Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Things I've Learned About Querying (So Far) -- Part II

River, Barred Owl
Much earlier this year I wrote a post called "Things I've Learned About Writing (Thus Far)." At the same time, I wrote a companion piece -- this entry, in fact -- but never managed to finish nor post it.

Last week I starting finishing the entry, but when I went to post it I discovered it was long.  Too long for a standard blog post.  Splitting it into to separate posts seemed to make the most sense to me.

The first half of this can be found here.

Here's more of what I've learned about querying thus far:

4. But I just know The Right Agent for Me will be the one who recognizes my buck-the-trends style of querying as an indication of just how special I am!  I was thinking my query needs to include a passage from a crucial scene in my book.  Can't I add that to the query?  It's so important that I'm willing to make my query longer!
Hey, if you want to be another Slush Pile Casualty, that's fine by me.  Send an agent your entire manuscript!  Attach notes for every book you've ever considered writing and ask them to pick and choose while you're at it!  

Part of your agent research will involve going to the agent's web site and reading their submission rules.  They post their Rules (of the Game) for a reason.  If you choose to not follow them, you've made their "No" decision that much easier for them to make.

5. Does spelling count?
Yes!  As does punctuation.  (You are kidding, right? You're a writer!  If you can't take the time to make sure your query is perfect, what's your manuscript likely to look like?)

Think about it this way: if you were inundated by hundreds of requests for your time and attention from strangers each and every day, you'd likely be looking for any excuse to quickly cull the list.  Do not give an agent a quick and easy reason to delete your query.

If you write an intelligent, coherent query to an appropriate agent with all of the punctuation and spelling triple-checked and correct, you've just landed in the top 95% of The Slush Pile.  Seriously.

6. Okay, okay.  I get it.  But I'm still stuck.  Writing a query is really hard!  Where do I start?
Start with a single sentence.

Agent Rachelle Gardner had a great contest back in 2010 for the best one-sentence summaries of a book.  Writers submitted their entries based on their WIPs.

After you pare down your entire book to One Single Sentence, then and only then, add in a second sentence.  Then a third.  Then a fourth.  Make sure these sentences are about the conflict and making the conflict and its ramifications personal for your main character.  If they're about anything else, they should probably be cut.

As a writer, you are a story-teller.  You need to remember this when you're starting your query -- you are telling a very brief story about your story.  You need to focus only on those elements of the story that are the most important to giving a sense of what your story is about and why someone should care about your main character.

7. I feel my writing soul being sucked from my body by this inhuman and inhumane process.  Isn't there anyone who can help me?

There are some options out there.  Consider any or all of the following:

  • Learn From The Mistakes of OthersAgent Janet Reid is the QueryShark.  Go to the QueryShark blog, go to the Archives, and read ALL of the entries, from oldest to newest.  This is not only one of Janet's requests before she'll consider reviewing your query*, but you'll save yourself a lot of time and heartache over your own query by learning from the mistakes of others.
  • Have Others Critique Your Query Before You Send It To AgentsThere are several online query critique forums you can submit your query to.   I used the Forums over at Nathan Bransford's web site when I was refining my query and there are many others out there on the interwebs.    (Mind you, most want you to read and critique other people's queries before you post yours.  Besides, it's good manners.) 
  • Have Someone Else Write Part Of It For YouIf you have a critique partner, ask your critique partner to write a sample query for your book.  (While, of course, offering to do the same for him/her.)  Another person will often have a better perspective on your story than you will.  They'll know what's essential and what isn't in ways that might surprise you.

What have I forgotten?  What would you add to this?  Subtract?  Let me know!

-- Tom

* This quote taken from The Query Shark the day I wrote this post:  "And I gotta tell ya, it really annoys the hell out of me that people aren't reading the archives."