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KTC
06-03-2010, 03:53 AM
I was going to post this in Query Letter Hell SYW, but I thought it might be more appropriate here.

I've been silently reading query letters in 'hell' for the past few months. I can't begin a query letter by jumping into the story---without smirking and feeling like a dork. From my recollection, every single query letter begins this way...just taking the agent right into the story. I can't stop myself from beginning mine with an introduction before going into the pitch.

I think this comes from my querying magazines and newspapers. Doing this seems---perhaps erroneously---more officious and professional. Which is why I think I stop myself from creating query letters for manuscripts that begin:


Dear Agent:

Although Florence Henderson is a brilliant ten-year old, she's not smart enough to hide the fact that she can fly from those who shouldn't know.

By the way, that was totally made up...I just wanted to use something for an example. I understand that the first line of your pitch should grab the agent...but is there anything wrong with a brief introduction prior to jumping in in this fashion? Does anybody here query in different ways than what seems to be the norm?

I just can't do it. I have to begin:


Dear Agent:

My name is _____________. I am seeking representation......blah, blah, blah.


Again, that was just an example too. I just feel fake and phony and dumb if I do it as in the first example.

I know that my way works, because I have received several requests...but should I bite the bullet and do it the other way? Are the ones not requesting anything reading that first line and tossing my query aside?

I thought this could be a productive discussion. Any little bit helps in the world of query letters, right.

Cyia
06-03-2010, 03:56 AM
The "I am seeking..." line used to be the most common advice given. Now most agents who blog about it say at best it's overlooked as invisible and at worst, it's annoying. Get to the story ASAP, if for no other reason than many agents open their email in a small window and get a max of 12 lines to read at a time. Catch their attention by line 12, or they reject it.

KTC
06-03-2010, 03:59 AM
The "I am seeking..." line used to be the most common advice given. Now most agents who blog about it say at best it's overlooked as invisible and at worst, it's annoying. Get to the story ASAP, if for no other reason than many agents open their email in a small window and get a max of 12 lines to read at a time. Catch their attention by line 12, or they reject it.

hmmm. interesting. I just checked...and I actually don't use 'I am seeking'. It was just a quick example. But that might make sense to my addled mind...that lines they see repeatedly kind of fade into nothingness.

CACTUSWENDY
06-03-2010, 04:00 AM
From my understanding.....(giggles...), you have about ten seconds to grab the agents attention. If that's the case....I guess you had better get right to the story line. It may not be the best business way of writing a letter, but for writing a sales pitch,.....which is really what a query is, you had best grab while the grabbing is good. IMHO Remember, they are buying your story, not you.

Smish
06-03-2010, 04:01 AM
The thing is, they already know you're seeking representation. So, it's pointless to say so.

Make every word count, and cut the worthless ones.

dgrintalis
06-03-2010, 04:05 AM
I know I'm just echoing everyone else, but definitely hit the ground running and start with your hook.

Devil Ledbetter
06-03-2010, 04:35 AM
Kev, I'm going to validate your parking on this one. My query starts with a hook; I hate it, and agents apparently hate it too. Starting with a hook feels cheesy to me, yet I did it because that's what "everyone" says were "supposed" to do. The query has netted me nothing but rejection. I've put querying on hold until I can come up with something better

If you can pull off brief and polite query intro that results in agent interest, that's all that matters.

Anytime you want to help me revise my craptastic, rejectomatic, hook-first query, just let me know.

Linda Adams
06-03-2010, 04:53 AM
Why put your name in the body of the letter? It's on the envelope, it's at the top of the letter, so it's just wasted real estate.

I also think one of the problems with "I am seeking representation" is that is about you, not the story. It may actually invite people to prattle on about themselves, which is actually pretty common. Sometimes people spend all their time talking about themselves and never get around to what their story is about. Putting the hook in first is a signal you are getting down to business.

Also remember that the agents are receiving 250 queries and up a day. From your perspective, you're sending one letter to this agent, but their perspective, it's one of 250 letters. They have to go through all those letters in addition to dealing with normal business and clients and networking. They're going to want the letters to get to the point fast so they can make a decision. If it helps, think of it as saving the agent a little time.

Mine does start with a hook, and I've gotten a request for pages and a request for a partial off it. Ten rejections, too.

KTC
06-03-2010, 05:13 AM
Kev, I'm going to validate your parking on this one. My query starts with a hook; I hate it, and agents apparently hate it too. Starting with a hook feels cheesy to me, yet I did it because that's what "everyone" says were "supposed" to do. The query has netted me nothing but rejection. I've put querying on hold until I can come up with something better

If you can pull off brief and polite query intro that results in agent interest, that's all that matters.

Anytime you want to help me revise my craptastic, rejectomatic, hook-first query, just let me know.


Thank you! Especially for your first paragraph. I'm glad that somebody understands the 'cheesy' feeling I get when I try to do this. It's like portraying something I'm not to me. My way query has given me 2 partial requests and 2 full requests in the past month or so. I just felt I had to be true to myself.

KTC
06-03-2010, 05:14 AM
Again...if you go to post 3 you will see that I do not say 'I am seeking representation'...and post 1 says that I was only using a made up example. Yet that's the part everybody is commenting on.

Lucy
06-03-2010, 05:16 AM
Just jump in. Those housekeeping details might seem like a better intro to you, but they aren't what the agent cares most about.

By "wasting" time talking about yourself up front, the agent might think that translates to fat writing.

litdirt
06-03-2010, 05:22 AM
I read an online article with agent Dan Lazar, and he says to start letters to him by saying why you're approaching him in particular, not with the hook.

Smish
06-03-2010, 05:23 AM
Again...if you go to post 3 you will see that I do not say 'I am seeking representation'...and post 1 says that I was only using a made up example. Yet that's the part everybody is commenting on.

Sigh. Do what you want; it's your query. I doubt anyone really gets rejected for including an introduction before jumping into the relevant part of the query.

However, whether you specifically say "I am seeking representation", or you say something equally meaningless, the point remains that the introduction is unnecessary. At best, the agent will simply skip over it to get to the meat of the query. At worst, the agent will be annoyed by the wasted words.

I agree that having an introduction seems more professional, but a query is different from a standard business letter (especially if it's an emailed query).

ETA: I do agree with the person above me that information specific to the agent is worth mentioning. It's the vague, obvious sorts of things that are a waste of time, imo.

amergina
06-03-2010, 05:29 AM
I don't start with the hook. I start with why I am querying them. My query looks something like:

I read your interview on THIS BLOG and noticed you like BLAH BLAH, and I think my GENRE novel might interest you. NOVEL is complete at XXX,XXX words.

Hook & mini Synopsis.

Two sentences about who I am.

Name, Address, phone.

Of the 10 responses I've received back (so far... I just started querying), 3 have been partial requests. So they can't hate it *that* much...

KTC
06-03-2010, 06:06 AM
I don't start with the hook. I start with why I am querying them. My query looks something like:

I read your interview on THIS BLOG and noticed you like BLAH BLAH, and I think my GENRE novel might interest you. NOVEL is complete at XXX,XXX words.

Hook & mini Synopsis.

Two sentences about who I am.

Name, Address, phone.

Of the 10 responses I've received back (so far... I just started querying), 3 have been partial requests. So they can't hate it *that* much...


I've done this too. I feel anything is better than,
"Gillian Batface is a hell of a girl, but why is she on fire".

jclarkdawe
06-03-2010, 06:12 AM
You might want to look at I am seeking representation ... (http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=97501)(http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/images/misc/multipage.gif 1 (http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=97501) 2 (http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=97501&page=2)), where we discussed this a while back.

Three years ago, I was firmly of the view it was a good opening. These days, I'm more inclined to want to see the story first. Ignoring those queries where it does make a difference (and there are definitely queries where it does matter), I'd go with starting with the story, but do I think it makes much difference?

Probably not. The reader tends to skim something like "I am seeking representation ..." and heads right for the meat. I can understand the comfort factor for you in starting your query that way. People have been starting queries with this line for at least a couple of decades.

No one that I know of has done a statistically valid study of this. I've done a query with both approaches, and the result didn't change between them.

Go with whatever makes you happy and find something better to worry about.

Best of luck,

Jim Clark-Dawe

Miss Plum
06-03-2010, 07:07 AM
Why put your name in the body of the letter? It's on the envelope, it's at the top of the letter

This -- at a minimum. From the time I was a kid, I was taught not to write "My name is," because that was the point of the closing.

Miss Plum
06-03-2010, 07:13 AM
I read an online article with agent Dan Lazar, and he says to start letters to him by saying why you're approaching him in particular, not with the hook.
Then definitely do so when you're querying Dan Lazar! :)

Janet Reid says don't do it; "You're here now, and that's what's important."

I've seen agent websites where the Submission Guidelines say to include a line on why you're choosing them.

So I guess the moral is, KNOW THY TARGET.

Wayne K
06-03-2010, 07:48 AM
I found your agency using Querytracker and have read the submission guidelines on your website. You represent __% new writers and __% {genre here}. I am seeking representation for {title} a completed manuscript of ___words, which I believe it id a good fit for your agency

I start all query letters with something like this. I have about a 50-50 request to reject . I got beat up in query SYW for suggesting it, so I don't.

Tell ya what, it works. Agents like to know you took the time to do the work, read the website, stuff like that.

kaitie
06-03-2010, 08:00 AM
Yeah, some agents say specifically that they prefer word count and genre listed up front. Others say to put it at the end because it takes away from the interest.

The way Janet Reid explains it is that with an email query, you have only a limited amount of space on the screen. It's best to go straight into what's interesting first. Like everyone else says, you have a limited amount of time to catch someone's interest.

What's going to mark you as a professional isn't having an introduction, and as others said, if the info is obvious (name, for instance, you're signing with that and it shows when they open the email who it's from) that could annoy people. What marks you as a professional is having a well-written query letter including all of the necessary information and not saying things like, "It's a guaranteed bestseller" or calling your work a "fiction novel."

Trust me, as long as you know what you're doing it will come off as professional, and I have no doubt that you do.

ArcticFox
06-03-2010, 08:09 AM
I agree with those who said know the agent. Look and see who likes the info up front and those who don't and send them an appropriate version.

KTC
06-03-2010, 01:20 PM
Thanks for all the feedback, all. And thank you, Jim, for the link. It seems this has been discussed before. I find that everybody feels pretty strongly about their preference, too. I'll keep reading query letter resources and keep reading query letters and keep reading about the agents receiving them. I do try to fit a query to the agent I'm sending it to. That's my first must when preparing one. I'm not convinced that I will go right into story in the future...though it seems most are passionate about this being the way to go. I just feel too stupid doing so. It just doesn't feel like me. But all of your points are duly noted and I'm considering things. I mean, something making sense to you is different than feeling okay about doing something. I always have to be difficult. You should see how I manage to get my pants on both legs at a time.

kaitie
06-03-2010, 03:01 PM
You might feel differently once you do it and get used to seeing it that way, though. I had huge problems with the phrase "My novel is complete at 100,000 words." I don't know why, it just sounds really weird to me, but I kept seeing that as the example in various places and was told in QLH that it sounds better, so I finally changed it. Now it doesn't even make me flinch.

KTC
06-03-2010, 03:08 PM
You might feel differently once you do it and get used to seeing it that way, though. I had huge problems with the phrase "My novel is complete at 100,000 words." I don't know why, it just sounds really weird to me, but I kept seeing that as the example in various places and was told in QLH that it sounds better, so I finally changed it. Now it doesn't even make me flinch.

Yeah...but this is after trying it 'that' way over and over again. I just couldn't hit 'send'. BUT...after reading through...I'm practicing that way right now again...just to see how it feels again. I'm rewriting just for fun and feel...

kaitie
06-03-2010, 03:37 PM
In the end it's your choice. If it's well written and the premise sounds good, they'll request pages. No one's going to be rejecting you just because you put an introduction. And we all know you can write. ;) I think honestly, it's not worth stressing over.

KTC
06-03-2010, 03:40 PM
I think honestly, it's not worth stressing over.

Yeah...you're probably right. I just found it interesting. And I've been sending out a butt-load of queries lately. For 4 different novels.

kaitie
06-03-2010, 04:05 PM
Dang! I don't think my spreadsheets could handle that. ;) I'm still trying to figure out how to do two at once.

CaroGirl
06-03-2010, 04:05 PM
At the risk of sounding wishy-washy, I plan to do both. I have two versions for the query letters I've drafted for the latest project. If I have a connection in some way to the agent, I begin with personal banter. If I don't have a connection, I go straight to the plot summary.

All queries for my last novel began with the hook, and I had a fair to middling response rate for fulls and partial requests.

Best of luck, K!

CaroGirl
06-03-2010, 04:06 PM
Dang! I don't think my spreadsheets could handle that. ;) I'm still trying to figure out how to do two at once.
Just add a tab! I have five tabs on my submission spreadsheet: one for short stories, the others for novels.

KTC
06-03-2010, 04:07 PM
Dang! I don't think my spreadsheets could handle that. ;) I'm still trying to figure out how to do two at once.

spreadsheets? Man...I'm totally fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants. I have my SENT box to keep me organized. (-:

kaitie
06-03-2010, 04:20 PM
Lol. I probably send to more people than you do, too, though. I've got a biiiig list. I have to keep it all sorted by agency and stuff to make sure I don't send to two people at the same time on accident.

kaitie
06-03-2010, 04:28 PM
Just add a tab! I have five tabs on my submission spreadsheet: one for short stories, the others for novels.

I've got a new tab. It's more a matter of cross checking to make sure I don't send Agent A at The Agency of Awesome my first book, and then accidentally send Agent B the second book at the same time. I've already got a color code system to keep me from sending to the same agency. I'll have to make a new color to mean "This dude already has the other book" or something.

Danthia
06-03-2010, 04:49 PM
Some agents prefer you jump right in, other prefer an intro as to why you chose them. If you do your research, you can often find which they prefer and you can tailor your query to what they like. If there's no preference, do what feels right to you. (for the record, I did intro unless they stated a preference)

Bottom line, no decent agent is going to reject you for starting or not starting with the hook. If they don't care for intros, they'll skip them and go to the hook. Even if they like intros they may still do that. The hook is what matters most, since that's what the book is about.

You can drive yourself crazy worrying about the minutia, but in the end it really doesn't matter. As long as the query is professional and well written, you're fine. If you want a brief intro, use one.

Twizzle
06-03-2010, 05:34 PM
Ah, how times have changed. I remember arguing for the hook and being told no, you must open w/I am seeking.

It doesn't matter.

Agents look for certain things, right? So just make sure you include them. And if they have a preference, give it to them in the order they want.

Other than that, it's really about just answering what they want to know. Can they sell it? Is it a genre and word count they want to work with? Does your story seem complete so they're not wasting their time requesting it? (Do you have all the necessary elements of conflict, etc. ?) Are you literate? Do you understand basic punctuation and grammar? Are you batshit insane? Difficult? Delusional? Do you have any professional exp in publishing? Did someone refer you to them?

But I'll add, then be confident. I know there's been talk about voice and a sense of authority, but don't underestimate it. I've always believed it's mostly about being confident. Being strong. And that means writing the damn thing so you're confident and strong.

I remember someone on here saying something like it's like closing your eyes and hearing music being played. In just a few opening notes you can tell the difference between Yo-Yo Ma and a third grader picking up the instrument for the first time. Even if it's the lamest song ever written, in the hands of Yo-Yo Ma it will be transformed. Even the most brilliant song can be butchered by an amateur. You can change songs. You can fix a book. It usually takes a while to get a third grader up to par w/ Yo-Yo Ma, though.

So I've always believed good agents aren't just looking for a marketable book and they ultimately don't give a crap about the stuff we writers angst about. They're listening to those notes looking for talented artists as well, you know? So I guess my rambling point is just give them what they want to know in the best way you see fit and screw the rest. Seriously. Do what makes your query strong in your opinion and just have confidence in yourself and your abilities. Ultimately, it's your book and your ass on the line so do what you think is best.

katiemac
06-04-2010, 07:28 PM
For what it's worth, I've copied this from Janet Reid's QueryShark blog:




Dear Query Shark,

I would like you to consider Polaris, my YA romantic suspense novel for your list. The manuscript is completed at 81,000 words.

Don't start with this. It's not the most enticing part of your query letter. It's the housekeeping part: the word count, that it's finished. Put it at the end. And you can leave out that you want me to consider this. Of course you do. I want you to keep breathing, and have a long and happy life, but I don't start my letter to you with that.

I see this a lot. I think it's because you feel awkward just leaping into the deep end of the query. Don't be. A quick drop into cold water is EXACTLY how you want to start a novel (and thus a query.)Don't start with this. It's not the most enticing part of your query letter.

Full post here (http://queryshark.blogspot.com/2010/04/152.html).

Devil Ledbetter
06-04-2010, 07:39 PM
I see phrases like "my novel is complete at x words" in a lot of queries. Aside from whether this is at the beginning or end, why the complete at? We're not supposed to query an incomplete novel, so isn't complete at unnecessary?

Or are there so many morons out there querying with incomplete novels that we must assure the agent ours is finished?

amergina
06-04-2010, 07:51 PM
Or are there so many morons out there querying with incomplete novels that we must assure the agent ours is finished?

Yes. Agents get queries for incomplete novels all the time.

katiemac
06-04-2010, 08:25 PM
I see phrases like "my novel is complete at x words" in a lot of queries. Aside from whether this is at the beginning or end, why the complete at? We're not supposed to query an incomplete novel, so isn't complete at unnecessary?

Or are there so many morons out there querying with incomplete novels that we must assure the agent ours is finished?

You can say either "X is complete at 90,000 words" or "the full manuscript is available." I think either one makes the point, and I do think it's an important one.

Etola
06-04-2010, 11:52 PM
I've done this too. I feel anything is better than, "Gillian Batface is a hell of a girl, but why is she on fire".

L.O.L.

I'm sorry, I have nothing to add to this conversation that hasn't already been said, except that this line made me almost choke on my granola bar :) You just made my day!

JSSchley
06-04-2010, 11:58 PM
Back to OP,

I think it has a lot to do with genre and changing conventions. When I first stepped onto Queryshark several months ago, I was astounded to find out that people were just jumping right into their stories. When I was just out of college, I worked at a small nonfiction house, and people who started their queries with catchy information seemed gimmicky at best and were considered so by the acquisitions editor. It used to be that a formal business letter opening showed that the author was a professional who understood that this was a business and that a rejection wasn't personal.

However, for fiction, and especially now that most queries are sent by email and read on Blackberries and iPhones, it seems to make sense to dive right in. Get the agent to see as much of the story itself as possible, and then provide the details at the end. This has started to make more sense to me as I've thought about it more as a shift in reading paradigms.

Any way you slice it, the query has to be good. No matter how you start it, hundreds of other people have query letters that open just like yours. And I'm sure even Janet Reid requests fulls from people who begin by saying, "I am seeking representation," provided the story is good.

How you open the letter strikes me as one of these "missing the forest for the trees" kinds of things. Make the actual piece you're trying to sell good. Make the query reflect that the piece is good. That's what I'm going for.

KTC
06-05-2010, 01:51 AM
Just got my third request this week! Think I'll keep doing what I'm doing.

myrmidon
06-05-2010, 10:07 PM
Some agents prefer you jump right in, other prefer an intro as to why you chose them. If you do your research, you can often find which they prefer and you can tailor your query to what they like. If there's no preference, do what feels right to you. (for the record, I did intro unless they stated a preference)

Bottom line, no decent agent is going to reject you for starting or not starting with the hook. If they don't care for intros, they'll skip them and go to the hook. Even if they like intros they may still do that. The hook is what matters most, since that's what the book is about.

You can drive yourself crazy worrying about the minutia, but in the end it really doesn't matter. As long as the query is professional and well written, you're fine. If you want a brief intro, use one.

This is exactly what I was going to say...but said better and first by Danthia. I think the minutia gets so many of us off track.

If you have a great query and ms it's not going to be the "did/didn't lead with the hook!" auto reject button and quite frankly, if an agent really judges things based on something so incredibly myopic as that...do you want them anyway?

cate townsend
06-06-2010, 09:07 AM
In the end it's your choice. If it's well written and the premise sounds good, they'll request pages. No one's going to be rejecting you just because you put an introduction. And we all know you can write. ;) I think honestly, it's not worth stressing over.

Exactly.