Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Toss Around Thursday - Queries

This Thursday, two of my Wadmates and I are tossing around a subject near and dear to every writer's heart: queries. I am by no means an expert, but I've been very lucky recently to have won a Skype chat with agent Mark McVeigh and a query critique by agent Jennifer Laughran of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency. Today I'd like to share some of what I've learned, both from these agents and from other writers. Please also check out Sharon's blog and Amy's blog for more on the subject.

#1 - Don't begin your query with a rhetorical question. You probably know this already, but I did not. I'm glad I know it now.

#2 - Keep it short! The first sentence should be a killer hook. After that, use 100 words or less to introduce the protagonist, conflict, and resolution. This is difficult to do, but a must.

#3 - If you're unpublished, don't feel compelled to bring it up. I had heard that a new writer should just say "this is my first novel." This concerned me because I have two completed novels that I am still sending to agents/editors. (I tend to drop everything when I get caught up in a wip. Both these books need revision, but I can't bring myself to put aside my wip and start a new revision right now - soon, I promise!) Anyway, from now on I plan to just leave this sentence out. This isn't going to make or break the query anyway.

#4 - Don't include a non-related publishing credit, even if it's your only one. I write fiction, but I have a non-fiction magazine credit. I was told to just leave this out, it distracts the reader from the letter and is not a real concern to them.

I hope some of what I've learned these past couple of weeks will be helpful to a few of you. Writing queries can be one of the most difficult challenges a writer faces, but a well-written query will give your manuscript a fighting chance!

Okay, your turn. What is the best query advice you've ever received?

17 comments:

Old Kitty said...

Hi

Oh what great advice!! Esp. point 3!

One of the things I learned about query letters is to compare your novel to an established genre, e.g. say "this novel is like a vampire Bridget Jones"! So that the agent will know if there is a market for your novel or if there isn't of how to place your novel in the current market.

:-)

Congratulation with your query letter win btw! Great stuff!!

Take care
x

Jen said...

Thank you so much for sharing this info with us! I love learning new things and I know when it comes time I'll need to know all of this!!! Congrats on winning to get the info!

Theresa Milstein said...

I agree with Old Kitty. An agent gave this advice at a conference I attended. But you have to tread carefully - don't use a blockbuster book (you can't compete) or something too obscure (The agent wants an idea, rather than having to do research). I read that last piece of advice somewhere, but I don't remember where. It may have been through Chuck Sambuchino's Writer's Digest blog from a month or two ago.

Amy Allgeyer Cook said...

Best query advice ever: Don't include glitter.

Shannon O'Donnell said...

My best advice: Don't rush it!

I queried too soon the first time, so I learned that lesson the hard way. :-)

Susan Fields said...

Old Kitty - I've heard that same advice. A vampire Bridget Jones? Sounds good - you should write it!

Jen - I hope some of this helps you when the time comes. Writing queries is a whole new ball game!

Theresa - I agree treading carefully is key. Even if my book is the hottest thing since Harry Potter! :)

Amy - What??? But that's my signature trademark!

Shannon - It sounds like an interesting story there. I know I'm desperate to query right now with my latest wip. It seems like it will never be at that point, and it's so hard to wait.

Wendy (aka quillfeather). said...

Good advice. Very good advice.

All the best with your novel/novels! :)

Sharon Mayhew said...

Susan--Great advice! What's funny is how things seem to go in trends. Older marketplace books emphasized using a rhetorical question as an opener. I think you have to study each agent and not send things out blindly. Sorry about my late post today, but it's up now. :) (Good post!)

Susan Fields said...

Wendy - thank you! I need all the good wishes I can get! :)

Sharon - I agree, some things that we used to be told to do for query letters are no longer in vogue, like the rhetorical question. And you're absolutely right about not sending out blindly...research, research, research! I'm heading over to read your post now.

Myrna Foster said...

Thanks for stopping by my blog and for sharing query advice with us.

This is a no-brainer, but I've heard agents say they get queries with no contact information. Make sure you include your contact info!

Susan Fields said...

Myrna - Thanks for stopping by my blog as well - it's always fun to see new faces! You're right, contact info is a no-brainer, but I can see myself getting so wrapped up in getting the query out the door and dotting the i's and crossing the t's that I could forget contact info. Maybe that's why there are still a few agents I haven't heard back from yet...

Jackee said...

Good advice. And I'm so glad that you had those opportunities. Wonderful!

Susan Fields said...

Thanks Jackee - I've been lucky this past month for sure. Now if I can just finish my book, write that killer query, and get my book out there!

Crystal Clear Proofing said...

Susan, thank you for visiting my site, AND signing up to follow me! So – we both have another new follower! It's truly a pleasure to "meet" you and I'm looking forward to your posts! ☺

Susan Fields said...

Crystal Clear Proofing - thank you as well! And I do have to tell you (as a fellow cat lover) that I absolutely love the cat pictures on your blog - I'm looking forward to hanging out there in the future!

Jemi Fraser said...

Good advice! I think one of the best pieces of advice I received is to do agent research. It is hugely time-consuming, but has paid off for many. Now, I just have to get to that stage :)

Susan Fields said...

Jemi - That's excellent advice. Hard to do when you're anxious to get the query out the door, and especially for people like me for whom research is not a strong point:( But critical all the same. Best of luck in getting to that stage soon! Thanks so much for stopping by and following.