Queries can be the bane of a prospective author’s life. How often have we heard stories of writers who sent out hundreds of queries, with nary a nibble? Yet other authors, like KT, get offers in 10 queries or less! What makes them stand out?
I’m lucky enough to have had a ring side seat for this one, so I can pretty safely guess at a few things.
1. Research the agent and the agency– This can NOT be emphasized enough. Every week, @SaraMegibow does #10queriesIn10tweets, and I’m always shocked at how many are rejected for not being a genre she represents. It was somewhat excusable in the days where your only sources of information was books like publisher’s marketplace and such. It’s utterly unforgivable now. The internet is at your fingertips. Use it. Every agent these days has at LEAST a website. Start there.
2.Query Shark/agent blogs– Once you have a few agents in mind who rep what you’ve written, go read Query Shark, at least the queries that got to yes. Do you notice the pattern? Simply put:
First paragraph: Who is the main character, what is the problem, what’s at stake?
Second: What complicates it.
Third: Make them want it. Now. Don’t give them the ending. Make them feel like they need to read this book, to see what happens.
Last paragraph: The title/genre/word count, and a one or two sentence biography. No, they don’t want to hear what you had for lunch. Just make yourself seem human, and not insane, and you’re probably good.
The key with all that? Keep it succinct, snappy, and most of all, interesting. Make sure it’s focused like a laser beam.
Sounds easy, doesn’t it? Not quite, but with practice, you’ll get it.
3. Send it, but not to who you think-Before you send it to agents, send it to at least 2 friends. In KT’s case, Becca, KT, and I bounced it around for a few days, changing and tweaking things until we were all happy with it. Sometimes, it followed Oscar Wilde’s quip “This morning I took out a comma and this afternoon I put it back in again.” , other times it got completely scrapped and rewritten.
If you don’t have friends you can get useful feedback from, many writing blogs have query critiques. Take advantage of them! Then enlist any reader friends of yours, until you can cultivate good writer friends. Ask them if they saw it on the back of a book, would they want that book. If they say no, see if you can suss out why.
Any way about it, LISTEN to what they say. There’s few things more frustrating in the writing world than hearing bad things said about your story, but if your friends are saying one thing, your enemies and people who don’t know you will say far worse. Weigh what they say, and decide if they’re right or not based on an objective look at it, not based on emotions.
4. Try not to freak out– Agents aren’t the enemy. They aren’t heartless creatures, salivating to rip your ego to shreds. They’re people who are passionate about books, just like you are. Write the best query you can, accept any feedback you get, and bear in mind, not everyone will respond to the same things in a story.
There are times where even if the genre is something the agent likes, even if your writing is lovely and polished and wonderful, that they will still pass. Maybe they only like stories with love triangles, and yours has a rhombus. Maybe they’ve read 20 queries in a row where the werewolf and the vampire go cavorting through the sparkly meadow, while not realizing the vicious human girl waits in the weeds, preparing to attack (If this exists, I want to read it, it sounds hilarious), and yours was just the 21st of the same thing. Maybe they’re just reading while they’re killing time before lunch, but are thinking more about what they’re going to order for lunch than what they’re reading. It happens.
But sooner or later? If you work hard, and you do your homework, you’ll find an agent who’s right for you, and who adores you. And when that call comes? Just try not to scream too loud in excitement!