letters from the query wars

# of queries read this week: 33
# of partials/manuscripts requested: 0
genre of partials/manuscripts requested: N/A

This is what happens when you go to 3 conferences in 5 weeks.

Which should be the end of this one, as brevity is the soul of wit.


Brevity isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be. There are query letters that are, believe it or not, too brief. Only a line or two such as “enclosed herewith is my synopsis and the first five pages.” Here’s the thing: the synopsis is a tool; one that tells me the bones of the story. The first five pages (which I’ve come to find invaluable) give me a hint as to the hook of the story and the style of the writer. So, perhaps one might think the query brings little to the party. Not so.

The letter itself can convey a variety of interesting — and helpful — details. It can tell how the writer perceives their own work. Their attitude about both writing and publishing (often separate considerations). It can show their attention to detail and their level of professionalism. It can reveal whether the writer has done their research. Perhaps it contributes the author’s credentials, their passion, or some combination thereof.

Remember the query is the appetizer that tempts us to sample the rest of the menu. And whetting the appetite can be a crucial part of the experience.

11 responses to “letters from the query wars

  1. Query Letters – the ‘Amuse Bouche’ of writing.

  2. And when you’ve a pile to read through, the query letter will often warn you well in advance if you should Rather Not Go There.

  3. This baffles me – at least I understand the inclination to overshare in query letters. It may be inappropriate to tell you about the plans for my next ten novels or my favorite recipes or which beach I prefer long walks on, but many authors know it’s their only chance to talk to you on their terms.
    But not offering any information at all? I haven’t gotten a novel to submission quality yet, but darn if I wouldn’t take every opportunity to make it shine when I do!

    • If you’re convinced that you’ll only overshare, it’s easy to go the other way. (Also, if you’ve got something which is so… big and detailed and nuanced in your head, it’s hard to boil it down. Okay, I finally managed it m’self, but it took a while.)

      • That’s a really good point, and I do tend to think of my works as Very Detailed And Nuanced And You Can’t Possibly Understand My Brilliance Unless I Tell You All About It… but yes, the boil-down is absolutely necessary.

        • I suspect in some cases it’s because people are at a loss to know what to say, and chose to say little rather than “the wrong things.”
          Nevertheless, the letter is my chance to “sell” my idea, to whet your appetite and, like good cover art, make you want to turn to that first page with anticipation.

          • See, I guess I just don’t consider “fear of oversharing” to be a characteristic shared by many people, in my experience. Usually people are all too quick to tell you about how much their kids loved the novel, what kind of diapers they buy for said kids, how they tenderly take care of an elderly grandparent in the nursing home who thought the story was fantastic, and so on and so on. I just don’ thave much experience with people clamming up.
            Then again, I’m among the most private people I know, so either my sample of acquaintances is skewed somehow, or I’m the bizarre exception to an even more bizarre rule. 😀

  4. I love the appetizer analogy. It all makes sense now. . . unless it’s because I haven’t eaten yet.

  5. There was one agent who basically stated, “Hey, don’t waste your time or my time. You and I both know you can’t write a good query letter to save your life. Give my a brief bio, your synopsis and first chapter.”
    It was a brief rejection letter too. “Not for me.”
    *shrug* It was great.
    Goes to show you really need to know who you’re submitting to.
    SM Blooding

  6. With all the occasionally contradictory advice on how to write query letters out there, the query isn’t really saying anything about me. It’s all about what part of me I think you the agent want to hear about and it’s usually wrong.

  7. Also, if someone is coming from a few years of subbing short stories to markets, a person may not fully realize that novel cover letters are expected to have a little more meat to them.
    You’re average short story market wants to know genre, word count, title and whether you have any prior credits (and maybe whether it’s a reprint or a multiple sub, if allowed). Anything else is unwanted and unneeded.
    It just highlights the importance of research, I guess.

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