I came across this blog post that was really interesting. It was called sixty queries in sixty minutes that gave a quick run down of an agent considering sixty queries and saying which ones she went on to read the sample pages for and which got the dreaded form rejection.
Here’s the link: http://writeoncon.com/08/13/60-queries-in-60-minutes/
Now, you may ask, “Why do you even care?” Well, I might have an agent, but some of my writing friends are getting ready to do some querying so I like to share useful information I’ve come across.
Plus, well, it’s still interesting to me. Having gone through the process, I find advice still resonates. I had to do some serious research to get ready for the querying process and it instilled an interest in it.
Or, you know, maybe I’m just weird.
Now, the most important aspect of querying a manuscript is to have a great manuscript. You’re not going to fool an agent or editor with an excellent query. Eventually, he or she is going to read that manuscript before making a decision. That also means that the manuscript needs to ready to send out from that very first query. If your first query results in a request for a full manuscript, it’s not going to look good if you can’t provide it.
Anyhow, on to the article. Here were some bits that really stood out to me.
1. Mystery: The author is outright lying to me in her letter, saying I was recommended to her by someone who I know doesn’t know I exist. That’s not how I want a client/agent relationship to start. Form rejection.
The Agent/Client relationship is a professional one. You have to come across as professional in your query letter. Lying, of course, is seriously bad, but being cute or jokey with your query letter can also look bad. Stick with professional.
3. YA paranormal: Good query. Then vampires and angels show up. Form rejection
This is the danger of chasing trends. By they time you query, the market might be saturated, and nobody will be looking for new authors of the tired trend.
17. YA contemporary: The query is overwritten, which doesn’t bode well for the rest of the book. Form rejection.
How well the query is written is important. The agent in this case isn’t going to go on to read the sample pages. Don’t think that your sample pages are so brilliant that the query isn’t important.
31. Thriller: The query isn’t bad but I’m just not the right reader for most political thrillers. Form rejection.
This is a reminder that this is a very subjective business. The next agent might be the right one. Also a reminder to research the agents you’ll query to make sure they are a good fit.
33. Science fiction: Very cool concept and I get a good idea of the problems the main character faces. It’s probably too short for me to sell without extensive edits, but I’ll read the sample pages anyway.
A good query convinced her to read the sample pages even if there is a problem with word count. If it shows enough promise she might take on the client and suggest the edits to make it possible to sell. Your revising days are far from over when you’ve signed up with an agent, and that’s a very good thing.
This also makes me like this agent since she is indicating that she’ll work with the client to get the manuscript ready to sell. That’s one of the things I really like about my agent. She is challenging me to make my manuscript as strong as possible before putting it in front of editors. Yes, the time it takes to go through the extra revising can be a little frustrating, but it’s totally worth it to get a manuscript as good as possible.
35. YA fantasy: I understand that a lot of fantasy novels have made-up places and names. This is totally fine. What I’m not fine with is being thrown into a lot of these made-up places with no explanation as to what they are, or not being given background on the characters. Form rejection.
Don’t overlook your characters in your query. It’s hard to squeeze in setting, plot, and characters, but it’s vital. Personally, I think it’s much better to have a slightly overlong query than to not have enough information in your pitch.
36. MG science fiction: The plot and characters are explained well and I get a good idea of what’s at stake. Unfortunately, the ideas don’t excite me. It’s not a subject that appeals to me. This is a perfect example of why querying multiple agents is so important. Even though I’m sending a form rejection, the next agent might not.
38. I don’t know what this book is about because there’s no query letter at all. The author states s/he knows full well I want a query letter but doesn’t feel like writing one. Form rejection, because if you don’t follow my submission guidelines, how can I expect that you’ll follow my edits and guidance on your writing career?
Always follow the guidelines.
44. MG mystery: Good query overall. It introduces me to the main character, tells me about his/her background, and presents the major problem of the book in a way that’s simple but shows me how it can complicate the main character’s life. I will read the sample pages.
A very quick description of what a good query does from an agent.
51. YA science fiction: There’s not enough description of the world the main character lives in or what she has at stake. Form rejection.
57. Contemporary: The author spends three paragraphs telling me about the setting and one about the main character, and it’s not a setting I find particularly interesting. Form rejection.
Balance is important.
Those are my takeaways for what they are worth. My only credential is that my query letter for Cog had a 33% rate of getting requests for more, which isn’t a very good one. Read the article to get some insight from someone who actually knows what she’s talking about.