letters from the query wars

# of queries read this week: 272
# of partials/manuscripts requested: 0
genre of partials/manuscripts requested: n/a

A lot of people have good luck rituals. Lucky ties, shirts, jewelery, etc. Throwing salt over their shoulder. Not stepping on cracks. And so on. Many people believe that Friday the 13th is unlucky. For me, however, this day seems auspicious: it’s the first time my query folder has been under 200 since early April (pre London Book Fair). On the other hand, I can remember a time that I used to be surprised that it got over 100.

On this day, Friday the 13th, I bring you some query letter superstitions:

* What time of year a query is sent makes a difference.
* A random sampling of people liking the book guarantees it will sell widely.
* Spell-checking and proof-reading are done by copy-editors and therefore the manuscript doesn’t need that beforehand.
* Arguing with a rejection will change the agent’s mind.
* Sending the same exact query 3 weeks later will get a different reply.
* In the same vein, repeat queries over the course of many months will wear an agent down until they agree to representation.
* Agents never remember who they meet and what they’ve requested, so it’s okay to lie about that. This is particularly successful if referencing a conference the agent has never attended.
* You can’t get published without an agent; you can’t get an agent without being published.

Some agent superstitions about queries:
* It is bad luck to read queries on vacation, on birthdays, and during the holiday season.
* Burying a query at the cross-roads means it won’t come back to haunt you.
* Don’t feed them after midnight or get them wet.
* They breed while you sleep. (Oh, wait. That one’s true.)

What query superstitions can you think of? Or, do you do anything that smacks of ritual when you send a query out? What is it and what is it supposed to augment/prevent?

24 responses to “letters from the query wars

  1. * They breed while you sleep. (Oh, wait. That one’s true.
    You sleep? Huh. Clearly, we need to send you more material to read/e-mails to answer.

  2. I had to think about that. I tend to close my eyes for a second and take a deep breath every time right before I hit send, but I don’t do it on purpose or anything.
    Friday the 13th is usually a good day for me too. As a matter of fact, I made a conscious decision to send out some queries today, fully aware of the date.

  3. I read it carefully to make sure I did all the personalization tweaks I wanted to do, and got the email right. Then I send it. Then I cross my fingers. Then I panic and look in my trash to make sure I got the name and address right again.
    A random sampling of people liking the book guarantees it will sell widely.
    While the fallacy is inherent in “guarantees,” does a random sampling of people liking the book… have no impact at all? Not in whether the agent buys it, but whether it sells quickly/widely/at all? (Meanwhile, a random sampling of people hating the book suggesting that there might be issues selling it…)

  4. * Don’t feed them after midnight or get them wet.
    I’ll admit it. I giggled.

  5. “Some agent superstitions about queries:
    * Don’t feed them after midnight or get them wet.”
    That just made my DAY. I’m picturing feral queries which got dropped into the tea, multiplying like crazy and screaming round the office, throwing themselves against the windows like so many angry vampire moths….

  6. Query superstitions:
    * If you save a word document as “Query” the query-writing pixies will come over-night and write the query for you.
    * Queries should be written in pink sparkly ink on scented paper so that the agent knows you’re special and detail oriented.
    * Agents that say they only want five pages of query are lying, make sure to send the whole manuscript because you know they won’t want to put it down.
    * Handwritten queries and manuscripts are preferred. Agents and publishing houses have special people to type the handwritten MS up for you, and fix spelling, and tweak the plot, and improve the pacing. Really, all you need is a good idea.
    * Agents who reject you are secretly trying to steal your plot, you should requery immediately to make them feel guilty.
    Agent query superstitions:
    * Putting up a list of what you represent will keep people from querying you about their poetry written in green crayons all about cows.
    * Writing a blog post about good query habits will keep bad queries from coming.
    * If you auto-delete queries that don’t meet your standards the authors will get the hint and stop spamming you.
    Happy Friday the 13th!

  7. How about ‘claim that an author you once met for a handshake and hello, has actually read your manuscript, loved it and says the agent will take you on for definite’?
    Mmmm, actually, the agent in question is more likely to share that particular laugh with said author via email as your SAE hits the outgoing postbag.
    In my experience, anyway.

  8. Lol, I especially like the agent ones 🙂

  9. I’m triskaidekaphiliac, or more accurately my luck tends to be splendidly interesting on Friday 13ths (the kind of thing where you stub your toe but find a pound coin lying in the road when you do) so I have a superstitious belief that those days are more fun than the run of the mill Fridays 🙂
    It’s an anything could happen day! Random showers of frogs! Lottery wins! Being slobbered over by the cutest pair of King Charles Spaniel puppies!
    I don’t think ‘checking just one more time that you have the agent’s name right, and your name right’ counts as a querying ritual… but it probably should (in the OCD sense of ritual perhaps). It’s meant to prevent ever having another response where it took me half an hour to work out that the cryptic handwritten comment about attention to detail on the reject was an extremely subtle pointer that I’d transposed two letters in the agents name — I’d been trying to apply the comment to the first five pages 🙂

  10. Congratulations on getting to under 200 queries in the pile!

  11. Listening to glee (somebody to love me) and reading:
    * Don’t feed them after midnight or get them wet.
    Somehow, the combination triggered me to check on the rabbits to make sure they were still in separate cages. o_O
    Hey, they’re rabbits.

  12. I repeatedly check to make sure I’ve spelled the agent’s name right. Like, more than four times, “just in case.” It’s as if I’m convinced that doing this one small thing right will guarantee success? I don’t know.

  13. I hover my mouse over the SEND button, say aloud “God hates a coward,” slap five with my wife and press the button to send off the latest submission/query/whatever.
    Methinks my lack of success says it’s time for a new ritual?

  14. The only thing that I don’t do is submit manuscripts/queries through snail mail starting in late November.
    That is because of my superstition that
    a)the slushpiles don’t get worked on during the holiday season anyway, so I might just wait until the new year
    b) the post office is more likely to lose stuff in the increased volume of Giftmas mails. So waiting to send things until after Giftmas is safer.
    Note: that only applies to snail mail. E-Mail submissions/queries are not influenced by this.

  15. I always liked the myth that buying an agent a drink at a convention will guarantee that your work will be accepted, even if it’s bad or not what the agent is looking for. Maybe it goes hand in hand with the theory that “he’ll look better when I’m drunk.” 😉

  16. I suspect the one I suffer the most is I single-thread my agent requests like books. Send one query, wait for a response. Rinse, lather, repeat.

  17. I figured the “time of year” thing was a myth once everybody started quoting different times of year as the best/worst time to send.

  18. Well I’ll tell you this Friday the 13th was the day I finished the second edit to my second novel, and I can’t wait to send you a query. Cheers.

  19. I don’t have any rituals yet, but I’m thinking of trying a sacrifice. Just trying to figure out which gods need to be appeased….

  20. ….always send your lucky underpants with a query!!! ahaha!!!

    • Now THERE’S something I’ll have to try.
      Because before now, sending my UNLUCKY underpants hasn’t helped much, that’s for sure. . .

      • Type the query on your lucky underpants. Include an SASE large enough to hold said underpants.
        In case of rejection remember: They’re not rejecting your lucky underpants, just your query.

        • I must say, I’m impressed with the amount of thought you’ve put into this!
          The next question is, how to reliably sort individual pieces of underwear on laundry day from “luckiest” to “unluckiest”?
          But maybe that’s a question for another blog.

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