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you-think-too-much
04-03-2013, 04:14 PM
So I was looking around for examples of query letters for literary fiction the other day, and some of the ones I found were very different from what I've read in other genres. Below is a link to a "successful" query letter from Writer's Digest for literary fiction that is not at all like others I've seen.

Are there different expectations for queries for literary fiction, or is this just an exception to the rule?



http://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/guide-to-literary-agents/successful-queries-agent-ayesha-pande-and-justin-kramons-finny

Axordil
04-03-2013, 05:05 PM
Apart from the fact that commercial genre writers are less likely to be in (though no longer wholly absent from) the Iowa Writers' Workshop, nothing about this query strikes me as unsuitable for other writers, given the circumstances:

1) The writer has conversed with the agent in a fairly high-profile professional setting.
2) The writer has high-quality publishing credits and literary awards (fellowships are *very much* awards).
3) The project is in a genre where little can be taken for granted, so the technical-sounding explication isn't out of place (as it might be for, say, a cozy mystery or other well-defined niche). It's also relatively quick and painless.
4) It name-drops productively in a field (lit fic) where there are fewer titles and thus fewer names to drop.

I would say the query as a whole is best suited to literary, but none of its parts (except perhaps the explication of the plot) would be out of place in non-literary queries.

quicklime
04-03-2013, 05:30 PM
remember you may also see a query that breaks rules but works because of various caveats, such as those mentioned above. In other words, the query may have gone through largely on strength of publication and prior contact, and had the writer not had those to fall back on, they may well have written a more "typical" query. When you have a strong track record it is easier to sum things and count on a level of trust

mayqueen
04-03-2013, 06:37 PM
I imagine that this query was successful because of the writer's professional connection to the agent and the writer's credentials. Without those credentials, I don't think this query would be successful.

I would say that I do think literary fiction queries are slightly different than more genre fiction queries. Genre queries have to sell the genre. Literary queries have to sell that the manuscript is, in fact, literary.

blacbird
04-04-2013, 06:32 AM
I imagine that this query was successful because of the writer's professional connection to the agent and the writer's credentials. Without those credentials, I don't think this query would be successful.

So much for the oft-echoed platitude here that the manuscript is all that matters.

caw

quicklime
04-04-2013, 04:57 PM
So much for the oft-echoed platitude here that the manuscript is all that matters.

caw


look, i get you like the bitter side of things, but I'm not sure she, or ANYONE dissed the manuscript.

The connections probably got the agent to look at the manuscript, rather than needing a strong pitch to entice them to do so. That is all.

And at that point, I strongly suspect the manuscript DID matter....

Old Hack
04-04-2013, 05:39 PM
Quicklime is right. Connections might move you up the slush-pile faster, or get your book looked at despite a poor query: but they won't get you an agent or a publishing deal if your book isn't good enough in the first place.

mayqueen
04-04-2013, 08:10 PM
That's what I meant by the query being successful: it got the agent to request pages. I imagine those pages stood on their own merit, or the agent wouldn't have signed the author.

blacbird
04-04-2013, 08:36 PM
look, i get you like the bitter side of things, but I'm not sure she, or ANYONE dissed the manuscript.

The connections probably got the agent to look at the manuscript, rather than needing a strong pitch to entice them to do so. That is all.

And at that point, I strongly suspect the manuscript DID matter....

I didn't diss the manuscript, either. I dissed the "process." In which I'd say it's possible that such connections might well mean the difference between the manuscript getting requested, or the query getting form-rejected, and the manuscript not getting looked at.

The manuscript matters only at the stage when it gets read.

caw

ap123
04-04-2013, 08:46 PM
In which I'd say it's possible that such connections might well mean the difference between the manuscript getting requested, or the query getting form-rejected, and the manuscript not getting looked at.


caw

I can't see this being in question. Of course connections (real connections, not "you went to school with my mother's friend's cousin, or I was one of three thousand who listened to your speech at the luncheon) can get someone's work read. The same as any other profession, connections can get you an interview. The point of the query is for the manuscript to be requested.

you-think-too-much
04-05-2013, 05:52 PM
I guess what struck me about this query as being different is that there's a lot of telling instead of showing. The writer tells what the story is "about". He describes a lot of mechanics (it's in third person, it moves across 20 years of her life, it's densely plotted). And I don't see any discussion of what's at stake for the main character--the three questions everyone talks about don't seem to be there at all.

But it sounds like what folks are saying is that unless you have all his connections and credentials (which I don't), you should write a more typical query letter.

Axordil
04-05-2013, 06:29 PM
You think too much--
You put your finger on the one difference: even the notions of "main character" and "stakes" are not assumed in literary fiction. While lit fic *can* be about telling a story, it doesn't have to be. In its more experimental forms (some of which stopped being experimental decades ago, but that's another discussion) it doesn't have to be about anything, really. :D

Thus the explanation, which boils down to "This is a fairly ordinary story, really." Because you have to say that with lit fic. The query could have said "This is three hundred pages of grocery lists from the pockets of the residents of Bratislava" or "This is a collection of blank verse narrative epitaphs delivered by the dead of a small town in Illinois."

Oh wait, that one's been done. ;)

So yeah, in that respect lit fic queries are different, or can be. But that section satisfies the same basic *structural* question as the "what does the protagonist want, what does he or she face, and what is at stake?" It tells the agent/editor what to expect.

quicklime
04-05-2013, 08:01 PM
I guess what struck me about this query as being different is that there's a lot of telling instead of showing. The writer tells what the story is "about". He describes a lot of mechanics (it's in third person, it moves across 20 years of her life, it's densely plotted). And I don't see any discussion of what's at stake for the main character--the three questions everyone talks about don't seem to be there at all.

But it sounds like what folks are saying is that unless you have all his connections and credentials (which I don't), you should write a more typical query letter.


Exactly.

A query has 2 jobs to do:

1. Show them what the story is about
2. Show them you can write

in the case you posted, the writer had the luxury of being able to simply tell them about their track record, and then summarize the book. In a more "newbie" case, you are largely stuck doing both at the same time, by writing a very tight "mini-flash" version of your book where you can show voice, ability, and summation in a single pitch.

mayqueen
04-05-2013, 09:09 PM
I agree with quicklime. I imagine that if this query hadn't included all of that really favorable personal connections stuff and awards, and it was just the paragraph telling about the novel, it probably wouldn't haven gotten out of the slush pile. I can't prove that, of course, but that's just my hunch. When you've proven yourself a little more as a writer, you have more leeway. Those of us who are brand-new have to work harder in our queries.

blacbird
04-05-2013, 10:20 PM
I agree with quicklime. I imagine that if this query hadn't included all of that really favorable personal connections stuff and awards, and it was just the paragraph telling about the novel, it probably wouldn't haven gotten out of the slush pile.

Exactly the point I was trying to make, perhaps clumsily.

caw