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View Full Version : when polished query letters fail . . .



tko
06-26-2013, 10:41 AM
I spent about 2 years working on a query until it had strong acceptance in query letter hell. Honestly, a hundred hours put into it while working on another novel. Made it through the first round of the Amazon Break out novel. Polished it even further. Wrote a 3rd novel. Finally sent the query to 40 agents who rep thrillers, and who didn't require anything else beside the query.

The result was a few form rejections in a month. Now I'm puzzled. Could it be the genre and plot that's limiting me? It's a speculative thriller set in Asia. I've heard the American market prefers a straight forward thriller with a more local setting. Or maybe the thriller market is saturated right now? The quantity of submitted queries so high only a few percent make it?

I'd like to learn what I'm doing wrong before moving on to my next novels, but I'm clueless.

Drachen Jager
06-26-2013, 10:52 AM
If it's the one you have up on QLH right now, IMO it's too much like The Bourne Identity.

Old Hack
06-26-2013, 12:40 PM
If it's only been a month since you sent out your query, you have not yet run out of time.

If you only queried forty agents, I bet there are plenty more good ones out there you could approach.

Whatever market you're in, it's always saturated. That's why your query and your novel have to be brilliant.

Cyia
06-26-2013, 03:38 PM
Even if they only require a query, send at least 5-10 pages, unless the agent specifically says 'no pages.' You'll have a better chance of getting someone invested in your story if they can read the opening.

You may not be doing anything "wrong" at all. You may be querying people who already rep stories similar to yours, or you may have caught the agent on a day that was nothing but thrillers, and so they're tired of seeing them. There's no way to know.

kaitie
06-26-2013, 04:21 PM
Even a good query isn't going to be perfect for everyone. You'll still get rejected, which might be annoying, but is just the name of the game. It might be that the agents just didn't think the story was their personal taste, or that they have something similar, or that they have a ton of thrillers already and don't want to take on a new one right now.

I do agree that you should always include five pages period. My request rate went up quite a bit. I only had about three on my list who specifically said "no pages." If your pages are good, you'll increase your chances.

Barbara R.
06-26-2013, 04:31 PM
Even if they only require a query, send at least 5-10 pages, unless the agent specifically says 'no pages.' You'll have a better chance of getting someone invested in your story if they can read the opening.
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Ditto this.

Phaeal
06-26-2013, 04:49 PM
I spent about 2 years working on a query until it had strong acceptance in query letter hell. Honestly, a hundred hours put into it while working on another novel. Made it through the first round of the Amazon Break out novel. Polished it even further. Wrote a 3rd novel. Finally sent the query to 40 agents who rep thrillers, and who didn't require anything else beside the query.

The result was a few form rejections in a month. Now I'm puzzled. Could it be the genre and plot that's limiting me? It's a speculative thriller set in Asia. I've heard the American market prefers a straight forward thriller with a more local setting. Or maybe the thriller market is saturated right now? The quantity of submitted queries so high only a few percent make it?

I'd like to learn what I'm doing wrong before moving on to my next novels, but I'm clueless.

40 queries? Nah. You're not done until you've queried every reputable agent who handles your genre, meanwhile watching for the appearance of new victims.

Also, do you mean you haven't sent any samples of the MS? Or you're just talking about the 40 who didn't ask for a sample?

JulianneQJohnson
06-26-2013, 04:58 PM
Never give up! Never surrender!
And yes, send pages unless the agent specifically says not to.

quicklime
06-26-2013, 05:35 PM
Even if they only require a query, send at least 5-10 pages, unless the agent specifically says 'no pages.' You'll have a better chance of getting someone invested in your story if they can read the opening.

You may not be doing anything "wrong" at all. You may be querying people who already rep stories similar to yours, or you may have caught the agent on a day that was nothing but thrillers, and so they're tired of seeing them. There's no way to know.


all of this.

also, a query only exists to get you to the next step. So if the first ten pages don't do the same lifting, and pull them into the next 50, and so on.....then the query can be immaterial.

Jamesaritchie
06-26-2013, 07:13 PM
From my experience, places like QLH just teach you to write the same kind of query other writers have used. This is a bad thing.

A good query letter is not one anyone else can tell you how to write, and is not structured like the letter that what's her name or what's his face used to sell a novel.

A really good query letter has nothing to do with polish. It SHOWS the agent or editor how well you can write, just as your novel should. It has the same flair, the same great writing, the same original turn of phrase, and the same left turns into unexpected truth, very often in a single sentence.

You can tell someone about your novel with all the polish you want, and it's still just telling them about your novel, and every query letter an agent or editor sees does this. Or you can show an agent or editor how well you write, or how original you are.

For get the rules and write the query letter as if it were a mini-novel, one where you show, don't tell, one where you write as well as you can possible write, one where every sentence, particular the first two or three, are brilliant.

And send the first three to five pages of your manuscript with the query letter. Miss Snark always called this an unwritten rule, and if it isn't, it should be.

J.Reid
06-27-2013, 02:59 AM
If you can afford to go to a writers conference, go and meet agents. Show them your query. Ask what doesn't work. Often times you'll get the straight scoop that your plot isn't fresh or new or your writing isn't publishable (I don't know this about you cause I haven't seen any of your work--these are merely examples of reasons good queries fail)

Zombie Kat
06-27-2013, 12:46 PM
Not wanting to cast aspersions on the query critiquing abilities of the good folk here, but I personally only find QHL useful for testing out ideas, not for agreeing on a final query. ‘Acceptance’ doesn’t sound like a good word to me, it brings to mind the concern that your query might read like something written by committee (haven’t seen it, so maybe I’m completely wrong here).

The problem with getting lots of feedback is that, in trying to please everyone, you sometimes end up losing all the personality and get bogged down in answering all those little questions that posters pose in their line by lines. And, like everywhere else in life, there are people here that don’t always know what they are talking about despite their good intentions!

With my own QHL experiences, I have used the advice and comments to get a better idea of what works and what doesn’t. Then I’ve gone away and written something entirely new which only agents get to see. There’s a point where I have to trust my own judgement and go with what I love, rather than what others say is OK.

WeaselFire
06-27-2013, 04:52 PM
I'd like to learn what I'm doing wrong before moving on to my next novels, but I'm clueless.
If you sent the 40 queries to agents who rep YA, Sci-Fi and Memoirs, that would be an issue.

Sometimes it's not the query letter. And sometimes it is. Just keep plugging away.

Jeff

Phaeal
06-27-2013, 06:17 PM
Not wanting to cast aspersions on the query critiquing abilities of the good folk here, but I personally only find QHL useful for testing out ideas, not for agreeing on a final query. ĎAcceptanceí doesnít sound like a good word to me, it brings to mind the concern that your query might read like something written by committee (havenít seen it, so maybe Iím completely wrong here).

The problem with getting lots of feedback is that, in trying to please everyone, you sometimes end up losing all the personality and get bogged down in answering all those little questions that posters pose in their line by lines. And, like everywhere else in life, there are people here that donít always know what they are talking about despite their good intentions!

With my own QHL experiences, I have used the advice and comments to get a better idea of what works and what doesnít. Then Iíve gone away and written something entirely new which only agents get to see. Thereís a point where I have to trust my own judgement and go with what I love, rather than what others say is OK.

Agreed. Good advice to be had in QLH, but if the thread goes on too long, I find that the OP can end up confused by too much input.

tko
06-28-2013, 06:36 PM
The one I'm talking about is two years old. Remember, it made it to the Amazon quarter finals a few months ago.

The one up now is from my 3rd novel.


If it's the one you have up on QLH right now, IMO it's too much like The Bourne Identity.

tko
06-28-2013, 06:38 PM
To find out if it was my query and not my novel, I started by only querying agents who didn't request a sample chapter up front. I have another 60 or so agents to go, but these will require a first chapter or more. Seemed like this is a good place to stop and take stock.


If it's only been a month since you sent out your query, you have not yet run out of time.

If you only queried forty agents, I bet there are plenty more good ones out there you could approach.

Whatever market you're in, it's always saturated. That's why your query and your novel have to be brilliant.

tko
06-28-2013, 06:41 PM
I wanted to test the waters by deliberately going to agents who didn't request a writing sample. Evaluate the query only. Forty is all I could find.

Sure, I plan of querying more w/a writing sample, but after 40 rejects, it seemed like a good time to take stock.

I have maybe another 60 agents who request writing samples, a total of around 100.

tko
06-28-2013, 06:46 PM
When I research successful queries they don't always look like what you see in QLH. Some violate every stickie. Some are over 500 words, some look more like business letters. Seems like in the real world, queries of every type could work. I think it depends a lot on the agent. Old school, new school.

On the other hand, QLH is probably the best resource in the world. Haven't found a better place.

tko
06-28-2013, 06:47 PM
Yes, I hand selected each agent to make sure they rep'd my genre.

quicklime
06-28-2013, 07:02 PM
When I research successful queries they don't always look like what you see in QLH. Some violate every stickie. Some are over 500 words, some look more like business letters. Seems like in the real world, queries of every type could work. I think it depends a lot on the agent. Old school, new school.

On the other hand, QLH is probably the best resource in the world. Haven't found a better place.



there's several factors at play, I think.

1. QLH does cultivate its own sort of groupthink slant. that slant has a very good track record, and i happen to like most of it myself, but I admit it is there....and sometimes, there WILL be other ways to skin a cat.

2. Some of the other queries you've seen were likely from a completely different time. Nicholas Sparks' query for The notebook is out there, breaks any recent "rules," but is also 20 years (or more) old...stuff changes. Including what agents want. Say five or ten years ago, rhetoricals were supposedly a "fresh" tool. They got beaten to death, and are now as fresh as the flattened raccoon that's spent a week on the side of the highway in the summer sun. and a lot of agents are pretty bold about their distrust of them. So.....stuff changes.

3. They do look for somewhat different things across the pond, from what little i know about UK querying.

considering all the above, an apple isn't always an apple is an apple. That said, I'm somewhat inclined to disagree with your conclusion--I suspect the differences, when things are at least semi-equalized and you aren't viewing UK queries or queries from when King was still learning to shave or whatever, are more a matter of "if you write it, and it grabs the agent, tight....that makes up for a lot of other issues and/or differences."

MumblingSage
06-29-2013, 12:17 AM
Not wanting to cast aspersions on the query critiquing abilities of the good folk here, but I personally only find QHL useful for testing out ideas, not for agreeing on a final query. ĎAcceptanceí doesnít sound like a good word to me, it brings to mind the concern that your query might read like something written by committee (havenít seen it, so maybe Iím completely wrong here).

The problem with getting lots of feedback is that, in trying to please everyone, you sometimes end up losing all the personality and get bogged down in answering all those little questions that posters pose in their line by lines. And, like everywhere else in life, there are people here that donít always know what they are talking about despite their good intentions!

With my own QHL experiences, I have used the advice and comments to get a better idea of what works and what doesnít. Then Iíve gone away and written something entirely new which only agents get to see. Thereís a point where I have to trust my own judgement and go with what I love, rather than what others say is OK.

I'm finding this true for myself as well. What I've found successful querying e-publishers includes a lot of no-nos according to much of QLH.

But two really big caveats--first, I haven't yet queried an agent, and they may in fact have different preferences than epub acquisitions editors. And the second, even bigger, point: I would not send out my first query without having put at least a sample query through QLH to see the feedback. QLH is very good at calling you out if you haven't been clear or if you're being too bland or clichť in your language. Clarity and vividness will always bring you far whoever you're querying. And QLH proved a really strong classroom for me to develop those traits.

Lady Chipmunk
06-29-2013, 02:37 AM
Even if they only require a query, send at least 5-10 pages, unless the agent specifically says 'no pages.' You'll have a better chance of getting someone invested in your story if they can read the opening.

Maybe I am old-fashioned, but I disagree with this advice. Agents have guidelines and it seems unprofessional to me to ignore them. But, then, this is my opinion.

Little Ming
06-29-2013, 03:16 AM
Maybe I am old-fashioned, but I disagree with this advice. Agents have guidelines and it seems unprofessional to me to ignore them. But, then, this is my opinion.

Don't worry it's not unprofessional. :) Other agents have commented on AW before that unless an agent's guidelines specifically state they do not want pages, you should include them.

Lady Chipmunk
06-29-2013, 03:18 AM
Don't worry it's not unprofessional. :) Other agents have commented on AW before that unless an agent's guidelines specifically state they do not want pages, you should include them.

That is information I did not have, and it is very good to know. Thank you.

Debbie V
07-01-2013, 10:07 PM
Many say "no pages" or "query only." Follow that. If they don't say, you're free to sub pages? Interesting. I had thought no pages was the norm. I always choose those who take pages before those who don't. After all, it's about the manuscript, not the query.