post...

I've never seen a UK agency ask in its guidelines for the ending to be revealed in the cover letter. Cover letters usually reveal *less* than US queries because of the elevator pitch/one paragraph format.

The attached synopsis needs the ending, sure, (and that's usually stated very loudly and clearly in the guidelines, which might be where the confusion stems) but that's the same as when a US agent requests a synopsis.

I do wonder at the phrase 'spoiler-free query' that Opie used, though. I've seen a few queries that are very vague and coy about the story, reading more like back-cover blurbs than queries. It might be that the agent was encouraging readers to not hold back details that might hook them.

Sometimes you want to know that the Carkoon rebels are going to recruit your protag and try to overthrow the Reef, even if it's a mild spoilers for the second-act, y'know? If the query only covers the first act, with the protag struggling in the Carkoonian catfood factories, it might not have the same hook.

E.Maree said...

Ack! When I say 'readers' I mean 'querying writers', of course.

Colin Smith said...

Those Brits... a dodgy bunch, if you ask me... ;)

Sam Hawke said...

Jumping in to say my experience gels precisely with Emma's - don't recall any UK agents wanting spoilers in the query letter, because for them the cover letter is more of a formality and contains barely anything about the plot - they tend to all read pages and assess the writing from that, then use a synopsis to assess whether the plot holds together.

But agents have their own special things they want - if they say they want it, give it to them! :)

Kristin Kisska said...

"...a query contains only the first act (at most) of a book."
This guideline is so simple, so intuitive, yet until the moment I'd read this, so elusive.
Thank you for saving me from query-TMI (this time around).

JEN Garrett said...

The query is supposed to do one thing: entice the agent to want to read more. End of story.

(Well, actually that isn't the end of story because if you've done your job the agent will want to read more.)