Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Why Query Rules are Important

If you follow me on Twitter you'll see that lately I've been doing a lot of complaining about people not following query guidelines. I'm not sure if there are some new rules out there that I'm not aware of, or if people are just spending the summer querying without doing proper research.

I've written endlessly about what makes a good query. What I don't think I've ever done is written about why there are query rules.

An agent's query inbox can be daunting. Moe just confessed to me that in two months at BookEnds she has received 1500 queries. That's, well, insane. When facing any challenge like that I think we can all agree that we set up perimeters to thin things out. It's like organizing your home. The first thing you're going to do is throw away anything that's broken. Then you might throw away anything you haven't used in years, etc, etc. A query inbox is the same.

The first thing an agent will likely do is look at the genre. If it's far outside of what the agent does she'll reject it. For me that would include short stories, children's picture books, techno-thrillers and screenplays. I don't do those, it's unlikely you'll sway me on that.

The next thing an agent will do is read the blurb. This is why you need a blurb. I need to know in a few short paragraphs if the book is what I do. Sure its a thriller, and I do those, but is it on a subject I'm interested in? Does it grab my attention? That will help me weed those out. 

Then I'm willing to read more. Once I've weeded things out I can really get to work. That's the point where I'll start looking at chapters and a synopsis. Not before. At that point I have my short list and a good idea whether or not these projects are right for me. Now I can devote time away from clients and other BookEnds duties to build my client list.

Not following the guidelines makes it more difficult for me to quickly evaluate and make decisions on things, other than what you might be like as an author. 

If you feel like sending me a paragraph about yourself and how you have dreams of writing the book and instead of a blurb have simply pasted the synopsis below I'm going to think you're someone who thinks you're above the rules. That's going to make it hard to work together and, likely, not someone I want to work with.

No matter how you spin it, we make decisions based on your query, not following the rules (or even attempting to follow the rules) gives us an immediate impression of what life would be like with you.



Anonymous said...

Just in time & space (two justs in just the first 3 graphs). Works for me!

>>How One Word Can Impact the Strength of Your Query

When coaching my assistants and other agents on how to approach editors I've always been very particular about word choice. The word "just" has been a pet peeve of mine for a number of years. It's a word I've consciously worked to remove from my vocabulary and a word I've encouraged my team to drop.<<

Rachael said...

Unfortunately, the people who most need to see these posts are the ones least likely to read them.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

A little while ago I "just" wanted to comment about the snarky first comment but I thought better of it. After coming back I decided I would. So there, I commented.

On subject, I think your "broken and unused" analogy is great.

Nowadays, (there's a word for ya), writers feel they have some sort of personal relationship with agents, because of blogs and social media. They feel rules are for strangers, friends get to slide on in. Not so, rules apply to everyone. I fell into that trap once and let's "just" say I was embarrassed by the reality check; the rules apply to everyone. And, that's a good thing.

BTW I like the word "just". Used wisely it makes a great point by denoting the importance of lessening a sentiment, idea or description. To me it can also be a little like sugar laced with venom as in, "just kidding", when you're really not.

Emily Keeler said...

I've seen an influx of this on a couple of my writers' loops. Writers who firmly believe, for whatever reason, that queries no longer have the impact that they used to, and the only way to stand out and get an agent's attention is to swim against the current. These tactics run from the ill-advised (query literally everyone all at once, whether they are a good match or not) to the flat-out batcrap crazy (stalking agents with the intent to befriend them outside the writing world, then book ambush them with your manuscript on Boggle night).

Most of this is good old-fashioned misinformation. But every now and then you get a writer who tries some of this batcrap crazy stuff and it actually works, thus lending credence to the notion that queries are useless and the only way to get an agent's attention is to act out.

AJ Blythe said...

Must start staying up to date with my twitter feed!

Not sure why writers feel the rules are just a suggestion. But if they paid any attention to what agents are saying they would realise the competition they are up against (Moe's nearly 40 queries a day up to Kristin Nelson's 500 a day). If I was an agent I'd look for any reason to cull the pile.

The only reason I want to be rejected is because of my writing. Anything in my control (like following rules) I am going to do!

Colin Smith said...

"Then you might throw away anything you haven't used in years..."

This is why I'm not an agent. My inbox would have 100,000 emails in it because, well, you never know, I might need that query later! :)

Okay, it's not the only reason I'm not an agent, but that's not the point. The day it makes sense to go to a job interview naked wearing only a clown nose in order to stand out is the day your query needs to do anything more than you've stated, Jessica. :)

Hollie said...

Isn't it a little like you play at my house you play by my rules?
I want an agent, I'm not at that point in time yet but I WILL get there. So I found an agency who have a good reputation for giving sound advice and I'm following it.
I'm building a website (not as easy as I thought)
I've joined RWA and an online chapter, thank you so much for the information about that.
When I come to writing a query letter I'll continue to follow the advice.
Because I want the agents to see I can follow simple instructions, I remember the manners my mother taught me and I want to work with them. Not against her.
Or am I barking up the wrong tree?

Her Grace, Heidi, the Duchess of Kneale said...

Now there's an angle on the query I've not considered before--a query not only hints at what the book is like, but what the author is like.

I agree--easy-going clients are the desirable clients.