Thursday, February 19, 2009

A Query Overview

Some time ago I did a week’s worth of posts on query letters, and for a while now I’ve been putting together (in my head, of course) a response to many of your questions and thoughts on the queries I posted.

One of the reasons I chose the queries I did is because they were all so different, and one of the things I should have discussed in more detail was when they came in. Bella Andre, for example, became a client almost five years ago, at a time when the market was very different and just starting to look for sexy, erotic romances. What was interesting about the comments I received on her query was how many of you would have been so unwilling to take a chance at even looking at her work because you saw it as ridiculous. Clearly you wouldn’t have been the right agents for it. Sound familiar?

I think I mentioned on J. B. Stanley’s that the hook is what really grabbed me and that, again, the timing was perfect. When she submitted to me there were no antiquing or collectibles mysteries on the market. But times have changed and now there are or have been dozens. It’s not as strong a hook anymore, and if her query came in today I probably wouldn’t bother taking a second look (although I’m sure glad I did).

What I saw most in the comments were lightbulb moments that I hope helped all of you. I hope you were able to get a glimpse of an agent’s in-box and see why something stands out for us. I hope you were able to see how very important it is to write a great query and let yourself be seen. Let your voice shine through.

One reader asked how frequently queries like this, or queries that grab us, really come through, and eventually I’ll do another post on query statistics, but to give you an example, I’m writing this post at 9 a.m. on a Saturday and I already have 16 queries in my in-box; all arrived after midnight, and after reviewing them, not one had that special something that made me want to see more. Most of them were well written and most of them followed standard business format, but frankly, none of them had a voice that made me want to read the author forever, or even for 100 pages.

One reader had always been told to write a business letter and wondered if agents had preferences over a business letter versus the letters I posted (letters with voice). And, well, I think all of these letters were business letters. They were professional, well written, and none of them started off with, “Hey Girlfriend.” What made them shine, though, was the voice, or, in some cases, the hook. Remember, publishing is a business, but a creative business, and while we do want professionals and writers who can act professionally, we also want to know that creatively they can distinguish themselves from others, and your letter needs to show that.

I enjoyed doing this series and will collect some more letters from my clients and try continuing it again.