Wednesday, July 03, 2019

do all y'all need a refresher course on query format? (yes you do)

Gail Gilmore recently had a lovely blog post about querying and securing representation.
Which resulted in my query inbox filling up right quick.
Which is a-ok with me. I love queries.

But it also seems that many of the queriers have not read this blog, or QueryShark.

Thus, they are not as well versed in what a query by email should look like as one might hope.

Thus this refresher:

YES: Query for Thwarting Forti (a novel in verse) by Felix Buttonweezer
Nothing else, UNLESS specified by the agent.

YES:  Dear Ms Reid/Dear Janet/Dear Snookums;

NO: Dear Agent/Yo! /Dear Agent Reid/Dear Barbara Poelle (unless you are querying Barbara Poelle, which you should)

Steve Forti has thwarted Janet Reid in every flash fiction contest since Dog was a pup. She tried everything to confound him, but he always came out on top. She now has a fixation on thwarting Mr. Forti that has taken an unhealthy turn.

She plans to replace his QWERTY keyboard so whatever he types will be gibberish on the other end. It will require a little light burglary, avoiding the Forti Hound from Hell, and disabling the alarm.

What she doesn't know is that Mr. Forti has been a puppet of the nefarious Dena Pawling who has used the flash fiction entries to send coded messages to her team of librarian warriors intent on rounding up overdue books around the world, and sending the due-date-delinquents to the hoosegow. Thwarting Forti will flummox Pawling, and a flummoxed Pawling is a dangerous - and frightening - thing.

Working at cross-purposes, with competing agendas, the fate of libraries around the world - the guardians of democracy - hangs in the balance.

NO: My novel is about the heartache, trials and tribulations of a poor, overworked agent and the many people put on this earth to keep her from her reading couch.

NO: The theme of my novel is (anything.)

YES: This ensemble caper novel runs 68,000 words. It comes with blurbs pried from helpless blog readers, and the author's 68-million name mailing list.

NO: My novel is suspense/women's fiction with a splash of haiku, much like Ogden Nash crossed with Nash Bridges, and if James Joyce had written it.

YES: I am the author of three previous novels: Kale Fields at Dawn (Carkoon Press:2015); Kale Fields at Lunch (Carkoon Press: 2016) and Kale ForEver (Carkoon Press: 2017)

In my spare time, I read library books (but don't keep them past the due date.) [see how that fits in with the plot?]

NO: Felix Buttonweezer is the author of three previous novels...

NO: I can get blurbs from these 17 NYT Bestsellers, including two who are dead.

NO: I am going to  (anything). [no predicting the future]

NO: I've been previously published (with no details.)

NO: I'm really boring.

NEVER: I'm just a stay at home mom. [Dismissing the most important work you'll do in your life as just a mom is simply unacceptable. I may need to come to your house and explain this.]

YES: I'm querying you because I liked what you said in a recent blog post/I love Patrick Lee's The Breach/I appreciate that you'll look at just about anything.

NO: I think you'll love my book; I think my book is a good fit;

NO: I think you're the cat's pjs and should represent me/You'd be stupid to pass on this.

TRANSPARENCY (if needed, not everyone does)
YES: I was previously represented by Barbara Poelle, but she's doing much better now.

NO: My last agent was a douchecanoe who never kept me updated, screwed up the submission list, and got me three offers that were lousy so I fired her cause I know I can do better.

YES: Thank you for your time and consideration.

NO: The theme of my novel is the ennui of modern life.

NO: I know you'll love my novel

NEVER: I'll call you later this week to see what you think.

NEVER: Please get back to me

NEVER: I'm going to self-publish if you don't take this on.

Any questions?


mhleader said...

Wow! SO...when will that super-excellent novel THWARTING FORTI appear on my local bookstore shelf? I wanna get a copy, like, right NOW!!!

Um, you think if I pretend to be an agent--I'm not one, and am completely unqualified to sell anything, up to and including a timeshare to Carkoon's most prestigious resort--you'd query me so I could ask for the ms.??

Theresa said...

I want to read the Thwarting Forti book and I want that cat.

Great, clear advice here.

Steve Forti said...

Rats. I think I passed by the office yesterday when having lunch in Bryant Park. I should have stolen that manuscript to ensure the thwarting stays one-sided.

Kitty said...

NO: I'm really boring.

Okay, Janet, I got the message.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

"Any questions?"

What's a query?
What do "Dear Agent"s do besides drink coffee and talk about each other?
If you don't love my fiction novel I'm going to self-publish with my mimeograph machine:)
I'll call ya later babe.
If you don't answer expect my knock on your door.
Swat Team?

Lisa Bodenheim said...

Hahah! I want to read that book too.

Thank you for these pointers, Janet. Repetition does not hurt. Especially when poised with humor!

Amy Johnson said...

Came back inside to google "chewed off cucumber stems" in hopes of identifying the culprit. Decided to visit the Reef first. Got a great query review, several laughs, and was introduced to a new friend. (Very nice meeting you, ennui.) Thanks, Janet!

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Yes, question. Where did you get the Hell Cat in the photo? I am going to have nightmares for weeks. So, that's a no, on the Your Majesty as the salutation? Only I have to because your own Jeff Somers told me to Write without rules. It's all his fault. Everything.

Kitty said...

Any questions?

YEAH! Gail Gilmore wrote: "For me, proposal writing is even more of a challenge than writing a good query letter, and my proposal was quite awful."

What's a proposal?

Dena Pawling said...

For some reason THWARTING FORTI sounds like it should be written by Bill O'Reilly.

The rest of the "sample" query had me laughing. Fun way to wake up in the morning!

Sorry Steve. Apparently she's on to us. Time to go undercover and implement Plan B.

S.P. Bowers said...

"NEVER: I'm just a stay at home mom"

Do you object to the 'just' or to admitting to being a stay at home mom? I'm assuming it's the 'just'. After years (and years) of reading your blogs I think I know you well enough to assume that. But, I do like a good rodent wheel.

I'm a SAH mom to four kids, 23 months-10 yrs old, all adopted, one with many trauma issues and behaviors. It's a large part of who I am and because of their issues and requirements publishers/agents have to understand that my kids do take a good bit of time from writing.

CynthiaMc said...

Thank you for the refresher. We should start a Forti series. It would sell.

KariV said...

I'm holding my breath for this book! Nytimes Bestseller for sure!

@SP Bowers, I think what Janet's getting at is: don't sell yourself short by saying "SAH mom" like it's an unworthy occupation (or lack thereof). What you do as a mom is important and you being there is important too!

John Davis Frain said...

I can picture that ms.

680 chapters. 100 words each.

Jennifer Mugrage said...

I love the line where you explain the stakes.

Pericula Ludus said...

Thank you for the laugh, John Davis Frain — it interrupted the very calm, very serious work writing retreat very nicely. My colleagues all needed that tut.
I currently find myself in a castle and just outside our writing room there's a film set for some TV series about a school of witchcraft. Talk about surreal!

Craig F said...

Here's looking at you, kid.

If there was one more point of aim and it was a Red Ryder BB gun, you might of put my eye out with it.

I was the only idiot to do a third person biography and I warned My Queen that I was going to send a query that would read somewhat like The Breach.

That query is still cruising the backroads of my memory. Two sentences that aren't sitting gentle on my mind yet. Someday soon.

Hope all of you who celebrate Independence Day do so safely. I hope y'all have a wonderful rest of the week and weekend.

julie.weathers said...

Ha Miss Janet and Dr. Frain.

So, I guess that query I've been laboriously carving into a Funkin is right on out. Well, that was a practice dragon, but you get the picture.

I do have a question. On my last foray into the arena, I had some agents pass but ask me to remember them on my next project. Do I put this at the top of the query, in housekeeping, forget it since it's been a few years now?

"NO: The theme of my novel is (anything.)"

Praise the Lord and pass the biscuits. Every time someone asks me what the theme to anything I write is I seize up like a rented mule.

Janet Reid said...

Miss Julie
When invited to query again, say so. I'm of two minds about where: first line, or closing.

I'll ponder this as I torment writers by answering queries later today.

JanR said...

Thank you for the refresher. An example is worth a thousand adjectives!

Your sample plot summary is full of terrific conflict. Yesterday, I DNF’d a library book because I was so disappointed about the two most interesting things in the first chapter happening offstage. A fight with a best friend was casually mentioned as having happened yesterday, and then the story faded to black just as the protagonist confronted a scary stranger. In the next chapter, they woke up the next morning. :(

At least, Dena, I returned it on time! Don’t sic the warriors on me!

Leslie said...

Kitty, a proposal is for selling nonfiction. Instead of writing the whole book and submitting the manuscript, NF writers put together a proposal with audience analysis, marketing plans, platform, annotated Table of Contents, and a sample chapter or 2. Publishers buy the book based on the proposal, then you have a deadline by which to send the manuscript, etc.

Some people refer to it as a business plan for your book.

Kitty said...

Thank you, Leslie, for answering my question. I knew that nonfiction required a proposal, but I didn't think a memoir needed one. Gail Gilmore's book "Dog Church" is listed as a memoir.

Steve Forti said...
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Steve Forti said...
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Where There's A Quill said...

Julie -- "Every time someone asks me what the theme to anything I write is I seize up like a rented mule."

I barely dodged a spit-take with that one.

Leslie said...

Glad to be of some help, Kitty!

Memoir is an odd one that I've heard is sort of a hybrid. Sometimes it sells by proposal and other times by a complete manuscript. But I'm not 100% sure

S.P. Bowers said...

KariV That's why I thought she was objecting to the 'just'. I do mention it in my bio, but don't dwell on it or downplay it. I'm proud to be a SAH mom.

Panda in Chief said...

Soooo...we CAN call you Snookums....

AJ Blythe said...

From the first word to the last comment, this has been a purely delightful read (and popping over to Gail's post didn't disappoint). Just the medicine I needed while suffering from a mid-winter cold.

NLiu said...

About to enter the query trenches and this was such a useful reminder! So many agents have really confusing lists of what they want out of a query. Thanks for being really clear, Janet.

Joseph S. said...

This was a useful blog entry. Thanks.

theblondepi said...

S.P. Bowers I don't think Janet saw your comment or she would've gotten you off that rodent wheel quickly. If you look right below her mention of "just a SAH" she says "dismissing the most important work you'll do in your life as 'just a mom' is simply unacceptable." So it is clear how she feels about SAHs -- that it is the most important work you'll do in your lifetime. I'll take it a step further and say that I think Janet would want you to mention your kids in your query, sort of how you did in your comment; however, I wouldn't say it will take away from your writing. We all have different life things that can get in the way of writing, and if you're querying it means you managed to write a book so you're doing better than most; don't sell yourself short by saying being a mom "gets in the way" of anything. You're doing God's work and I think most agents would find your life interesting and heroic. Hopefully Janet will see this and let us know what she thinks!