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MDSchafer
06-21-2012, 09:11 AM
I've got two schools of thought about this. One is that agents are reading query letters on mobile devices, and so they might tend to read less of a query letter. At that same time however, most agents I've found in my research are asking for a synopsis and a 5 to 50 page sample as part of their guidelines.

I'm wondering if they're basically asking for partials because so many people spend so much time revising and crafting a query letter that you can really hide a dog manuscript with a good query letter. Maybe asking for a partial and a synopsis cuts down on the number of submissions they receive?

So I've started thinking about my own novel and how my query letter has probably gone through forty drafts or so while my manuscript has only been revised three times. I wonder if we "Pre-published" authors should revise our manuscripts more and polish the query less? With so many agents effectively asking for partials as part of their submission process the chances are better at least your first couple of paragraphs will get read. I'd bet a passable query will get the agent to look at the first page of your book, and I'd say the first 250 words of your book stand a better chance of selling your manuscript than the 250 words of your query.

Any thoughts? Or maybe it's just that I'm researching YA agents, and it could just be that agents who represent that particular genre that makes de facto partial requests.

blacbird
06-21-2012, 09:16 AM
The entire query "process" completely baffles me. I understand quantum physics better.

caw

Toothpaste
06-21-2012, 09:22 AM
Why not polish both?

SomethingOrOther
06-21-2012, 09:35 AM
Why not polish both?

The same reason as with the false dichotomy threads. If you polish one, while you're sleeping gnomes will descend from the ceiling and mess up the other. Like, duh.

Becky Black
06-21-2012, 12:35 PM
The advice I hear most often is that many people try too hard with their query and agents and editors really only want something short and simple. Of course, short and simple - but still enticing - can be the most difficult thing to achieve.

I agree that in the end it's the novel not the query letter (or the synopsis that sells the novel.) But those things have the power to turn the editor or agent off the novel, make them not read it, so they are important too.

I think if you're not sure you can pull off clever or witty in your query letter (and many people can't even if they can do so in their book) then stick with keeping it simple and straightforward. Avoid the common errors that will turn the agent or editor off reading the partial or full, and let the book speak for itself.

Excessive query polishing can be a form of submission avoidance. Just one more day before inviting people to cruelly dash your dreams...

Calla Lily
06-21-2012, 03:42 PM
It's the current state of the business. We all have to work within it if we want the agent-trade publishing contract route. If it were easy, the prize would not be as sweet.

jclarkdawe
06-21-2012, 03:49 PM
I'm wondering if they're basically asking for partials because so many people spend so much time revising and crafting a query letter that you can really hide a dog manuscript with a good query letter.

And services such as QLH, as well as services that will actually write your query, all add to the problem.


Maybe asking for a partial and a synopsis cuts down on the number of submissions they receive?

I doubt it.


I wonder if we "Pre-published" authors should revise our manuscripts more and polish the query less?

It amazes me the number of people who arrive in QLH saying 'I've got X number of responses from my query, but agents are rejecting my manuscript, therefore I'm going to work on my query.' They've got the equation ass backwards.

Queries are easily fixed, and present a finite problem. A manuscript is not easily fixed and is an infinite problem. People gravitate to easy problems rather then dealing with complex and hard problems. And services such as QLH can give you one-on-one support to dealing with your query problems. Result is way too many people dwell on the query.

Best of luck,

Jim Clark-Dawe

lorna_w
06-21-2012, 04:00 PM
yes.

Puma
06-21-2012, 04:06 PM
Very good thread topic, MDSchafer. Becky and Jim have pretty much hit my thoughts.

As long as we continue to have new writers, we're going to continue to have - I just finished my manuscript (first draft), and no one's taken it yet. People don't realize how much re-work and polish goes in to a final manuscript - the one that should be ready before the query. Puma

quicklime
06-21-2012, 04:23 PM
I've got two schools of thought about this. One is that agents are reading query letters on mobile devices, and so they might tend to read less of a query letter. At that same time however, most agents I've found in my research are asking for a synopsis and a 5 to 50 page sample as part of their guidelines.

I'm wondering if they're basically asking for partials because so many people spend so much time revising and crafting a query letter that you can really hide a dog manuscript with a good query letter. to the best of my knowledge they were asking for a first five pages or so ten years back, or longer....if anything, I'm thinking as e-mail became more commonplace they were willing to ask for more sample pages because if they said "this is shit" three pages in, it wasn't five bucks wasted at Kinkos for some hopeful writer. e-mail costs nothing to them or the submitter, so they can ask for more and read or not read, but I doubt it was because queries are super-evolving and they need a new triage system that involves reading more.

Now, can a really good query letter go with a really bad manuscript? Of course. But I don't believe that is any more or less plausible today than it was in the past.

Maybe asking for a partial and a synopsis cuts down on the number of submissions they receive? I doubt it, but it lets them get everything at once, and it takes just as long to delete if you stop at the query letter--but it doesn't take an extra step of having to go back and ask for that synopsis or partial, so that DOES save them time

So I've started thinking about my own novel and how my query letter has probably gone through forty drafts or so while my manuscript has only been revised three times. I wonder if we "Pre-published" authors should revise our manuscripts more and polish the query less? I think this is a false dichotomy...many people should absolutely polish their manuscript more (certainly not everyone though, some are to the point of negative returns) but that doesn't mean to polish the query less.

With so many agents effectively asking for partials as part of their submission process the chances are better at least your first couple of paragraphs will get read.why? who says that translates to anything more than "as long as e-mail is free and you're sending anyway, send a partial too...."? I'd bet a passable query will get the agent to look at the first page of your book, and I'd say the first 250 words of your book stand a better chance of selling your manuscript than the 250 words of your query. I'd bet otherwise. Heavily. Because a mediocre query severely diminishes the odds of them seeing your first 250 words of story.

Any thoughts? Or maybe it's just that I'm researching YA agents, and it could just be that agents who represent that particular genre that makes de facto partial requests.


again, I doubt the partial request increase in any way equals more partials read. just my opinion.

as for queries getting "undue" attention, I think if anything, as jim mentioned, it is that novels see less of the attention they should. But I wouldn't say queries get too much. The query is the initial pitch and first impression; if you were to look at this like applying for a job (which it sort of is) the query is a bit like the resume. The partial is a follow-up interview. In "that world" would you say resumes are less important than the interview, or that you better excel at both?

FabricatedParadise
06-21-2012, 04:52 PM
Personally, a lot of the query letters I receive at Entranced could use a bit more polish. Some of these not-so-great queries have had stellar MSs attached. Yes a truly bad query can reflect poorly on your MS, but the only "truly bad" queries are usually attached to manuscripts that need a lot more polish/ have formatting issues/ etc. Meaning, the poorly crafted queries usually come from authors who haven't done their homework.

The query just gives our editors a starting point, an idea of what an MS is about. The opening pages of the work tell us if an MS is in submission condition -- and yes, we really can tell from just the first few pages.

FabricatedParadise
06-21-2012, 04:54 PM
The query is the initial pitch and first impression; if you were to look at this like applying for a job (which it sort of is) the query is a bit like the resume. The partial is a follow-up interview. In "that world" would you say resumes are less important than the interview, or that you better excel at both?

Yep. This.

MDSchafer
06-21-2012, 05:44 PM
The same reason as with the false dichotomy threads. If you polish one, while you're sleeping gnomes will descend from the ceiling and mess up the other. Like, duh.

Some of us do have a finite amount of time to work on these things. Like most writers I know I'm working full time, additionally I run a small nonprofit and go to nursing school. There isn't enough time in a day, or a week, to focus on everything I want to. I only have so much time to revise anything I write. Like a lot of people I'm not certain how much revision you need before a work of fiction sounds professional and its dawned on me that I've proportionally put more time into the query than the first 20 pages of the MS.

What I'm concerned of is that maybe I am, and others are, putting their time into the wrong thing. One of my friends, who got a publishing a deal without an agent, is of the mind that your query needs to sing because agents read queries on their cellphones these days, and so if the first inch or so of text doesn't grab them they stop reading. What I'm wondering, and what Fabricated Paradise seems to be inferring, is that if your query is just serviceable the first couple of paragraphs will still get read.

Calla Lily
06-21-2012, 05:51 PM
MDSchafer, this is going to sound harsh.

If your current RL commitments are such that you don't have enough time to polish and revise the Q and ms properly, then perhaps put them aside for now. I've worked FT since HS, and I put my writing aside altogether when the kids were little.

Right now I work FT, run the house, and do freelance copyediting on the side. I choose to give up other activities to focus on my writing. This is a business proposition for me: I want to sell books, so I'll do what I need to do to achieve that.

Perhaps when you've gotten your degree, you'll be able to use that time to revise the book.

Or, if this post has made you think, No, dammit! I will achieve this now! Then mapping out your day will show you the spaces where writing will fit in. When the kids were in grade school, I used "found time" to write and edit. Waiting at soccer practice, at the doctor's office, while cooking dinner. Things like that. Those 15-20 minute blocks of time forced me to be productive and efficient.

Good luck.

Polenth
06-21-2012, 07:07 PM
Some of us do have a finite amount of time to work on these things. Like most writers I know I'm working full time, additionally I run a small nonprofit and go to nursing school. There isn't enough time in a day, or a week, to focus on everything I want to. I only have so much time to revise anything I write.

If you have time to edit your novel, you have time to edit your query. The query letter is only a page, so doesn't need the same amount of time for a complete edit as a novel. You won't save a novel-worth of editing time by skipping the query.

Toothpaste
06-21-2012, 07:11 PM
There might be a finite amount of time in the day to do everything you want to do, but there isn't a finite amount of time to work on your novel and query (okay technically there is, we don't live forever, but you know what I mean). So you only have one hour a day to work on your writing. What's the rush? Why not take as much time as it takes to edit both? Why not work on your MS until you feel it is the strongest representation of what you can do? And why not work on a query until you feel it best represents that work?

So maybe you might have to start the submission process a month, two months, a year later than you would like, but so what? Where's the rush?

veinglory
06-21-2012, 07:30 PM
I can't imagine a scenario where having a not very good query would be an advantage over having a good one.

quicklime
06-21-2012, 08:08 PM
Some of us do have a finite amount of time to work on these things. Like most writers I know I'm working full time, additionally I run a small nonprofit and go to nursing school. There isn't enough time in a day, or a week, to focus on everything I want to. I only have so much time to revise anything I write. Like a lot of people I'm not certain how much revision you need before a work of fiction sounds professional and its dawned on me that I've proportionally put more time into the query than the first 20 pages of the MS.

1. anything, ANYTHING, gets revised until the revisions are only lateral moves. Then it stops, because lateral is a waste of time and the next step is revising to the work's actual detriment. This goes for the query, AND the MS. that is all, and it really is that simple. again, this IS a false dichotomy--the question you apparently SHOULD be asking is is your MS needs more time/work, not if your query needs less.

2. We all have finite time. Maybe that means you are gonna write half as many novels a year as you hoped. Maybe it means you need to find more time. but we ALL have a finite amount of time--if you're weighing the relative merits of this as an excuse, imagine sending a letter TO the agent, explaining your situation: I hope you understand, I have finite time, so I did my best to make a truly stellar book, but fully realize the query is sub-par; I was busy." Yeah, that sounds bad--do you have a better way you'd phrase it, ro do all arguments pretty much end at the same place? Because I'm thinking they all come off bad.

What I'm concerned of is that maybe I am, and others are, putting their time into the wrong thing. One of my friends, who got a publishing a deal without an agent, is of the mind that your query needs to sing because agents read queries on their cellphones these days, and so if the first inch or so of text doesn't grab them they stop reading. while i may not fully agree with his reasoning, I am considerably closer to your friend, I guess....What I'm wondering, and what Fabricated Paradise seems to be inferring, is that if your query is just serviceable the first couple of paragraphs will still get read. i think you may be reading a bit more into fabricated's post than they offered; I would very much like to hear a bit of assent or dissent on her part.


how, exactly, is "I do not have time to write a good query" a fundamentally different argument than "I do not have enough time to write"? Because the latter question seems to have a universal answer of "you make the time," so I'm not sure why queries are not the same. A mediocre query MAY still get a few pages read, but you're counting heavily on agent goodwill--unless you're gonna time your query to arrive the same day as you sent an anonymous hookergram, the day they win the lotto, the day you send anonymous chocolates, etc., you're leaving a lot that you can actually control to random chance. So, again, just fix the damn query. And if you feel you're spending too much time on the query, either you're just taking a while learning how to write one, or it may be a sign you need to spend more time on the MS. But in either case, I just don't see any reason this justifies less care going into the very first impression you will ever make with a given agent.

Roger J Carlson
06-21-2012, 08:20 PM
Often people treat the query as some sort of magical thing that will sell a novel. It's not. The ONLY purpose of a query is to get a request for a partial or full. That's it. Only the manuscript sells the manuscript.

But it's not a matter of one thing being important while the other is not. There is so much competition out there now that you have to do everything well: writing, querying, pitching, making good business decisions -- everything.

Filigree
06-21-2012, 08:22 PM
Agreed. You need a good query letter. But the mms needs to be as polished as possible first. It certainly helps with writing the query.

I queried two very different novels over the last two years. The first was a huge fantasy novel that I'd worked on intermittently for ten years, the second a shorter erotic fantasy that I wrote in three months.

I had a hard time writing queries for novel #1: it was too big, too confusing, and certain aspects of it seemed to scare agents. Out of approx. 68 varied query letters, only two got me partial requests for the first 50 pages. Those partials resulted in cordial personalized rejections and requests for my next project. When the full mms went to a major publisher's in-house writing contest, a senior editor gave the mms third place out of 700 entries and some great reviews. A partial of the mms also got critical mention in another big writing contest. None of this led to any offers. I realized I needed to heavily revise the novel for length and clarity. I have an agent willing to look at it now, but it has to be much stronger than my previous versions. The agent will need a decent hook to use as pitch material, but I'm not going to kill myself over the query.

For the erotic novel, I started writing with a short hook that informed the story's pace and style. That hook eventually became a query letter that got me two offers out of seven publishers queried, far better results than my first query battle.

So I'd say be thinking about your query while you're writing - but make certain the writing is great.

veinglory
06-21-2012, 08:25 PM
IMHO you are only working too hard at anything when you make it as good as it needs to be and don't stop.

Filigree
06-21-2012, 08:48 PM
I think for me, I needed the learning curve between the two books. Now that I know I *can* write a decent query letter, I have the courage to forge ahead with new ones.

This is my worry about query letter services (not QLH, but other places): sometimes the responses come from well-meaning folks who simply don't read in that query's genre. If I'm researching agents and editors for good genre matches, why should I give more weight to a critique from readers who are not just as familiar with my genre? At best, their critique can give me some general guidance. At worst, it can tie me in knots trying to explain basic sf&f tropes.

quicklime
06-21-2012, 08:53 PM
...

This is my worry about query letter services (not QLH, but other places): sometimes the responses come from well-meaning folks who simply don't read in that query's genre. If I'm researching agents and editors for good genre matches, why should I give more weight to a critique from readers who are not just as familiar with my genre? At best, their critique can give me some general guidance. At worst, it can tie me in knots trying to explain basic sf&f tropes.


hmmm, the learning curve thing is huge.

as for the rest, you CAN get that here too (poor advice, and/or tied in knots explaining)....part of the "fun" in getting advice is learning who to buy into and who is full of shit, and when. There's no getting around that, although I happen to be a huge fan of QLH and think the folks there really ARE a cut above. There's folks there I'd give a kidney to just to have them write for me.

that said, I'm not so sure how important genre is. I've helped folks with queries in fantasy and mainstream and horror, the rules are all at least 90% the same, and so are the mistakes....you just have to not get derailed on explaining details like you mention above.

Filigree
06-21-2012, 09:15 PM
One of the problems I had was balancing 'too much detail' critiques with 'too vague and bland' critiques. This was just on that first query letter, mind you.

By the second one, I was more comfortable. Nor did I shop the final version of the second mms query to the general QLH board. I figured the graphic adult content even in the query would be too much for the open forum.

I'd say genre matters, if only for reader expectation.

Little Ming
06-21-2012, 09:28 PM
Continuing the "false dichotomy" discussion: Queries and the works they represent are not mutually exclusive. There was a discussion in QLH a few weeks ago about the problems in the query can be reflective of problems in the novel. There's a reason agents want a query letter, because first impressions matter, and sometimes you really can see the problems of the MS from the problems in the query. Sometimes finding problems in one, helps you see the problems in the other.

You'd surprised how many people in QLH have problems with the Three Questions (http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=160591). What is the main conflict? Who is the MC? How do you write with voice? How do you make your MC active? What genre is this? How much is too much backstory? Is there a pacing problem with the plot? Why are the characters acting inconsistently? These questions should be clear by the time you get to the submission stage, and yet, some people are still having problems with it. Sometimes it really is just the query. Other times it's represents a bigger problem with the MS.

I agree with Jim. The query is the easy fix, that's why people get stuck on it. It's much easier to fix the 250 words query than it is to tackle the 75,000-word MS. And it's easy to blame the query. After all, if you're being rejected before the agent even reads that MS, then it must be the query's fault. Except, sometimes it's not.

***

As for bad advice... it happens. Even in QLH. ;)

And sometimes you get a lot of "good advice," but the advice is conflicting. Some critters suggest doing ABC, others are saying XYZ. Both sides are right, both suggestions will make your query better, but they are conflicting suggestions. That's when you need to take time out, step away from the query and novel to give it time to process before you make changes. You need to be able to pick out what advice will make your query better, and which doesn't fit. And that's why you need to be patient in this business. ;) Some of the worse queries I've read are the ones that get revised only hours after the first draft has been put up, and then get revised again and again in short intervals. The writer is not thinking it through and is only making changes at the superficial level. By the end the query is clunky, choppy and sometimes even incoherent.

Phaeal
06-21-2012, 09:29 PM
So maybe you might have to start the submission process a month, two months, a year later than you would like, but so what? Where's the rush?

Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. Life would be better for agents, editors and readers alike if writers thought in terms of doing their absolute best rather than in terms of churning out copy and hopping into the publishing race as soon as possible. Patience. Patience.

Everything I send out, story or novel, cover letter or query or synopsis, is the best I can make it at that moment. Given the intensity of the competition, why would I send out anything less?

(And I have experience in rushing -- I sent out my fourth novel even though I had niggling doubts about the opening and POV structure. But hey! I wanted to QUERY, damn it! It was good enough! The agents would see that and just ask for changes if they thought it needed some.

WRONG.

Though none of the agents who rejected my MS gave any specific reason, I decided to pay attention to the niggling doubts. I pulled the novel, totally overhauled it, then polished it some more. I revised and polished the query and synopses, too.

Result: This time I got many more requests and, in time, a wonderful agent.

The rest of the story to follow, when the official stuff is all in order. ;)

The moral again is PATIENCE.)

Katrina S. Forest
06-21-2012, 09:45 PM
To the OP, I totally understand your rush. It's maddening watching everyone else send out queries and knowing you've got nothing out there. But you're working your way there. You're not just sitting back and doing nothing. And when you do start to query, you want to do it with the confidence that you've got something awesome.


This is my worry about query letter services (not QLH, but other places): sometimes the responses come from well-meaning folks who simply don't read in that query's genre.

I had a huge problem with this on another site. I usually try to just thank everybody, even when I disagree, but it got to the point where I received the same suggestion so many times, I felt like screaming, "No, I'm not explaining what a mage is in the query! If the agent reading it doesn't know that word, I really doubt they know how to sell this novel!" *bangs head on desk*

Though it is amusing to think what that query would've read like if I'd followed that advice. :)

Calla Lily
06-21-2012, 09:52 PM
I do have a few Qs I won't crit: Romance, litfic, PBs, MG, hard SF. I don't read them and don't know the tropes, so my advice would be useless. The only exception to the above is when the Qs grammar and typo count is high. Then I'll do a copyedit on it.

SomethingOrOther
06-21-2012, 10:13 PM
I had a huge problem with this on another site. I usually try to just thank everybody, even when I disagree, but it got to the point where I received the same suggestion so many times, I felt like screaming, "No, I'm not explaining what a mage is in the query! If the agent reading it doesn't know that word, I really doubt they know how to sell this novel!" *bangs head on desk*

YA Fantasy Query

When Harry Longbottom became a wizard (a practitioner of magic, who often wears a hat and carries a staff (a long cylindrical object that enables wizards to harness their magical abilities (which some, including Harry, have acquired at magic schools, which are sort of like regular schools except with magic (which is a sort of supernatural ability that doesn't exist on Earth (although that belief isn't shared by practitioners of homeopathic medicine (which is total bullcrap (the idiomatic usage, not actual fecal matter from a bull (although I bet some homeopathic practitioners use literal bullcrap)))))))) the world descended into chaos.

80,000 words. Thank you for reading.

Filigree
06-21-2012, 10:34 PM
I'd be laughing, but I've seen nearly that level of deconstruction.

jclarkdawe
06-22-2012, 12:53 AM
But it's not a matter of one thing being important while the other is not. There is so much competition out there now that you have to do everything well: writing, querying, pitching, making good business decisions -- everything.

Medicine. We all do it. How many of you have prescribed medications? (Given your kid a Tylenol?) How many of you have treated wounds? (Put on a Band-Aid?) Performed surgery? (Extracted a splinter?) This doesn't make us doctors.

Hell, I've had some training as an EMT and done such wonderful things as bring somebody back to life (what do you think CPR is?) and aligned a knee that was four inches out of whack (the knee survived long enough for the surgeons to fix it, the ankle, which was also four inches out of whack, did not). I'm still nowhere near a doctor.

Writing. Everybody can do it, and many people can string together thousands of words into something that resembles a story. You can even get published in your newspaper (letters to the editor anyone?) or on your blog. It still doesn't make people professional writers.

I might not want to be operated on by the guy who graduated at the bottom of his class, but he still knows a hell of a lot more medicine then I do. Problem for writers is that there isn't a bright line in the sand where we can say we're professional writers, unlike the doctor who has a degree he can post on the wall.

What you have to do as a writer is have a competent query and a competent manuscript. It's got to be at least as good as the worst professional writer. Problem is the bottom rung of professional writers is actually pretty good. (See Roger's statement above.) And you'll discover the query letter has to be good, but the manuscript needs to be a hell of a lot better. It isn't an either/or system.

And that competent query or manuscript has to show the same level as skill that the guy who graduated last from medical school did. And remember that getting to that minimal level of skill just gets you into the hospital door. It wouldn't let you do the really cool stuff like heart surgery.

Writing and doctoring. We all do it. Only a few of us, however, are good enough in either profession to get paid for it.

Best of luck,

Jim Clark-Dawe

Miss Plum
06-22-2012, 01:38 PM
Responding to the OP:

FWIW, I've also heard -- I think from Janet Reid -- that agents are starting to notice a "golden first ten pages" syndrome in which writers perfect, polish, hone, get lots of advice and edits, etc. on those all-important first ten pages, and the rest of the manuscript doesn't hold up.

So yes, it could be that some writers are more focused on the pitch than the product.

Niiicola
06-22-2012, 05:22 PM
Or maybe it's just that I'm researching YA agents, and it could just be that agents who represent that particular genre that makes de facto partial requests.

I dunno. I've been researching a ton of YA agents on QueryTracker, and if you pull reports on the percentage of fulls/partials they're requesting, most of the ones I've looked at make requests for about 1% to 15% of their email queries. And the 15% agents are few and far between.

With odds like that, yeah, I think you need a darned fantastic query letter to get your foot in the door.

Miss Plum
06-22-2012, 10:23 PM
I dunno. I've been researching a ton of YA agents on QueryTracker, and if you pull reports on the percentage of fulls/partials they're requesting, most of the ones I've looked at make requests for about 1% to 15% of their email queries. And the 15% agents are few and far between.

With odds like that, yeah, I think you need a darned fantastic query letter to get your foot in the door.
I've looked for statistics like this, and so have many people apparently.

I'm falling to a wholly unscientific "five percent" theory.



Five percent of the population is wandering around saying "I'd really like to write a book about this idea of mine."
Five percent of #1 actually do.
Five percent of #2 credibly query agents about their project.
Five percent of #3 get a request.
Five percent of #4 get rep.
Five percent of #5 get a book deal.

Well, maybe starting at #4 the percentages rise, but they're all still under 25%. Maybe #6 is higher. Anyone know?

quicklime
06-22-2012, 10:29 PM
Responding to the OP:

FWIW, I've also heard -- I think from Janet Reid -- that agents are starting to notice a "golden first ten pages" syndrome in which writers perfect, polish, hone, get lots of advice and edits, etc. on those all-important first ten pages, and the rest of the manuscript doesn't hold up.

So yes, it could be that some writers are more focused on the pitch than the product.


this may well be the case, but then isn't the question more "Shouldn't we be paying more attention to the rest of the book?" rather than "are we spending too much time on the query/first ten pages"?

C. K. Casner
06-22-2012, 11:11 PM
I was amazed I received a partial request from one agent just based on the query letter alone (thank you Query Shark!) while others who ask for the first 5-50 pages as submission guidelines passed.

I'm not so worried about the query letter as I am about the rest of the ms. Since the partial turned out to be a rejection, I think it best to find a second beta-reader and continue querying another time. It took seven years to finish this ms. I can wait a while longer.

CrastersBabies
06-22-2012, 11:20 PM
One of the problems I had was balancing 'too much detail' critiques with 'too vague and bland' critiques. This was just on that first query letter, mind you.

By the second one, I was more comfortable. Nor did I shop the final version of the second mms query to the general QLH board. I figured the graphic adult content even in the query would be too much for the open forum.

I'd say genre matters, if only for reader expectation.

I agree. I've run into issues with this myself (never in a bad way). But, what I hear from agents usually differs from advice SPECIFICALLY when it comes to certain genres. For example, epic fantasy. I'm finding it has some quirks as I'm writing and revising my own query letter.

Filigree
06-23-2012, 12:29 AM
One reason why it's important to research agents and their preferred genres. An agency known for repping paranormal romance and fantasy may have squat interest in - or ability to place - an epic fantasy. Even if they say they might want to look at it, I'd want to know their connections in the market.

I haven't sidestepped the query letter problem, just delayed it. But I'd rather spend my time on the mms, first.

MDSchafer
06-23-2012, 12:40 AM
Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. Life would be better for agents, editors and readers alike if writers thought in terms of doing their absolute best rather than in terms of churning out copy and hopping into the publishing race as soon as possible. Patience. Patience.

It's not about patience, it's about where to invest your time and resources. Yes, the request rate is low for pages, but most agents now want at least five pages with your query letter. At conferences I've heard agents say that if you include your first page or two with an snail mail submission even agents that don't request pages will read your first page. I've heard for agents that unless a query is complete rubbish they'll read the first page of a submission. So maybe we're overthinking the query?

quicklime
06-23-2012, 12:46 AM
It's not about patience, it's about where to invest your time and resources. Yes, the request rate is low for pages, but most agents now want at least five pages with your query letter. At conferences I've heard agents say that if you include your first page or two with an snail mail submission even agents that don't request pages will read your first page. I've heard for agents that unless a query is complete rubbish they'll read the first page of a submission. So maybe we're overthinking the query?


you keep wanting a yes and just rephrasing the question. I'm saying I don't believe you can make either one too good, if there's a disconnect you raise the one that's sinking, not add ballast to the one that is not.

As for time and resources, and with as much respect as possible, I think that's utter bullshit--I'm really, really sorry to say that, but no.....if something can be polished yet, you polish it. If that means you churn stuff out slower, so be it, but "too little time" doesn't mean you get to turn in unfinished, sub-par work, and if you CAN still fix it, if only you had the time, that's exactly where you're at. Make the next book wait, instead of trying to explain to the agent you'd totally kick ass, given time, but hey, this is what you get when there's kitchens to sweep and bills to pay....because unless "this is what you get" is good enough, nobody else cares how busy you are. There is no time-constraint curve for grading.

the competition is fierce--fix everything under your control. EVERYTHING. You don't have the luxury of a "meh, close enough" unless you wish to self-pub, and the success of that even is of little interest to you. Unless you're fixating on the query after it is as good as you can possibly make it, you're not leaving the query too soon, and the same holds true for the manuscript...and synopsis...and anything else you plan on subbing to convince them you can write.

Theo81
06-23-2012, 01:40 AM
The thing about queries (in my completely unscientific views about these things) is - they buy you time.


I read your query and hate it - I read your first paragraph. If it's not outstanding: Reject.

I read your query and love it - I give you the first five pages, first chapter, whatever, to show me this is a really great MS because I want it to be. If it isn't: Reject.

I read your query and don't care - you've probably got the first 250 words to hook me.

I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of books I've read which have hooked me from the first page. Most of the books I really love take at least a couple of chapters.

Dating is always a good analogy for querying - if you turn up in a bespoke suit, your tie in a windsor knot, wearing a pair of brogues and hand me a bunch of white roses (half-a-dozen is fine, the full dozen would be ostentatious for a first date, plus I'd have to leave them downstairs rather than having them in my study where I can look at them while I Google you) you will get more of a chance with me than if you turn up in a pair of skinny jeans and a T-shirt with an offensive slogan. Unfair, yes, but that's the way I roll.

blacbird
06-23-2012, 06:01 AM
The thing about queries (in my completely unscientific views about these things) is - they buy you time.

Yeah. Some of them buy you eternity, in the guise of lack of response.

caw

Calla Lily
06-23-2012, 06:08 AM
That's why I kept a detailed spreadsheet of who I queried and when. I scratched them off as non-responders after 3 months and moved on. This was my future career in my hands. I wasn't going to let circumstance derail it.

jclarkdawe
06-23-2012, 07:01 AM
It's not about patience, it's about where to invest your time and resources. It's about both patience and where to invest resources. But if your query doesn't work, then you have to invest resources there. If your story doesn't work, then you have to invest resources there. Yes, the request rate is low for pages, but most agents now want at least five pages with your query letter. That's partly because too many queries are work shopped in places like QLH and don't reflect the book. At conferences I've heard agents say that if you include your first page or two with an snail mail submission even agents that don't request pages will read your first page. Very few agents start with the pages, although some do. The query has to be good enough to get an agent to want to read further. I've heard for agents that unless a query is complete rubbish they'll read the first page of a submission. But so many of them are. So maybe we're overthinking the query? If you think it's more important then the manuscript, then yes. If you think it's a vital part of getting an agent to read your manuscript, then no.

Repeat Quick's answer here.

First thing to realize is that the better the agent, the less time they're going to give you before rejecting you. They don't need new business that much. The hungrier the agent, the more time you'll get to sell yourself.

Second thing to realize in the following groupings of queries is that the if you're on the edge between two groups, the more likely some judges will put you in one group, while other judges will think you're in the other group.

There are three groups of queries:


Rubbish -- This describes 70% or more of the queries an agent receives and describes about 40 - 50% of the queries that arrive in QLH. There's no way an agent is going to bother with reading a partial, and even the intern will reject you without going any further after their first week on the job. You've got to work on your query.
Iffy -- This group is probably about 25% of the queries an agent receives. There's something in either the writing or the story that's interesting enough to make it worth looking at the first page. Hell, every so often you get lucky. Time spent working on your query is probably a good thing.
Good enough -- This group is maybe 5% of what an agent receives and warrants looking at the first five to ten pages. This is where your query is buying you time, as Theo says. And time spent working on a query at this level might be over-thinking it.

Same categories apply to manuscripts.

And having a good enough manuscript married to a rubbish query will probably doom you to failure. A good enough manuscript with an iffy query can work. A good enough manuscript with a good enough query will get you representation.

Best of luck,

Jim Clark-Dawe

Miss Plum
06-23-2012, 08:18 AM
this may well be the case, but then isn't the question more "Shouldn't we be paying more attention to the rest of the book?" rather than "are we spending too much time on the query/first ten pages"?
Yes indeedy! If creativity and craftsmanship pay off for ten pages, let's make them pay off for 400 pages.

blacbird
06-23-2012, 08:29 AM
A good enough manuscript with a good enough query will get you representation.


Which is complete spherical reasoning, because the only way you ever know either is "good enough" is if they do, in fact, "get you representation." Until that happens, you're still flailing in the dark.

caw

jeffo20
06-23-2012, 03:05 PM
One of my friends, who got a publishing a deal without an agent, is of the mind that your query needs to sing because agents read queries on their cellphones these days, and so if the first inch or so of text doesn't grab them they stop reading. I don't see this connection at all. Mobile device, laptop, 6' wide monitor, I don't think it really matters. I suspect each agent has her way of doing things. Some are going to stop at para 1 if it doesn't 'sing', others will read all the way through. Some will read attached pages, no matter what (and I've seen some who say they'll skim the query mainly to get genre and word count, read pages, and, if the pages are good, go back and read the query more thoroughly), some will only read pages if the query is good.

Quickbread
06-23-2012, 07:02 PM
A query that's "good enough" for an agent to read pages with interest is one that's as pitch perfect as the writer can make it. That's a different thing than sending out a query that's mediocre because the writer thought, "Meh, it's good enough," and stopped thinking about how well it really comes together.

A query that doesn't at least feel like a solid and compelling story is likely to really turn off an agent from caring much about the opening few paragraphs. At that point, they're looking for all the reasons to reject, and a story that doesn't seem fully developed or within the writer's grasp is a big reason. Anyone can write a bit of pretty prose. Mastering an entire novel is a totally different skill.

bearilou
06-23-2012, 07:42 PM
A bit of a tangent here:

I'm a bit flummoxed about this polishing the first 5-10 pages idea. If a writer is going to polish, it should be the entire thing, right? I mean, most people here seem to agree on that.

I get that if your query shines, if your first 5, 10, chapter shines then the chances rise that a full will be requested (provided it's a genre they represent). But if the rest of the ms doesn't shine...what have you accomplished? That you got further in the process than most others? No is still no and wearing the 'requested a full' as a badge of honor when it turned out to be a no....

color me not getting it. Am I missing something?

Quickbread
06-23-2012, 07:48 PM
I think the idea is that an awkwardly worded paragraph in the middle of an otherwise seamless chapter 20 isn't going to jar an agent as much as an awkward paragraph that appears on page one or two. That's why it's essential for those opening pages to sing. But of course, you're right. The rest needs to sing just as well.

Bartholomew
06-23-2012, 09:52 PM
I can't imagine a scenario where having a not very good query would be an advantage over having a good one.

It's not that hard to imagine someone spending more time on the letter than on the novel, though. :ROFL:

jeffo20
06-24-2012, 12:22 AM
A bit of a tangent here:

I'm a bit flummoxed about this polishing the first 5-10 pages idea. If a writer is going to polish, it should be the entire thing, right? I mean, most people here seem to agree on that.

I get that if your query shines, if your first 5, 10, chapter shines then the chances rise that a full will be requested (provided it's a genre they represent). But if the rest of the ms doesn't shine...what have you accomplished? That you got further in the process than most others? No is still no and wearing the 'requested a full' as a badge of honor when it turned out to be a no....

color me not getting it. Am I missing something?Bearilou, I came *this* close to commenting on this in my last post but decided not to. Now I'll take up the tangent and tangent some more. If we tangent enough, we'll end up back where we started.

A month or two ago I was in a 'query+250' contest on a blog. I was amazed at the number of first 250s where Something Really Big happened right around word 235 or so. Coincidence or not? In some cases (not all, but a number of them) said Really Big thing felt more than a little contrived. I wonder if some people have a tendency to alter their stories in an effort gain attention in these cases, and to what lengths they'll go to if asked to submit 5, 10 or 50 pages, etc.

What I think happens is, when doing these partials and these contests, we forget that stories need time to unfold. And we forget that agents are aware of this, too. We don't need to cram the super-exciting Inciting Incident in the first two paragraphs just because an agent wants to see our first page.

And yes, the whole thing needs to be polished.

Tirjasdyn
06-24-2012, 02:34 AM
A bit of a tangent here:

I'm a bit flummoxed about this polishing the first 5-10 pages idea. If a writer is going to polish, it should be the entire thing, right? I mean, most people here seem to agree on that.



Agree. I didn't even touch the fiction query letter until I had a completed and polished manuscript done.