February 24th I conducted a query workshop at the local Barnes and Noble Bookstore. It was a great success with over twenty people in attendance. Donna Collins blogged about it: http://donna-ramblings.blogspot.com/ Take a peek. We went over a few of the query “rules,” then opened it up to query critiques. I was very impressed by the number of people who wrote novels and are seeking agent representation. Writing a novel is an enormous accomplishment. One that takes patience and dedication. A couple people wrote picture books, and those who have read my posts here know how much I admire people who can write a story for a very young mind.
Here are some of the query workshop highlights. In your query letter:
-Don’t mention how much a friend/your mother/your kids/a local 4th grade class loved your work. Besides risking sounding unprofessional, it doesn’t tell the agent anything except that a few people liked your work. A few people that want to please you, or don’t have expertise in the craft. So don’t do it. ow if J.K. Rowling or Stephen King read it and found it fab, well, by all means let the agent know. Better yet, let famous authors write a letter recommending you.
-Don’t query only one agent at a time. Response time may not be immediate. If you wait for a rejection before submitting to someone else, you run the risk of dying of old age before getting that manuscript accepted.
-Don’t accept an offer of representation immediately. Talk to the agent. Get a feel for the relationship. If it seems right, email or snail mail a letter to every agent you are waiting on, letting them know. It would be unfair to an agent if they spent time reading work for which you already have representation. If you aren’t one hundred percent positive that the fit with the first offer of representation is right, email or snail mail the other agents to let them know an offer is on the table, but let them know you’re still interested in becoming a client. Tell them the deadline you’ve given the other agent. See if anyone else is interested. Then make your decision. Go with agent #1, or keep trying to find a better fit.
-Don’t write: I’d like you to represent me. They get that. You wouldn’t be querying them if you didn’t want them to represent you.
-Do your agent research. Make sure what you write is what they represent. Check up on the agency to be sure it’s legitimate. If they ask you to front money, it’s probably a scam. Agents get paid when you get paid. They truly work for their money. If they ask you to pay several hundred dollars for an editor they recommend, say no thank you.And make a hasty retreat.
-Do summarize your novel without giving away the ending.
-Do be professional, don’t come off casual or desperate. (Writing that you will name your firstborn after them if they represent you is generally a big no-no.)
-Do have your query critiqued by other writers. It’s best if they are unfamiliar with that particular novel. They will find holes in your summary and point out when something is unclear.
A query contains three essential parts: (1) A summary of the novel, not to exceed three paragraphs (a general rule). (2) the genre and word count. (3) Your credentials as a writer. It’s also helpful to explain why you’ve chosen to query this particular agent (or publishing house).
The summary of the novel must explain: (1) The main character and the main character’s goal. (2) The main character’s opposition (3) What the main character must do to achieve this goal. (4) What will happen if the main character does not achieve his/her goal. And guess what, folks? You should try to accomplish this while giving the agent or editor reading your query an idea of your writing style and carrying over the novel’s tone. Easy peasy, right? Ha!
No one said writing a query would be simple. In fact, I’ve heard various writers say that it takes them almost as long to write the query letter as it did to write the novel. Exaggeration? Maybe. But if you find yourself whipping off a plot summary in ten minutes and feeling it’s Courier 12-point font perfection, you’re probably not ready to show your novel just yet. I’d even go as far to say you might need to get out a few books on editing. Mastering the query is hard work. Consider it a test. If it passes, an agent will want to see more of your work. If it fails…well…
Keep in mind, though, there are many reasons for rejection, and it may not be how your query is written. It might be that the agent isn’t interested in the subject matter. Or he/she feels the book will be a hard sell. Or even that they’ve read too many plots that are similar to yours and feel the market is saturated with vampires falling in love with werewolves. (Just an example. Really.)
I’m happy my query workshop worked for people, and I encourage anyone who is looking for an agent or an editor to study query letters. A great place to do this is on the site: http://www.guidetoliteraryagents.com/blog/