letters from the query wars

# of queries read this week: 148
# of partials/manuscripts requested: 0 *
genre of partials/manuscripts requested: n/a

* That is to say, no requests on the queries read. However, a previously requested YA partial generated a request for a full manuscript.

First. A BIG thank you to everyone who follows submission guidelines and sends me those crucial _first_ five pages with their query and synopsis.

(And, yes, I’m still working on my synopsis post but got derailed by this fun Amazon / Macmillan thing. And then our email server decided to take some time off without actually filing a vacation request which resulted in random arrivals of backlogged emails for a couple days. All fixed now I hope.)

Second. Professional, articulate queries really do stand out from the crowd. But, here’s a few examples from this week (all true) that seemed double-plus-ungood to me:

— Sending an email to my personal email address and addressing it “To Whom It May Concern” (see also: sending a query via Facebook or any other social media)

— An email requesting permission to send a query letter (this tends to strike me as similar to a conversation that starts with “can I ask you a question?”)

— Stating that our submission guidelines were carefully reviewed, and then sending the synopsis and (way more than) the first five pages as an attachment

— Telling me you copyrighted the book already (bonus points for telling me that the reason you did this was so I wouldn’t steal your novel)

What do you wish you could go back in time and tell yourself about queries before you sent your first one?

26 responses to “letters from the query wars

  1. Message to pastBeth: If they keep the manuscript more than a year, they lost it. Get it back.
    Message 2: that other one? Cut the first chapter. The second chapter’s first five pages are so much better.

  2. Message to pastKim: Your 3rd person writing sucks. Figure out 1st person is where you belong much sooner next time!

  3. Cut about 90% of the synopsis. Wheeze city! 😉

  4. Susie, dear, no agent in her right mind will touch that word count. Kill your darlings.

  5. Dear pastShiloh: Don’t query on a first draft, you incredible nitwit. Writing groups are your friend.

  6. Message to pastmmaresca: DUCK!

  7. Message to past me: If you can’t get a good query out of the book, the problem might be the book. Also, not every subplot in the book belongs in the query. Brevity is the soul of wit.

  8. Dear Tyhitia: Don’t query your first draft and get some betas–quickly! 😀

  9. The important thing is the story and the characters in it, *not* the themes the story explores.

  10. Message to FUTURE SELF – Make sure you pay attention to what these good people are warning you about and make certain you try NOT to do any of those things! Thank you so much you nine above me! (And of course our blog mistress)

  11. Dear pastAdam,
    Keep querying that first novel via e-mail because you’ll learn a lot, but don’t waste your time with snail mail. I don’t want to spoil your anticipation or anything, but trust me. Save your money.
    Keep writing,

  12. message to pastRina: in addition to guidelines, always check the actual titles. The agents’ idea of “their type of book” may differ drastically from mine :-))))

  13. Your posts always make me feel better about myself as a writer 🙂

  14. >What do you wish you could go back in time and tell yourself about queries before you sent your first one?
    Relax– be yourself. And do not drink an entire bottle of champange in one night even if it is the good stuff when too many damn rejections come back. It is important to pace yourself.

  15. Dear PastLiz,
    One book does not an expert make. Get thee to the internet and read everything you can about queries before you think of writing one. Oh, and lighten the hell up.

  16. Dear Zina-three-minutes-ago:
    Those commenters who sound like they’re being so mean to invisible other commenters? They’re just talking to themselves in the past. Just like the post asked them to. See how it all makes sense now?

  17. What I Would Change
    What do you wish you could go back in time and tell yourself about queries before you sent your first one?
    1. Ignore all those articles that briefly describe the hook as comparable to the jacket flap on a book.
    2. Join a writer’s forum and get some feedback on the query.
    3. Come up with ONE good query and stick with it, instead of trying to write a query to suit each particular agent.
    4. Don’t try to do too much at once. Send out one letter and wait a couple weeks, at least in the beginning. Don’t try to cram in too many queries at once, especially when you keep getting rejections.
    5. Answer the three essential questions: What does the protagonist want? How does the protagonist plan to get it? What happens if the protagonist fails?
    6. Take a really hard look at your opening pages, because a great deal is at stake in those few pages. The rest of the novel may be well-paced, intriguing, and cleverly devised, but if the first five pages are a bit slow, it can cost you a chance at representation.
    7. Love your friends for telling you not to give up, but keep in mind that that getting an agent to represent your book will take more than persistence…that letter MUST be near-to-perfect, and the MS must be even better.
    8. Keep faith—if it’s good, an agent will eventually read it, love it, represent it, and sell it. If it’s not, the road has not ended. Rewrite it, edit it, polish it, agonize over it, and do it all over again, until it is good enough. And if that’s not enough, put in on a shelf and start another.
    Angela Greenlief

  18. Haha, I love how we can all embrace our silly mistakes from the past with humor. Awesomeness.
    Past me: Don’t be stubborn about having others crit your query. And for goodness sake, wear some thicker armor so when you DO finally get it critiqued, you don’t boycott the project for weeks afterwards!

  19. Oh, and is anyone else really curious as to what this Synopsis talk is about with Ms. Jackson? And am I the only one who may despise them so? They tend to make my brain shrivel just a little.

  20. “What do you wish you could go back in time and tell yourself about queries before you sent your first one?”
    Not to send them for the novel until after I’ve gotten a few short stories published.

  21. In my department, “can I ask you a question?” is almost universally answered with “you just did.” But, that is what you get when programmers answer questions. Kind of like “yes” is an answer for “a or b”?
    If I could go back, I’d probably suggest working more on query letters. I still don’t know *what* to really put in that first letter.
    (Though, I loved the copyright bullet, that is cute.)

  22. My first queryfail
    Don’t open with a rhetorical question.
    It seemed like a good idea at the time, but in retrospect, I can see that it just led to a sequence of sentences that said nothing about my book’s plot or characters, and everything about theme (which wasn’t very clear anyway).
    There’s that, and of course: write a better book.

  23. I’m still embarrassed to admit that in my first query letter, I spent several lines talking about my pen name. Apparently I thought I needed one, and that this was of the utmost importance (more important than, say, the quality of the writing).
    Love the blog!

  24. Dear past self: There’s a size of envelope that fits inside a standard envelope. Buy a pack of those for your SASEs. And use Forever stamps.

  25. 1984
    Just wanted to mention that I loved the 1984 reference. Also, great blog-

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