letters from the query wars

# of queries read this week: 126
# of partials/manuscripts requested: 0
genre of requests: n/a

Dear Authors:

This week’s list — Repeating Themes Seen in Several Queries

* Nazis (yes, still)
* stories told from the point of view of an animal
* vampires, vampires everywhere and not a drop to drink (it’s not that I don’t like vampire fiction – in fact, I have read a fair amount of it over the years, and certainly have represented some, but these need something newer than the tortured and resistant monster-hero, or a particularly strong narrative voice or something)
* people! using! a lot!!! of exclamation points!!!!!

There still seem to be quite a lot of people out there who aren’t finding our submission guidelines — many people not including the five sample pages in the email and/or sending attachments, which we will not open. I’ve attempted to hunt down all the entries on the web and correct any that don’t include this information. If anyone spots one I’ve missed, please let me know. Thanks!

Today’s bonus — my client Kameron Hurley is making recommendations about examples of query letters to read, and posted her own on her blog. She thinks it’s “a little dense and wordy” but it worked on me. It’s been a long time since I read it originally, and I’ve now read the book that goes with it, too. But looking at it now, I would say that the following things in it worked well:

* That opening sentence (which is similar in wording to a question I answered on last week’s post) tells me exactly how she perceives the book.
* I think what really hooked me was that the conflict was well-established – there are personal stakes and global stakes
* Also there is the thread of the culture and world-building permeating the description. I think this can be important particularly in SF/F but also in other genres. A strong sense of place and time is almost like another character in the book.
* She tells me relevant facts about herself (her studies that informed the background of her character). But she didn’t gum it up with other personal details that I have since come to know. (It amazes me how many people will mention what I consider to be very private details about illnesses and/or family in their letters when they are not writing anything that is connected to those facts.)
* She mentions her writing plans (a sequel) but doesn’t burden the letter with details that could distract me, overwhelm me (seriously, some people tell you they have 10 manuscripts waiting in the wings), or dilute the overall impact of the pitch.

In case anyone wanted to know. Four months after I signed her up and started sending out the book, we did a 3 book deal with Bantam. That time period can vary wildly. I’ve sold things 1 week after signing them, or 4 years after signing them.

And now I’m going to work on figuring out what to read this weekend.

Good night, and good luck.

20 responses to “letters from the query wars

  1. I appreciate this reply to the query letter post. It is always, in my opinion, interesting to see both viewpoints to something like this.

  2. Heh, I like the vampire comment. πŸ™‚ But, then again, I rarely write about them anymore, mainly because it seemed to frequent of a topic. The Nazis, that I wouldn’t expect.
    I wonder how these themes happen. Is it something people see on television or just random events? Or shared thoughts. Its an interesting thing.

    • I get Nazis every month, at least…. and there were several queries including them this week.
      Sometimes I even get Nazi vampires.

      • When you get Nazi vampires that also happen to be raccoons that say things like “I want to suck your blood after washing my hands thoroughly in the stream!!!!!” then you know you’re in trouble.

      • I haven’t received very many Nazis but something I have seen a lot of – especially the past three months or so – is very specific: a cop (usually female) being bitten by a werewolf and having to adapt to her new situation while still being a good cop. It’s unusual in that it’s such a very specific plotline. Weird. I think I’ve seen probably two dozen like this. How do you suppose something like that happens?

  3. You’re climbing uphill given supply and demand — I have a friend in much the same boat, and with a pretty fresh take on a number of elements. I’m still hoping she’ll regroup and get back to fighting for it one of these days, hopefully fortified by a sale of something else. The audience certainly isn’t going anywhere.

    • Yeah, I’ve come to realize that. I still believe in the quality of this novel, but I’m resigned to the fact that it might not be my first published novel. If I’m able to sell my second novel, maybe it will make a publisher more likely to give the vampire novel a look and perhaps publish it if they felt the quality was there. I really hope your friend well. In addition to hard work and talent, we also need to healthy dose of luck. πŸ˜€

  4. Thank you for the query post. It helps to see both the author’s and the agent’s thoughts on it.

  5. what to read
    The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. In a previous post you mentioned you bought it. If you haven’t read it yet, do so. Now.
    Elissa M

    • Re: what to read
      Thanks for the recommendation. I’d love to spend the weekend reading that but I have some manuscripts burning a hole through my desk that will need to come first!

  6. exclamation points
    What is it with exclamation points? I started reading a nonfiction book yesterday and was stunned by the exclamation points on page 1. Oh, and not just exclamation points but the ?!! punctuation.
    Honestly, in a book?!! (Sorry had to do that.)

  7. If I got a quarter for every Nazi query that came along, I would have a very nice bottle of scotch right about now. If I got them daily, I would need it.

  8. five pages is five pages
    But is it five single-spaced, or five double-spaced? I went with single-spaced, because page ten just happens to end with a nice grace note, whereas page five stops in the middle of a thing.

  9. Vampires are dead to me.
    Okay. I’m sorry about that. I couldn’t help it.
    I got an exclamation point query today. Every! Word! Emphasized! Gave me twitches.

  10. letters from the query wars
    “* people! using! a lot!!! of exclamation points!!!!!”
    That theme revived my secret guilt.
    When I was young, I read just about everything Robert Ludlum wrote. Years later, I decided to go back and read what I remembered as some of my favorites. I was unable to get through more than a few chapters because of the insanely excessive use of exclamation points and italics. I was so frustrated, in fact, that I wrote him a letter — praising the aspects of his books I’d enjoyed the first time around, but begging him to stop using so many exclamation points and italics.
    Two weeks later, he died. What if he’d read my letter before he died, and it made him feel bad? I’m still sorry that I wrote to him.

  11. RE: Submission Guidelins
    The only thing I found confusing with the submission guidelines is the following comment:
    “If there is a specific agent at DMLA whom you would like to represent you, then of course query that agent directly…”
    It leaves the ‘directly’ part unsaid. In the salution/body of the query? In the subject line of the email? Or perhaps a guess at your individual email address. I admit the first time I read the above sentence, I went looking for a different page with all your email addresses on it so I could pick out the agent I was looking for and email specifically. It was only after I realized they weren’t there that it had to be included in the query itself and sent to the info@ address.

  12. Query Wars
    A question please.
    I’m glad I read your blog before sending out my novel which contained many of the same elements Ms. Hurley’s did (re-writing my query now to play up the differences instead). So I must ask, should a writer just move on to another agent with their query, or do you still look (should the five pages included hook you)rather than automatically pass?
    And congrats to Ms. Hurley on what sounds like a promising new book, and a great blog.

  13. Thanks for the excellent example of a query letter. . . and it was also a great plug for her book! I want to go out and get it now.
    As for too many exclamation points, that’s just bad editing and would make me skeptical of wanting to acquire their work if only for all the exclamation points you’d probably have to tell them to delete. Some day people will realize that using tons of exclamation points actually lessens the impact of what they’re saying in that it detracts from any sort of focused emphasis.
    Nancy D’Inzillo

  14. Readers Love Nazi Books
    There are thousands of readers who love World War II fiction, as the news almost daily reveals something fascinating yet brand new about that era (an unexploded bomb found in downtown London, scientists digging for stolen Nazi art in Eastern Europe, Nazi hunters locating another fugitive in South America, etc.).
    The novels of Alan Furst are fascinating, and the recent “Killing Rommel” was excellent. The Tom Cruise film “Valkyrie” is coming out in a few months (about the plot to assassinate Hitler), and a Quentin Tarantino film staring Brad Pitt about an elite commando group hunting Nazis is filming as I write. The new Maars non-fiction book a Fourth Reich here in America was frightening if accurate.
    I have never, nor will I ever, read a novel about a boy sorcerer in magician’s school or about a world filled with vampires, but I buy book after book after book about Nazis and World War II (I wish Ken Follett would write another “Eye of the Needle”/”The Key to Rebecca” type novel).
    I hope not all literary agents share your distaste for World War II fiction, as I will always buy that genre.

    • Re: Readers Love Nazi Books
      Thanks for your thoughts on this — I do want to clarify one thing. While I did say there were an overabundance of queries featuring Nazis, I didn’t say that I didn’t like stories with Nazis in them — your mention of distaste is an assumption read in somehow. I have read many WW2 era novels that are moving and well-told stories. Indeed, there are two novels I’m currently marketing that take place during that time period.

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