Thursday, October 22, 2009

Not Just Because

I have been an agent for nearly ten years now, a packager for a year plus prior to that, and an editor for five years prior to that. In other words, I have some experience in this business and have learned what works for me and what doesn’t work for me. This holds true for submissions and queries as well as material I’m planning on submitting to clients.

When setting guidelines for authors I’m not making arbitrary rules just to make your lives harder. In other words, I ask for a query letter because before picking up a book or a partial I like to know what I’m reading first. In fact, that’s one of my biggest pet peeves about the Kindle. I miss the cover art and the back cover blurb that reminds me why I bought the book in the first place. I have shelves of yet-to-be-read books throughout my house and my office. When it’s time to pick up a new title I browse those shelves in the same way you browse shelves in a bookstore. I evaluate the cover art and reread the back cover blurb, sometimes time and time again before the right time comes for that book. For me the query letter is that cover art and blurb. It sets the tone for me before reading the material or helps decide if I even want to flip the cover open. It also helps me to determine if I’m in the mood to read the material that day or should wait until tomorrow.

These same sorts of guidelines apply to my clients. I don’t make them rewrite proposals (fiction and nonfiction) because I want to read each proposal 10, 15 or even 20 times. I ask them to do the work because after 15+ years in this industry I know what a proposal needs for me to sell it. Other agents might have other ideas, but this is what works for me and has worked for me over and over again. I don’t ask for revisions on a manuscript because I want an author to do unnecessary work or because I like to see authors sweat. I want them to do the work because I feel, based on my experience, that without changes editors have an easy reason for rejection.

Think of it this way: Wouldn’t my job, my life, be a lot easier if I simply submitted manuscripts exactly as they were when I originally received them from an author? If instead of asking for revisions again and again, reading the manuscript or proposal multiple times, and sending out revision letters, I just left it up to the editor? Wouldn’t it be easier for me to submit without crafting the query/cover letter I need to include to send to the editor? I spend hours on revisions, hours on the letter and even more hours following up with editors. Wouldn’t it be easier for me if I didn’t do any of that?

Life and getting published is not about easy. It takes work and I’m willing to do the work to help you build a successful career. Since it’s your career I would think you’re willing to do the work too.

And just so you don’t think I’ve gone off my rocker, here’s what caused today’s little rant: “I can't write a synopsis, summary, or blurb to save my life. My mind simply doesn't work that way. For this reason I will save you the trouble of reading the drivel that would be my traditional query attempt. Here are the first few pages of my novel.”

In any job or career there are things we love and things we have to do. In publishing, hopefully writing is what you love; revisions, editing and queries are things we have to do. I’m sure most firefighters love fighting fires, but there’s probably also a long list of things they have to do, like rescue potential suicide attempts or pull cars from frozen rivers. Wouldn’t it be a shame if all firefighters simply decided they were only going to do the parts of their jobs they loved?



Kate Douglas said...

This is a really important post, because it's a reminder that even when we're published there's still a lot we have to learn, skills we need to continually improve, and things we have to do that may not be our favorite part of writing. It also reminds me that I've learned to love something I used to hate--revisions. Jessica's got my latest WIP right now for a final read before it goes to my editor. I know she'll find things that she feels will make it better, and even though the book was finished, IMHO, I'll do whatever she suggests because I've learned that her suggestions will take a good story and make it better. And that's why it's called a WIP (work in progress) until it's printed out and scuttling across country to my editor.

(The best part is, while my agent is slaving over my story, I'll be camping in the sierras without Internet. Here's hoping I can survive total Internet deprivation for three whole days...)

Hillsy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Hillsy said...

As frustrating as it is, leave them be. That way I've got a much better chance of getting published...hehe

On a more serious note, what sort of percentage are these "instant reject" types? (Those that just put the name of the book and that's it, or send a 14 page synopsis, or kick up an almighty stink when you've shown interest, basically taking themselves out of that game in one foul swoop)

Obiously if it's every other one my chances just doubled. ;0)

MAGolla said...

It's taken me YEARS, and five manuscripts, to learn to write a decent query and synopsis. And just because I think it's decent it doesn't make my product any more salable, but I like to think it does give it a fighting chance. Putting up blinders and refusing to learn would be a red flag for any agent or editor. Who would want to work with someone who doesn't want to improve their product?
I'm with Andrew on this one, but the sad part of this situation is there is always the yahoo who refuses to follow instuctions and manages to get a six-figure deal, while the rest of us work hard and play by the rules.

Debra Lynn Shelton said...

I was having a conversation about this yesterday with an agent. I don't understand why writers have a hard time writing queries and synopses. To me, that's cake! It's like, I've done the really hard part - I've written and revised the book. Now I get to whittle it down to the nuts and bolts of the story and tell it in a sort of Cliff Notes version. How fun!

Here's my theory: It's like going to the grocery store. You dread the thought of going, but once you're there, it's not so bad. And if the store happens to be Wegman's, it's nirvana.

Anonymous said...

Here's a great link for anyone struggling with their pitch/query. After I studied this, I found writing my query actually enjoyable!

Now back to the WIP itself...heh...

Rick Daley said...

It's kind of funny that someone has the gumption to contact you and say "I can't write [something] to save my life" and then asks you to try to sell his/her writing.

CKHB said...

Dear Employer,

I can't write a cover letter or resume to save my life, so instead of learning those skills or asking a friend/colleague/job search expert for help, I'm simply going to expect you to interview me. I'm available next week.

Mira said...


I don't know.

How were the pages?

I guess I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, I think if you're going to send a submission to an agent, it's polite (and I mean that in the sense of considerate, as well as professional) to try to comply with their requests. If they want a query in order to consider working with you, I would send a query. If you want to work with them. So, I would consider that query to be rather rude - although perhaps unintentially so.

On the other hand, I think I've been fairly vocal in my dislike of the query letter. And I do think a writer can write a good book and not be able to write a decent query, so in that sense, it's possible the author here is being honest, not lazy.

Also, I believe you work hard, Jessica, but you do all the revisions and letters in order to make a sale. So, I don't think it would be easier to submit to an editor without doing all that, because your chances of selling would be lower.

So, I guess I feel that if an author wants an agent, they really need to play by the agent's rules. If they can't write a synopisis, they can hire someone who can do it for them.

On the other hand, one of the best things about the wave of the future, e-publishing and self-publishing, is that query letters won't always be necessary.

Unknown said...

Wow. I can't believe that a writer would say to you, "I can't write." Thanks for the information. I have learned so much since stumbling upon this site!

Sarah Ahiers said...

I find that so strange. I love to write. But i also love to edit, and to revise and re-write. I had a lot of fun working on my query. All of it is just another form of writing, right?

Hillsy said...


In a perfect world there wouldn't be such a thing as a query. Unfortunately, no one can go through 100 submissions a day.


Firstly, if you send 3 sample pages & no query you're instantly multiplying reading time for the agent by a factor between 3-6 (assuming a normal query is between half a page and a page) If 100 query letters took 3 hours, you're now looking at 9-18 hours a day.....I'm sure you can do the maths.

Secondly, Where the argument is a query letter gives great plot and energy but may not translate into great writing, a well written first 3 pages may not translate into a gripping plot. You need both to get the overarching plot and conflict from the query letter, and a short sample of writing as a quick assessment if the plot hits all the right buttons. Even if you reverse the priorities (good writing craft over appealing plot) and read the sample pages first, you're still going to need a synopsis afterwards to see if the stories' going anywhere.

It's a flawed system, I agree, but, like democracy, it's the best we've got until something new comes up.

Word verification - Pants: How cool is that????

Anonymous said...

Your comparing the query letter to cover art and the back cover teaser finally got through to me. I totally relate to that. The cover art, title, and description (and I'm not talking about author blurbs here-they do nothing for me) are what get me interested in picking up a book. Then I read the first few lines to see what sort of voice it's written in. I INVARIABLY choose books this way.
As for writing queries and synopses, I am SOOO intimidated by them. But, it is, as you said, just one aspect of a job (being a writer who wishes to be published). I've always known this, fight against it in my head, but realize I need to grow up and act like an adult with a real job. I feel the same way about promoting. I really just want to write (books, not queries :)) but I know I don't have that luxury. So I have done promotion and it turned out to be fun (and I learned new skills along the way, which is ALWAYS a good thing).
Thank you.

Mira said...

Oh shoot. I just logged on to delete my comment. I have a tendency to leap headfirst into any fray, and if one isn't happening, I apparently don't mind starting one. I'm trying to be choosier about my leaping.....But then Andrew responded.

I have yet to find an agent who doesn't like the query, so I think this is a losing battle.

But, I'll respond to Andrew - Andrew, you're right. A synposis is helpful for an agent. But you could accomplish that easily in two or three lines in a form attached to the query, rather than a whole business letter.

The reason I dislike the query so much is I think it wastes huge amounts of everyone's time, is completely irrelevant to the actual writing, distracts from the actual writing, causes good writing to be passed over,
and is just basically an irritating thing to write.

It also sets the wrong tone for the agent/client relationship. Agents are not employers. They are professionals hired to do a service. You don't send a letter querying a lawyer, doctor, accountant, or other professional asking you to take you on as a client. They may not accept you, but there isn't this intense power imbalance. The query letter sets up a very different dynamic altogether.

Unknown said...

Query-haters, think of it this way: once you're a published author you'll need to describe your book in a brief and appealing way dozens, even hundreds, of times. A query isn't a hoop or a test or a trick or a hurdle. It's PRACTICE.

I'm not saying that writing a query is my idea of a fun time. But all the query needs to do is describe your book in a way that makes the agent say "Ooh, that sounds like something I want to read." If your ultimate goal is to have a successful published book, you will also need to make a reader say "Ooh, that sounds like something I want to read."

Query-writing is a different skill than novel-writing, but it can be learned, and it isn't one-and-done. Being able to tease/summarize/compare/intrigue in a brief form is a skill you'll use the rest of your career.

Tara McClendon said...

I think (and I'm speculating here) that it's easier for authors to understand the requests when they have an agent who has worked with them on more than one book. The goal should be for the author and agent to work as a team with each one contributing his or her strengths to make a better book, proposal, etc. Right?

Mira said...

Jael, with respect, the skill a writer needs is to write a darn good book.

They can hire someone to write a synopsis for them once they are published, if they can't write one themselves.

Hillsy said...


Firstly, I'm a big fan of the idea of submission forms. It strips away the important, synoptic(?) part of the letter from the fluff and standardises entries. OK it's a little impersonal but in the grand scheme of things, the writing should be all. Also I agree entirely with the fact that a query letter has HUUUGE holes in what it can, and can't convey and good writers WILL be missed. But I found your solution a bit confusing.

Boiling down a novel into a paragraph or two is seriously hard work, but a line or three? That's even worse! I want every word possible to get in the depth of my plot, the history of my world, how cool my protagonist is, conflict, drama…..etc

I just the checked 4 samples that Jessica linked on the blog and they had around 70 words, 100 words, 140 words and 300 when talking about the plot. All of the rest is simple introduction (Hi I've been a big follower of your blog and I think....words long.) And brief writing credits. If you're happy with a line or 3 of synopsis, then having 250 words isn't a massive jump in size! - But then again we could be talking about two totally different takes on what is a "query letter".

In terms of the writer/agent relationship, your statement would be utterly true if one thing happened; we paid agents up front. A doctor, accountant, teacher, gardener etc gets paid no matter what. Agents, and I suspect a number of Lawyers but then I've never come across one (only in TV shows and films), have to work out if they are going to get paid or not. If you're stonewall guilty, Lawyers aren't going to represent you unless they were guaranteed payment, you have a good case for acquittal, all of a sudden the risk looks good and this time the loser pays. An author has nothing to lose, he's made his sacrifices out of love and effort and he's got an MS to show for it, an Agent has to then risk their working time against the possibility they can't sell it. I'm sure that if someone agented as a hobby they champion books in their own time for nowt.

Even then, I'd say it's in everyone’s opinion to treat it as an equal partnership. An author needs the agents contacts, expertise, experience and, lets face it, the fact selling the book IS THEIR JOB! Whereas without a good book, the agent doesn't get paid unless they write their own, which they aren't because they are Agents not Authors.

I can see where you are coming from totally about query letters. But we'd all like to wish for a world where we write and that's all we have to worry about.

Unfortunately, real life sucks.

Hillsy said...

.....Or yeah, get someone to write the query for you....sorted...hehe

Anonymous said...

I can relate to the rewriting. I've got a terrific agent who took me on and has been working with me every step of the way to whip my book into shape. I'm on my third rewrite. I think each version has been better than the last and I owe it to the patience and guidance of my agent. And it is good to know there are agents like yourself who will take the time to work with a writer to get their manuscript as perfect as possible before it is even sent out to publishers. That you are willing to expend this much time and energy with your writers raises your estimate in my eyes even higher than it is already. Wow.

Unknown said...

Mira, I understand where you're coming from, because being able to "write a darn good book" is the first and foremost skill a novelist needs. But, with respect, it's far from the only one.

Marsha Sigman said...

I completely get the need for a query letter and have no problem with it. I want an agent and if this is the process then so be it.

I kind of understand what Mira is saying in regards to an agent not being the same as an employer. But neither is the analogy of a lawyer, doctor, or accountant correct either. Those professionals are paid upfront for their services regardless of results. An agent is only reimbursed if they can sell something of your's, so they have a right to be picky.

I don't really have a better ananlogy for the relationship between author and agent but just wanted to point that out.

Dara said...

You know, sometimes I get tired of hearing other writers lament how they "can't write a query or synopsis." Well with an attitude like that, of course you can't!

I know it's not my strongest skill by far, but I also know that in order to succeed in this business, I need to do my best to craft a stellar query and synopsis. It may never be my strength--it may not be many writers' strength--but we need to put our best effort into it. Get input from other writers into what needs to be done in order to make the query and synopsis shine. Study and research about what makes a good query and synopsis. And most importantly, practice!

Perhaps some writers would fare better if they channeled their frustration over querying into perfecting it, instead of complaining about it being impossible.

*Mini rant over* :P

Catherine Bybee said...

Hmmm... I see this has everyone yakking. Writing a synopsis is hard for many writers. For an author to send you a letter stating they can't write one, although the comment is honest, it's rather stupid of them.

I have to agree with you about the Kindle. I want one, but then again I love the covers, the blurbs and the ability to flip through pages and re-read the 'good parts'.

Kristin Laughtin said...

Like Rick, I find it humorous (and a little alarming) that any writer would try to get an agent to sell their work after telling them they can't write. It doesn't matter if it's qualified with "a query" or "a synopsis" or "a summary". The agent sees "I can't write" (or at least "I'm unwilling to try this").

Even supposing an agent did take you on and your book sold without you bending to the rules and writing a query like everyone else, you're still going to have to be able to summarize your book once it's published. Even if you don't have to write the back cover blurb, you're going to have to summarize the book in interviews, at signings, to random people who ask, etc. It might not be a pleasant skill to learn, but it's a good one.

Sarah J. MacManus said...

I don't mind writing query letters, it's the synopsis that makes me insane. How to cram all those important points into three pages and keep the voice.

And the fact that some agents want a 10-page synop and some don't want more than 1 page, it's a bit unravelling.

R.J. Anderson said...

I didn't enjoy writing query letters at all when I was unpublished, nor did I feel that I was any good at them. Even now as a published author, I don't relish writing outlines and synopses and jacket copy and proposals, or coming up with thirty-second pitches for my book.

Nevertheless, I accept that these things are part of the whole package of selling and marketing a book, that agents and editors find this kind of information useful and necessary at many stages of the process, and that as with any other job, it's up to me to cultivate not only the skills that come easily to me, but also to learn and practice the skills that don't.

And I agree with those who've pointed out that learning to describe your work in a concise and dynamic way is not just a skill for writers who are still trying to get published. Because even once you've got a couple of books on the market and editors are confident in your ability to write, you'll need to be able to come up with some good proposals if you want to sell more.

Great post, Jessica. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Ah, every few weeks, folks get together to lament the query. I think of agents as assembly line workers, putting together SUVs that people don't want anymore. The query system "works" because it's designed to work.
But the creative arts are different. No matter how much you want to make a business out of publishing, it will never be a good business. Do query letters work? Well, no one gets sick or injured using them. I think it's the focus on them that's throwing everyone off. Sure, without a good query letter, a writer's at a disadvantage, even a good writer. But without a good book, it doesn't really matter, right?
Ah, but it does! See, then the bad writer with the good query gets in the door. Everyone's time is wasted, including the time of the good writer with the mediocre query. Worse still, that bad writer might end up with an agent, or even worse, a book deal.
Furthermore, the promtion of the query as "the way in" for would-be writers is just another lie among endless lies told to would-be writers in the always booming industry of selling bad writers books on how to keep being bad writers. "See, it's easy! Just make this one page exciting, and you'll land an agent!"
Writing is hard. The business is hard. Queries are a necessary bad joke. Unfortunately, agents and other industry folk keep telling the joke over and over and over. While sites like this one and Janet Reid's are fun to read, sadly I think they further this idea that publishing and the writing of good novels is an accessible business for anyone with a good heart. It's not. I think the excessive reliance and emphasis on queries, in the end, is not just a waste of everyone's time. It produces bad books and clogs up passage for good writers.
Entertainers will always have to get people's attention to make money. But if too much emphasis is put on the attention-getting and not the actual product, the process becomes a joke. I think what needs to stop are the tips, the advice, the formats, the successful queries, the unsuccessful queries, the endless noise about how to dumb down your creative effort for people who are supposed to be running the show. Guess who definitely doesn't give a damn about queries: readers, the people making the business turn.

Mira said...

Jael - do you know how hard it is to write a darn good book that will sell?

Well, you probably do.

That is a rare skill indeed.

To also make it a requirement that the author has to be able to write a summary? Wow. Seems self-defeating to me.

In an industry that loses money hand over fist, it just seems to me it would be beneficial to take a look at how the industry evaluates it's supplier (writers). And yes, this industry loses money. At a recent writer's workshop, the figure quoted was that 75% of books don't make up their cost. Seems to me there's a problem there. Part of the problem is the lack of marketing. The other problem is the subjectivity of choosing which books will be published. The third problem is the relegation of the writer to an inter-changeable tool that can be easily replaced, that is required to jump through hoops that have nothing whatsoever to do with writing. So, good writers, who are not good at jumping through those hoops, get lost in the shuffle. And they shouldn't be. Maybe that's the very writer that can write a book that will actually sell.

Andrew and Marsha,

Maybe I'm wrong, but aren't agents salaried?

But in terms of comparisions, I guess the closest would be a lawyer. Lawyers frequently don't get paid until they win the case. And they do turn down clients left and right. And you do have to 'sell' yourself to get a lawyer to take the case.

I think agents do need to be picky. I would just wish they would be picky about the actual writing and not the writer's ability to jump through artificial hoops.

But I've had this same conversation so many times, where writers defend the very system that devalues them, that honestly, I'm running out of gas on this one. At least for today. I'm feeling irritated, and am being less diplomatic than I wish I would be.

So, can I just leave it at that, and we can agree to disagree?

Anonymous said...

Mira: I really like your bold honesty! No we don't query doctors, lawyers etc. but that's the wrong analogy. If you made purses and were looking for a someone to sell them wholesale at market or in their department store, you'd have to impress them before they'd even give you a meeting! They are doing a service. Money comes only as a result of the sale; they're not getting paid whether they sell your product or not.

I'm a twisted wreck over writing query letters, I cannot tell you how much black angst gets mixed into my ink, completely opposite the thrill I get from my writing. The query letter is like sitting in the witness stand for my own murder trial, the other is like performing at Carnegie Hall.

I agree that queries are part of the job. I'd also like to note that writing them requires a totally different skill set.

My operatic past taught me that some people audition amazingly well, but can't sustain a full performance; others can sail through a three hour opera like angels but can't audition to save their souls. Of course, we all must work hard on both, but remember: one is art, the other is...a good punch line, with a buzzer.

Tracy Holczer said...

I found I didn't have a book until I learned the skill of writing a query letter. It taught me how to boil things down. If you can boil things down easily, queries shouldn't be a problem. If you can't, then what does that tell an agent/editor about your book? Writing a good book is all about knowing what to leave in and what to take out. So it is with writing a good query.


Anonymous said...

I disagree with Anon. on one point:

Readers are the first one who read the 'queries' or that type of writing. They read the back of the book 1st, then the opening lines. Then either put it down or buy it.

But yes, I'm sick to death of obsessing on all these (well thought, honest, open, well intended) sites that supposedly give us the golden key to get in the door of an agent. Because the key only fits THEIR door. I see a lot of contradictions.

Just keep at it, out there guys. Someday we will meld our own keys!!

Kim Lionetti said...


Agents get paid on commission. Sometimes agents at larger houses are salaried, but that salary is based on the commission income they bring in. I would guess that most agents, however, are commission-only. So they're not getting paid until a sale is made.

Therefore, time spent reading queries is not "paid time." We're betting that the hours and hours we spend reading hundreds of queries will result in a client or clients that will earn us future commissions. Still, that is time that we aren't spending on the clients that DO make us money. So we need a system that is fast and efficient. Reading several paragraphs of every writer that queries us would not be fast and efficient. Therefore, we need to rely on the query letter.

Mira said...


Thanks for your response.

I've made the argument to agents in the past that queries waste time for agents, as well. I've never had anyone agree with me, so you may not either. :)

But my feeling is the query gives you absolutely no information about the MS at all. Why not skip it altogether?

Create a form for an author to give a quick synopsis, and look at the pages.

One paragraph will tell you if this writer can write basic English. Three paragraphs will tell you if you want to see more.

That's less reading than if you were reading a query. And you're reading the actual work. So, your decision is likely to be more accurate and based on the merit of the writing.

If you really want a query, request it with the partial. But skip it in the slush pile. It gives you no relevant information, and actually takes more time to read than a couple of paragraphs of the actual work.

Maybe I'm wrong. I'm not an agent. But it just makes sense to me...

Mira said...

Also, I'm really sorry I got so irritated before. That was unfair of me.

This is a controversial topic, and the fact that I'm tired doesn't mean I should snap at people.

Sorry about that.

I appreciate the chance to have a forum here to express my ideas, and that people are listening and responding to them.

Coffee, Please said...

As a practicing attorney, I cannot sit on my hands here. Some plaintiffs' attorneys take clients on a contingent fee basis, which means they don't get paid up front. Instead, they agree that they will front the costs of the litigation and, should the client win, they will take a percentage (usually 30%) of the recovery.

I don't do contingent fee work, but my understanding from folks who do is that "hoops" would-be clients need to jump through are many. Often a legal assistant will do an intake interview first (equate this to a slush pile reader).

If the legal assistant thinks the case has merit, the attorney will often have the potential client write up a summary or narrative of what happened.

And then, the attorney and client will meet to discuss the case.

All this takes place before the attorney agrees to take the case. As it should. If an attorney takes a contingent fee case, the hours spent working on it provide no income unless the client ultimately prevails, AND they are hours the attorney cannot spend working on another, potentially lucrative case.

All that said, I will just admit that I don't quite get the angst over writing a query letter and/or a synopsis.

Kim Lionetti said...


If you've written a few sentences as a brief synopsis and provided your contact information, you've basically written 95% of a query letter. A simple "Dear Kim" is about all the more you need. I guess I don't understand how a form asking for that exact same information saves so much more time and aggravation than a query letter.

Lydia Sharp said...

Love the grocery store comparison. I feel ya on that one.


I tried something new with my latest project. I wrote the query letter BEFORE the first draft was complete. For me, it was much easier because all the intricacies of the novel weren't bogging down my brain. Nothing to sort through but the major plot points that I'd already predetermined before I started writing.

The result? The query is "clean", if that makes sense, and it still fits, 80K words later.

Mira said...

howdoyougetthere - thanks!! :)


In terms of the query and how it wastes time from the writer's stance? I know people who have spent months writing their queries. Literally - I'm not exaggerating.

IMHO, the query letter is an extremely difficult thing to write. So much rides on a few words.

My request: Put the burden of all that rides on the query letter onto the actualy writing, where it belongs.

And let the writer spend their time writing their work, not a query letter.

Mira said...

For example:

Dear Kim,

My book is about an ox and a lamb and how they come to love each other.

If interested, you can contact me at...

Thanks for your consideration,


I think many would consider this to be an automatic rejection query letter.

Natalie said...

I think there's a lot of misunderstanding in general about the role an agent plays (be it in writing, acting, etc.). A majority of the hard-work goes unnoticed and (essentially) uncompensated. If you, the agent, want eight drafts to get a piece up to par for presentation to a publisher, I think the author should be pleased that you believe in the work that much that you're willing to keep at it. As a writer I know it's easy to write a large body of work and feel that the hard part is over. Obviously, that's simply not the case and a poor way to approach writing as a business.

Hillsy said...

(you're not coming across irritable in the slightest...hehe)

OK lets collate everything said so far because I've got the feeling we've got several people shooting at a dozen different targets.

First of all an assumption on my part: it seems to me you are of the impression that a brief synopsis (say, 150 words) is something you're comfortable with. I sense what you're shooting at (I'm gleaning a little from memory of some of your past posts) is that you want a submission form with a 'book title' field, word count, genre, maybe a tag line (hook if you will), brief synopsis and perhaps a place to dump any writing credits. Does that sound fair?

I would offer, and I hope Kim and Jessica would correct me if I'm wrong, that you can apply that format to a query letter and it wouldn't be trashed straight away. Just a few words here and there to like the bodies of text, a greeting and a sign off, post sample pages at the end et voila, you have a query letter. Assuming the synopsis is good and describes a good plot (which any brief synopsis must do, form or otherwise) your pages will be scanned for skill and 'voice'.

So before I go on, which parts of the above fills you with so much dread? (that's not being sarcastic, I'm just trying to work out in my head the difference between our outlooks on things)

Mira said...


I'm glad I'm not sounding irritable.

And I'd have no problem with a query letter like that. That would be fine.

But query letters require more than that - there's another element that's required. The kind of element you find in a cover letter - a certain.... obsequiesness? Personalization, matching tones, etc. A query letter that does not include that will be labeled unprofessional, from what I've seen.

and Coffee, please, I know exactly what you mean. For contingency, you absolutely have to jump through hoops.

But none of those hoops require the client to be....obsequiuous? Is that the right term?

Note: I have no idea how to spell obsequieoueoeuoes. Obviously.

Unknown said...


I think our cheering squad is a little bummed today. ;-) You're always our energy-booster, girlfriend! If you wanna shoot me a line (just don't shoot me), go over to AbsoluteWrite forums and PM "L.C. Blackwell"

We can't have you down and cranky, it's not good for our morale. :-)


Wordver: cobogric

Sounds sort of trollish, I think. Fantasy languages, anyone?

Mira said...

Lucy - thanks. :)

So, I AM sounding irritable?

I know, whenever I do this, people always say I'm torpedoing my career because I'm being outspoken, and evidentally this business engages in the utterly dispicable practice of black-listing.

Well, whatever.

I'm not even sure I can write a book. And if I do, and I'm blacklisted, I'll find someone who doesn't read blogs or use a psyduenm (I can't spell psydoemenen.) or self-publish or whatever.

I'm tired, and I hate queries.

Mira said...

Okay, well before I torpedo my career any further, I'm going to go take a nap.

Thanks for the opportunity to talk about this.

Lisa Desrochers said...

I think Andrew is spot on, and that's exactly how I have approached querying. In my last round, I queried 21 agents, three of whom were using submission forms. What went on those forms was the same information, word for word, that was on the traditional query letter that went to the others. Of those 21, 12 requested manuscripts, and two those were form submissions. To me, it's no different.

Unknown said...


Yes, you're cranky. Yes, we love you anyway. No, your career is not dead.

Go sleep. :-)


Anonymous said...


You're right I spent months perfecting my query. (I should say trying to perfect it,; I haven't tested it yet.) I wrote the synopsis in one day. It just flowed out. I am totally sure that there are really rotten queries that belong to excellent writers, and vice versa. I fought the query system right beside you and some before you, BUT I am finally starting to get the need for it. It takes talent to make a query sing. I am 100% positive that agents are missing out on good books that are written by bad query writers, but it makes sense that you have a better shot at a good book if someone is talented at writing their query. If you read Guide to Literary Agents blog you will find examples of queries that were successful. Not a one of them have been perfect IMO. I think both you and I let the query terrify us, needlessly. You are very talented at writing and have a wonderful voice (far more so than I and a lot of others that post); stop worrying.

Anonymous said...

PS Mira, you can also check out successful queries on Query Tracker on their home page under the success stories link. They are not perfect; trust me.

Hillsy said...

A-HA!,....I have cracked the query code....put that in your Dan Brown pipe and smoke it....=0)

Seriously though, I'm the same with cover letters for jobs (and I've had quite a few) most of the time simple, and strong does be honest people only notice the bits around the core information when it's showy, utter tripe or....

Hang on I have an analogy.....wait for it...

The language, wording, whatever, that binds what would be simply fields on a form, are like dialogue tags.

Most of the time you don't even notice they are there, you just scan for the info and move on to the good bit. Too flashy, they stick out and annoy. Omit them all together, you're not sure exactly who's saying what. Stick to simple and confident and they just look....'right'. Granted every now and then someone pulls out a flashy doozy, but that's the least of your worries...Agents will want to read about your plot, not the naff patter around the edges

Kim Lionetti said...

Little secret: 99% of the time we skim the query letter to get to that brief synopsis that you would've plugged into a form.

I always thought that the primary aversion to query letters was trying to compose those few sentences that describe your book. Is that not the case?

Anonymous said...

Mira, you said, "I'm not even sure I can write a book"

Well, that sorta explains why you're so adverse to writing a query. I'm here to tell you not to be afraid, because once the book is complete, or almost complete, your query will write itself.

Have you ever gone to a movie without knowing what its about?
Would you ever? Well, why would an agent take on a book (unless you're a celebrity or some other name that can generate sales)without knowing the genre, word count, hook and whether or not the author has a compelling voice?

Each query I write has my voice, because a part of me is in the manuscript. If I don't know the ins and outs of my own work, how can anyone else know? but more importantly, why would they need to care?

That's what you're going to show them in your query, why they certainly do need to care.

The query helps me sell my work, or bring it home as I like to say. You only get five to maybe ten pages to get a shot at convincing an agent with your writing. If they can see from the query that your writing is good, but your whole story is damn good, you have a better shot at getting published. I don't fear the query, I welcome it. Because I feel I'm that good. And after you finish your book, you may feel the same way too.

Remember too, that the query shows just how likely you are to be someone an agent would like to work with. Having an opinion is fine, but I doubt even you would want to challenge your agent every day on why you have to attend a book signing, or why you need to come up with a blurb, or why you need to do your own marketing, or why do you need to have a website...I think you get what I'm saying. Agents aren't likely to re-invent the wheel for writers, though sometimes if you're very clever (like the guy who tweeted his manuscript on the French Revolution and got a book deal) you can skip the query. But when crowds want to see you explain your work, and you can't sum it up or make it sound tempting enough for them to buy it, then why should they? Because in your query, that's one of the things you're doing, explaining to the agent what sets your book apart from everyone else's, and why your voice is THE VOICE. Okay, I'll stop now. Sorry this is so long winded.

Anonymous said...


I think you just proved Mira's point with this line "Because in your query, that's one of the things you're doing, explaining to the agent what sets your book apart from everyone else's, and why your voice is THE VOICE." That was the part I found near impossible to do in my query letter, the part that freaked me out. We keep reading things like that, and it fries our brains to think about getting that into a short paragraph.


It terrifies us, because everyone makes such a big deal about the qualities they want in it (not just agents, but help-sites also). It makes it very hard to relax and just write it. Then you get everyone's different rules thrown in, and we go psycho. To top it off, I have heard a lot of writers detail their letters for a specific agent only to find out they are no longer with that agency (which the online system eliminates some of). It's just a scary scary process to think you could be kicked out of for a slip in your query.

Anonymous said...

Very lively conversation! I love it when people are free and in fact encouraged to have a debate, voicing all sides of the argument like this.
This is the first time I've been so engaged with people in the comment line actually hearing and responding to each other. Probably because I avoid them, feeling that almost everything that goes out is sucked into nothingness, not read or responded to, like the cold shoulder so many agents have resorted to now days.

This line definitely has a personality!

Anonymous said...

Hi Anon 3:02,

If this is your first novel, I understand your fear.

I just want you to be aware that no one's query is ever perfect - however I have read some that were so concise and mind blowing on a few blogs that I just knew the author would get signed and published and I was so wishing I could craft like that. So what did I do? I learned from them. There are samples out there, guides to follow and adapt to your own style.

You know what? Fear can be a good motivator. It can make you write five queries or more until you get it right on the tenth, or twenty fifth, and so on.

Your query can be richly nuanced or brash enough to make an agent laugh out loud. Examples of queries that hooked agents can be found here:
There’s also Rick Daley’s Query slush pile site:
And if you’re really adventurous, there’s Janet Reid’s Query Shark:

I’ve written queries in the first person of the character(s), I’ve written them carefree, I’ve written them serious, all to get that one closest to what I felt was a good representation of my voice and tale. What I found is as I pushed myself, there was a passage where I’d done myself proud (when its really good, I've even taken a part out of a query to place into my manuscript). Now, of course you’ll want to do the research and submit to an agent who best fits your work. But even if you don’t believe you can write a masterful query, don’t fret. The more you write them, the better you’ll get. You may be pretty good at writing a query, only you just don’t realize it until an agent finally says, “Send me the partial/manuscript.”

Anonymous said...

My fear about queries is that I'll have spent a year or more on a novel and have polished it to the point where I can't see what else I can do to make it better, I think it's great, would be bought if read, etc, but no one will ever read it unless I put JUST THE RIGHT thing in my query letter. I come up with ideas, write the letter, and then think, "Oh, no! What if that isn't it?" Then I start again . . .

Unknown said...

Trying not to get drawn into this again, but can't resist: I have been embroiled in the process of getting published for 10 years, I have attended conferences with agents on panels, read hundreds of agent blog posts, talked to dozens of agents personally (including the one who represents me), written dozens of queries and read hundreds, sympathized with the real or perceived struggles of thousands of writers, and I have never heard or read an agent say "I rejected that query because it wasn't obsequious enough."

Write a query that makes your book sound irresistible. Include the title, word count, and genre. Address it to a specific agent. For a teeny tiny boost of extra credit, include one sentence telling them why you're submitting to them. Anything beyond that, you're making it harder than it needs to be.

Anonymous said...


This is for you :)

YA Novel I just made up:
They told her she asked too many questions. But that's because they didn’t have the answers.
So Mira was forced into fearful silence, until she finally spoke up for the one person who mattered most. Herself. In my 65,000 word YA urban fantasy QUERY, a teen challenges a system of obedience through submission, where family members and dissenters routinely disappear-

This is as far as I got, but I just wanted you to know you do have a query voice. It’s questioning, its sincere, it’s authentic. Don’t lose it, just use it well (I'm also not saying you're a teen. You may not be, I just used the YA genre as an example since first person works well in that genre, and also it's an age where teens can identify with others questioning social norms, so if you could channel your inquisitive angst into writing for teens, you never know...)

Kim Lionetti said...

I think it all comes back to Jessica's point that she's repeated time and again: "There are no rules." There seems to be some resentment toward agents for lending tips/advice on writing a better query. The advice sometimes conflicts, requires a lot of extra effort, etc.... I think, however, that the problem lies more in how the reader interprets those blogs, articles, etc. I think it's often taken as gospel. "You must have this, you must do that..." Truly, they're just suggestions. And agents offer them in response to the numerous requests and questions we receive time and time again.

A query isn't like a recipe. The whole thing isn't ruined because you forgot the magic ingredient. If you've written a compelling, thoughtful book, I'm confident you can relay that in a letter. Is that letter going to be the example held up in query letter workshops as "perfect"? Probably not. But it doesn't need to be in order to garner a request.

Anonymous said...

Thing is, most of the novelists who say they can't summarize their work have that problem because there's a problem with the work itself.

Start with a 1-setence description. then do a 1 paragraph. Then 1 page. then 3-pages.

If you can't do suck! Just kidding--ask yourself, why not?

Every single movie ever made is summed up in 1 sentence on the back of a Netflix envelope. Obvisouly, summarizing long stories can be done.

The writers who fuss over this don't fully understand what storytelling is.

A carpenter might not be expected to be able to draw you a picture of the finished house he's working on (he's used to pounding nails on unfinished beams)--but the architect damn well better be able to! As the writer, you're the architect! Not to be able to summarize the novel is to be like an architect who says, "I can picture the whole finished house in my head, but I can't actually draw it out for you."

Go big or go home, losers!

Anonymous said...

"Guess who definitely doesn't give a damn about queries: readers, the people making the business turn."

What are those 1-paragraph descriptions on the back covers? Um, the same thing you see in a query, minus the business letter content. So readers obviously DO care about book summaries--in fact, that's how many readers make their minds up about what to buy!

There's no escaping the art of the short form, people.

How do you think a lot of multi-book deals are made? Outlines, summaries, sample chapters. Only newbs have to write the full book out before they shop it. Once you've proven yourself, a good summary can bring a sale.

So keep saying "I can't summarize my 450 page novel into 1 page!" and make youself look like a dork. Because the key phrase in that sentence is simply, "I can't."

Anonymous said...


The problem is we see agents as gods in the beginning, at least until we gain confidence. So naturally your word is law. It takes a while to believe our work is good enough to hand over to a god. Then finally a light shines down from the heavens, and we realize 'Ahh. These aren't codes, they're more like guidlines.'

Anonymous said...

"The problem is we see agents as gods in the beginning..."

Another Misconception common to Newbs. Agents are salespeople, not Gods! They all fight over the few unrepresented commercially salable manuscripts like dogs over a found piece of meat! Some writers don't even use agents, while others don't get one until later in their careers until they've sold enough copies that the agents come to them.

Agents are dying to uncover salable material. It's just that most of it happens not to be salable, so when newbs hear that they "picked" one, they think of it as the agent having blessed a particular ms., but in reality, they just happened to find something they think they can sell.

Anonymous said...

Mira, this is for you:

here is how to learn how to write a commercially lviable summary of a novel:

You must have a novel you've read sitting arouond somewhere at home. Think of one you liked and don't go look at the actual book just yet. Now write your own version of the jacket copy on the back cover. Do your absolute best, as if it were your own story you're writing a summary for. Then, when you're sure you've captured the essence, tone and spirit of that story in a concise, commercially salable manner, go read the actual jacket copy. How does it compare to your version?

Then pick another book and repeat the process. Do this, dozens of times perhaps, until you're confident that you can do it for our own, original work.

I guarantee you it will make you a much more savvy writer, not just another genre wannabe tweeting about the mundane details of their perpetual "WIP."

After a while, you might even write these jacket copy style sumamries BEFORE you begin the first draft, just to have tomething to select from, in case your publisher wants new ideas. You can always outline them later. Then, writing a first draft is just another step in the process, just a matter of pulling a story idea off the hook and writing it down. that's what I do. First drafts are just a small part of the overall process. Maybe 3 months. Again, this is for genre fic, not literary.

Good luck.

Anaquana said...


I understand where you're coming from. I obsessed for MONTHS over my query letter. Shed actual tears because of all of the conflicting blogs I was reading, and I despaired of ever finding an agent because I couldn't write a "correct" query.

I tried writing queries that were "obsequious" and tried to sell my book as THE ONE. All of them resulted in form rejections.

*cue more tears and hair pulling*

I took a few months off to cool down (and get married) and when I came back to it, I said to hell with it all. I opened with a quirky tagline (it was actually a discarded line from the book), gave a quick synopsis of the book, then listed genre, word count, and all that mishmash.

Within 48 hours of sending it out to several agents, all of them requested partials. And I have had two requests for the full.

I think my point is that you don't need to kiss anybody's ass. You don't need to be obsequious. You don't even need it to be in the voice of your story.

Just be yourself. I've read your posts on several different agent blogs and you have a definite voice that shines through in your writing. You're funny and smart. Don't despair.

*virtual hugs*

Jemi Fraser said...

Great post, Jessica! I "shop" for books the same way you do in my TBR piles :)

I don't know anyone who LOVES writing query letters et al, but I also don't know anyone who doesn't understand the need for them! Part of the job.

Margaret M. Fisk said...

As much as I struggle with queries and synopses, they're just part of the process. And I know half the struggle is just stress.

Oddly though, I have been having the same thought with manuscripts I've been critiquing. A reader would have cover art and the back blurb to cue them in, but as a critiquer, all I have is the actual text, so there's a real push to understand what type of book I'm reading. I may start including a "back cover" for my own manuscripts when sent to critiquers.

Anonymous said...

Jessica, thank you for this post. I haven't published a novel yet, but I am so tired of reading posts by writers who are angry about the query system.

Listen up wanna-be novelists, if you want to publish your book, you have to figure out a way to describe it. Why is that so hard? If you can't describe it, how are you going to do an interview in the New York Times? Go on Oprah? Or even worse (gulp) explain it to your mother?

Plus, by asking an agent to take your work, you're asking them to invest in YOU. You want to be respected as a writer. You should respect their expertise in publishing. That includes following directions and giving them the material that they need to assess whether the two of you would be a good match.

I think that for many writers, the query becomes a talisman for their fear of failure. It's much easier to blame the system (the evil query) than to see the flaws or limitations of our work.

Suzan Harden said...

Reading the laments concerning the query letter, I can no longer remain quietly lurking.

Here's my writing history since graduating with a Bachelor's degree, and please note that each writing task requires a DIFFERENT skill set:

Computer Consultant (8 and a half years)
- Technical manuals
- Project proposals

Law Student (3 years)
-Legal Essays

Probate Attorney (8 years)
- Letters to clients
- Memoranda of Law
- Motions
(And again please note, I dealt with judges in fifty different counties in Texas. Each one wanted something different.)

Magazine Columnist (2 years)
- 1.5-2K-word essay per issue on legal issue facing law enforcement officers

Wannabe Novelist (um, we won't go into the years on that one)
- Phone call from crit partner while I was flat on my back with the flu. Had to help her redraft the back cover blurb for her first book.

A query is not that big of a deal. If my 9-yr-old son can write a game proposal to Hasbro, then y'all can write a query. There's plenty of good websites and classes out there that can help you.

P.S. Despite the good results, I DON'T recommend trying to draft anything while high on Tylenol Cold & Flu.

Rachelle said...

Love your firefighter analogy, Jessica! Speaking as a literary agent who's married to a firefighter, I think the comparison is dead-on. My hubby loves to fight fires more than anything, but spends the majority of his time responding to complaints of chest pain, minor traffic accidents, and like you said, rescuing people from their suicide attempts. He actually likes those calls because he loves helping people. But you'd be amazed how much time is spent behind the scenes in things like constant TRAINING and equipment maintenance. Those are the things he doesn't love, but he HAS to do them, or neither he nor the equipment will be ready when the important stuff happens.

There is a direct analogy between that, and working on those queries, synopses, blurbs, etc.

Writers who have a hard time with them need to realize that when they have a publishing contract, they are going to be asked to summarize, pitch, and describe their book many, many times in different ways and for different purposes, mostly for marketing. They will need to speak briefly but eloquently about their book at cocktail parties and Christmas gatherings. How great to be able to practice this important skill before being published!

Mira said...


You said: "Little secret: 99% of the time we skim the query letter to get to that brief synopsis that you would've plugged into a form."

I know.

We all know it.

I don't get it. I see many hidden costs here. Don't agents?

Mira said...
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Mira said...
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Anonymous said...

When an agent has asked me to jump, I always say "How high?"
I submit a query, synopsis, revised ms.--whatever they want. But it doesn't seem to matter cuz my ms. seems to be ignored by even the *best* agents (present co. included) cuz they're too busy looking for the next Twilight.
(BTW I'm a published writer/editor, not a novice)

Mira said...

So, I wanted to tweak this.

I'm talking too much, I'm sorry, but people were really nice to me - and I want to thank them.

Lucy - Good to hear I haven't killed my career yet. I'm sure it's just a matter of time. :) I'll look you up.

Anon 2:14 - thanks for the tips! I don't want to write queries, but I'll probably have to, so thanks.:)

Mythicagirl - I really liked your paragraph in the contest. And I appreciate your story. :) Unfortunately, I left teen years behind a long, long time ago. But I act like I'm 12, so it all balances out.

Anon 6:09 - thank you. Great tips, appreciate that you took the time - thank you.

Anaquana - Congratulations on your requests!! And thanks for what you said - I'll keep it in mind. Thanks for the nice things you said about me - that means alot to me. :)

Rachelle, you're too nice to argue with. But I wish you'd reconsider the query too.

So, I promise not to talk very much tomorrow at all. I've totally monopolized, and I really appreciate it.

I do hope people heard some of what I was saying though - thanks for listening regardless.

Gloria Bryant said...

The first query letter I have ever written was sent to Ms. Lionetti. It took me three days. After reading some of her posts I did my best to send what she was looking for or what I would want to see on the cover of a book. I am like her if the cover doesn't catch my eye I won't open the book. Another thing if I read the first couple of chapters and I am not intrigued I won't finish the book. It is a waste of my time.

Hillsy said...

Gloria: See now you're being prejudiced against all books with a first page you don't like! What about all the great 400 page books with a brilliant last 399 pages?....haha...Sorry just joking.

It does prove my point though. THE ONLY WAY TO ABSOLUTELY KNOW if a book is enjoyable (given subjectivity) is to read it cover to cover. Anything else leaves it open to a 'what if' statement. However, us as a reader/customer does not have the time or money to read every single book, so we make judgements based on limited information (Blurb, first page, cover art, etc). If you had 1 hour to skim 100 books in a book shop, you'd make snap judgments based on what's given at you. That's roughly how much time an agent has.

Example, If I read that one of the main protagonists is under the age of 12, I put the book back on the shelf. Because I assume something about the content, the use of the character, the realism of the whole thing, is going to fall in line with what I believe. I *should* read the whole thing to make a balanced judgement. I don't because of time.

If you gabble, waffle, misuse words, basically write poorly, an agent is going to *assume* your MS is the same even if the first 5 lines of the attached pages are OK. If you describe a rubbish plot, and agent will *assume* she won't like the plot.

In a perfect world you'd read the whole book, then choose to buy it. In a perfect world an agent would read the whole MS, then choose to represent it.

Anonymous said...

Good Lord.

Why do some people need to make this so complicated - for themselves and for everyone else?

If you can write a paragraph describing your book and stick it an online form, what in God's name is so horrendously, traumatically difficult about taking that SAME EXACT PARAGRAPH, adding "Dear [Insert Agent Name]" and "Sincerely, [Insert Your Name]," pasting it into an email or onto a Word document, and sending it on its way? What?? If that's the way an agent needs to see it in order to decide whether or not to spend countless hours, days, weeks, months considering your work, WHAT IS THE BIG FREAKING DEAL?? There is no magical alchemy involved in this. If you're a good writer and have a good sense of what your book is about, you'll do fine. If you can't do it, the, trust me, the problem is not with the agent or the query system - and you have no business demanding that the agent waste time reading your pages to come to that same conclusion.


I have an agent, and I write queries and synopses for my WIPs all the time. These tools are invaluable. They help me maintain my focus, sharpen my story, and keep my stories and characters on track. They also come in very handy when, as in the case of my last book, the publisher massacres the back-cover and/or catalog copy and you need to swap in something snappy in a hurry.

Stop whining, folks. Write the paragraph.

Anonymous said...

Anon 6:09,
THANK YOU! What an awesome suggestion.
Another writer once suggested to me (when I said I'd never written a synopsis and was having trouble with it) that I style it like a short story. Tell the same story as in your novel, just do it in short story format. I intend to try it, but have put it off b/c I've never written short stories, only novels, so I really need to learn that skill, too!

writergrrrl said...

Rachelle, you're too nice to argue with. But I wish you'd reconsider the query too.

Mira, I don't quite understand the logic of trying to convince agents that the query system doesn't work, that it wastes their time, etc. Agents will continue to request queries because the system DOES work for them. (And heck, writing queries and synopses works for me because it enables me to evaluate my story elements. Like one other person here mentioned, I write my query and synopsis when I'm still drafting my novel. Of course it's difficult. But so is writing the dang novel.)

I'm also puzzled by your impassioned posts because you state you're not even sure if you can write a book. If you haven't even written a book, why are you so worked up about the query at this stage? You might find it easier to write than you think. And there are tons of online examples and people who can help.

Mira said...


Well, agents need writers. Without them, they have no job. So, anything that is bad for writers is also bad for agents.

Even if it's subtle and hidden.

Agents may not agree that the query is bad for writers, but I believe that it is, and I'm trying to convince them.

Thanks for your suggestion about my writing - I'll check out some resources. But regardless of whether I personally can write, I still have strong feelings about the dynamics between agents and writers.

CommonSenseWriter said...

Mira, I read your comments here and over on Nathan's blog.

I'm a little confused as to why you have made the query system your cause celebre. You haven't even finished a book and gone through the query process, so you can't be jaded by it.

I think it's interesting that you didn't comment on that post by Susan, who listed out all of the different types of writing that she's done. Or any of the other posts that suggest that you're making this too hard.

You claim that you want to debate, but I don't think that you actually do. You've already made up your mind that the query system is a big bad hobgoblin.

The bottom line is that the publishing industry is not about YOU. Just because you don't like the query system, the industry isn't going to change. The sooner you realize that, the happier you will be as a writer.

And in case you're wondering. . . No, I'm not an agent, nor do I work for a publishing house. I'm a writer who can see the merits of the query system.

LivelyClamor said...

summary? No problem.
writing the book itself? Scary, I'm brand new at it.
Having a clear idea of who my characters are and where I start and stop? getting there. It's the middle...
Explaining the book to my _mother_?

....oh no....

scarier than all the rest of this stuff put together :-)

Anonymous said...

the Q-sys rules!

How else would I get a FREE story idea evaluation service!

here's how to 2 make it work 4 u:

Write out 1 jacket copy style summary for each novel idea you have. Say you have 3 ideas and are wondering which has the most commercial potential. So write 3 different Q's, each with a different name and use fake titles. Send each 1 out to about 50 agents who handle that genre and are currently accepting subs.

Then, tally the results as they come in. After 3 months, whichever Q got the highest # of requests, that's the one you write!

Then, a year or so later after the agents have forgotten all about your initial testing-the-waters Q, you write the REAL Q using the real title and your real name, and send that one out to the same 50, in waves of 10.

dolorah said...

Funny, I found writing, and rewriting, the query letter helped me write a synopsis. I'd been having trouble with it, and decided to focus on the query, and give up on submitting to any agents that required a synopsis.

I didn't realize how vey limiting that philosophy was! Once I sat down to accomplish the job, it felt a lot like writing a short story, and polishing it to fit whatever magazine (or e-zine) I wanted to submit to.

Honestly, I think we all make much more work of the synopsis than it really is. I of course was very guilty of that.

But now I'm glad it done. Because now I'm not afraid of "pitching" the novel to an Agent at a conference. I have an idea of what I need to say.

Thanks for this post Jessica.


Mira said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...


You couldn't be more wrong!

Many writers love the query system as it is now. It works.

Selling writing is difficult no matter what acquisition system is in place.

Try this: if you're so convinced that your writing is so ready for public consumption that the ONLY thing holding you back from your adoring readership is the query letter-agent construct, then take the POD route and go direct to Amazon. IF you sell enough copies there, the agents will beat a path to your door.

Whatcha waiting for?

Mira said...

Anon 1:19,

Thanks for the suggestion. I'll check out POD as an option.


No, I'm not jaded. I just think the query system is wrong, and as a writer, that's part of what I do. Write about what I think is wrong.

On a thread like this, where tons of people are arguing at once, I only respond to the ones that address me by name. Otherwise, I'd be completely monopolizing the thread, which I'm trying not to do. So, I really didn't mean to ignore anyone, or imply that their opinion wasn't important.

In terms of debate - there are discussions where people explore issues and come to conclusions. But the debate on this thread is the kind where people take different stances and then try to convince each other. Both types of debate are fun and interesting to me.

So, with that, I'd like to stop.

I've been given a very generous forum to express my opinion, and I don't want to overstay my welcome. I also don't want it to seem like I've moved from critisizing a system to critisizing individual agents. Because I'm not. I like the agents I know very much. I just don't like queries.


Anonymous said...

Mira, are you published? Because if you were, you'd realize that writers are often called on to contribute to the process of writing back cover copy, ad copy, art forms, etc. It's not JUST about writing a good book.

Can the publisher do these things for you? Yes...but what if they suck? Trust me, I've gotten my fair share of bad back cover copy from my publishers, all that had to be rewritten by me. The best copy came from the times when I'd given them something to start from--a summary. No one knows your book better than you do. No one has more at stake in SELLING that book than you do.

People who spend more than a day writing a query may be wasting their time, but it's their time to waste. I could write a query in a flash, but that's because I've done it so many times.

I'm multi-published with three major publishers. I have an agent. But I still need this skill.

I liked the analogy with the fashion designer trying to sell their product into a chain or catalog. Writing is art, but it is also business. A writer will need to learn some business skills--and if you just "hire" people to do it for you...well, look at Patricia Cornwell and how well that attitude turned out with her accountants and her missing 4 million dollars.

Mira said...

Anon 10:49

I understand that 99% of people who query are turned down. Why do people who are not going to be published need to demonstrate that skill?

My suggestion: move learning to write a synopsis to a different point in the process, and focus initally on the MS.

And with that, I'm really going to stop.