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SenorSativa
09-30-2014, 05:46 AM
I got a bit bored/stuck when working on my book, so I decided to go ahead and write a query letter for a bit of practice. While I was writing it, I came across a dilemma.

I wrote the synopsis and info about the book concisely, with no funny business. But as I came to the 'about me' part... I kind of went off the deep end. To me, it's hilarious, but I don't know if an agent wants a whole lot of humor in a query letter.

Should the query letter be a concise business proposition or a piece of creative writing in itself? Which would you agents rather see coming from the slush pile? Would it change depending on the book?

Context: I'd describe my book as gonzo transgressive fiction to be as pompous as possible. Humor and satire wouldn't be out of place. Obviously, if it were nonfiction about Auschwitz, this becomes a rather one sided question...

quicklime
09-30-2014, 06:34 AM
Were I an agent, which I am not, my business would be to sell books. So clever is great, but there is a thin line between "I am smartness" and "I am so self-aware nobody can stand to be in the same fucking room as I am."

Given that, and personal experience with both camps, I'd choose a business letter.

mayqueen
09-30-2014, 07:12 AM
Go check out the queries in QLH. Work your way up to fifty posts critiquing. And then post your query. The critters can give you thoughts. You don't want your query to be dry and lifeless, but you also don't want it to be so voicey that it's incomprehensible.

Wilde_at_heart
09-30-2014, 04:12 PM
What Mayqueen said. Also, it should reflect the tone of the book.

SenorSativa
09-30-2014, 07:26 PM
I appreciate the opinions, but I already understand that the best query letter is going to be a mixture of the two. I'm not looking for views on the middle ground, nor feedback on my specific query letter. I'm nowhere near ready for querying, that's something way down the road. But, I may try practicing query letters down the road and I'm curious what I should be aiming for.

I'm looking for an opinion of whether you'd rather see a concise business letter that follows the 3 part formula or something that goes outside of the box. And as much as I don't wish to marginalize anybody's opinion, I would like it from an agent or at least somebody who's dug through slush piles before.

I know that in similar jobs where I've had to read a slew of monotonous material, I would love that. But I have a bit more tolerant a mind for that kind of stuff. I don't know if an agent would be annoyed by something that didn't treat it like a business proposition or if they'd welcome it as something that broke the monotony.

Quickbread
09-30-2014, 07:43 PM
Occasionally an agent pops in here, but these people responding are writers who've earned their stripes in the trenches with queries and with helping others with queries. They know what they're talking about.

What matters most is the story. Sell the manuscript at hand.

Being catchy with your bio will not do an ounce of good if your manuscript pitch is not a ten-point landing. And if your story is good, that's enough to get an agent excited.

Keep in mind that a little flair usually goes a long way in letter writing, tonally speaking, so going off the deep end is a risk. No one can tell you if it's a risk worth taking without seeing the actual wording. But if you are overly cute or clever with your bio, you may strike a sour note with some agents who may interpret it as cloying, self-important or high-maintenance. You don't want to be labeled as any of those. You want to be labeled as a human being who's professional and respectful of an agent's valuable time -- and who has an awesome manuscript.

quicklime
09-30-2014, 08:14 PM
I appreciate the opinions, but I already understand that the best query letter is going to be a mixture of the two. I'm not looking for views on the middle ground, nor feedback on my specific query letter. I'm nowhere near ready for querying, that's something way down the road. But, I may try practicing query letters down the road and I'm curious what I should be aiming for.

I'm looking for an opinion of whether you'd rather see a concise business letter that follows the 3 part formula or something that goes outside of the box. And as much as I don't wish to marginalize anybody's opinion, I would like it from an agent or at least somebody who's dug through slush piles before.

I know that in similar jobs where I've had to read a slew of monotonous material, I would love that. But I have a bit more tolerant a mind for that kind of stuff. I don't know if an agent would be annoyed by something that didn't treat it like a business proposition or if they'd welcome it as something that broke the monotony.


couple thoughts:

1. You are new. You probably don't know this, but the general tone of AW is that you do not get to direct your threads or screen what is a "welcome reply." You are free to do so at home, of course, but folks will say what they say. If it is rude, you can report. If it is unwanted, the wise choice is to ignore and move on. Because these things DO come across as ungrateful. Unreceptive and naive as well. That's not a great spot to be pegged in.

2. If you realized the ideal query is a mix, you also likely realized that almost none of the successful queries are an absolute to either side, also. Yet you're asking. That may well be why folks are suggesting you use both tools.

3. I would have to re-examine, but I believe several of the posters in this thread have that "slushpile experience" you were seeking. Those who do not are often well-read and well-connected. So you may wish to bear in mind that as much as I like say Janet Reid, the isn't the only person with any useable knowledge for you.

Good luck,
Quick

quicklime
09-30-2014, 08:16 PM
What matters most is the story. Sell the manuscript at hand.

Being catchy with your bio will not do an ounce of good if your manuscript pitch is not a ten-point landing. And if your story is good, that's enough to get an agent excited.

Keep in mind that a little flair usually goes a long way in letter writing, tonally speaking, so going off the deep end is a risk. No one can tell you if it's a risk worth taking without seeing the actual wording. But if you are overly cute or clever with your bio, you may strike a sour note with some agents who may interpret it as cloying, self-important or high-maintenance. You don't want to be labeled as any of those. You want to be labeled as a human being who's professional and respectful of an agent's valuable time -- and who has an awesome manuscript.



quoting all this for emphasis.

if it wasn't even the voice of the query, just something you did in your bio alone, "precious" would come to mind. Not in a good way.

Thedrellum
09-30-2014, 08:21 PM
Also, the problem with prioritizing one or two agent's responses is that you are only getting one or two agent's responses, and they're individuals, just like writers. You might get someone in here who says they love that flair of humor/creativity at the end, but she might represent the smallest percentage of agent views. Then you'd send off your letter, confident in your gonzo bio and get rejections simply because of that bio.

Anyway, I'm not an agent, but in querying (and reading through slush) I err on the side of (and prefer) business over personality.

mayqueen
09-30-2014, 08:22 PM
I'm sorry, but I'm not sure what you're asking then? QLH is a great place to get a sense of what a query letter should be. There are pinned threads from folks who have successful query letters and there's a great thread by Putputt on thoughts from agency interns. And there are thousands of threads of queries being workshopped by folks who have been around the querying block. You'll also see links and references to QueryShark and other industry insider blogs. So, basically, QLH is a great place to figure out what you're aiming for.

SenorSativa
09-30-2014, 08:43 PM
couple thoughts:

1. You are new. You probably don't know this, but the general tone of AW is that you do not get to direct your threads or screen what is a "welcome reply." You are free to do so at home, of course, but folks will say what they say. If it is rude, you can report. If it is unwanted, the wise choice is to ignore and move on. Because these things DO come across as ungrateful. Unreceptive and naive as well. That's not a great spot to be pegged in.

2. If you realized the ideal query is a mix, you also likely realized that almost none of the successful queries are an absolute to either side, also. Yet you're asking. That may well be why folks are suggesting you use both tools.

3. I would have to re-examine, but I believe several of the posters in this thread have that "slushpile experience" you were seeking. Those who do not are often well-read and well-connected. So you may wish to bear in mind that as much as I like say Janet Reid, the isn't the only person with any useable knowledge for you.

Good luck,
Quick

I'm sorry. I misunderstood this subforum. The title led me to believe this was where Agents that were involved in AW would come to answer questions. I'm not saying that the any opinion isn't welcome, appreciated, and given their due reverence. Connotation is really hard to get across in text. All that being said, there is a difference between understanding something and living it. I understand how bad concentration camps were, but I didn't live in one.

I am not asking what the BEST query letter would look like. I'm asking in a hypothetical sense, not an applied one. I guess another way of phrasing what I am asking for is which would be preferred, a technical industry-standard letter or a creative one. Kind of like the difference between nonfiction and fiction, each can be equally good but you couldn't really compare the two. So, between two equally well written pieces, would you rather have a technical one or a creative one? Would you rather have Hunter S. or Stephen Hawking?

I'm sorry if I came across as insensitive or unappreciative.

SenorSativa
09-30-2014, 08:47 PM
I'm sorry, but I'm not sure what you're asking then? QLH is a great place to get a sense of what a query letter should be. There are pinned threads from folks who have successful query letters and there's a great thread by Putputt on thoughts from agency interns. And there are thousands of threads of queries being workshopped by folks who have been around the querying block. You'll also see links and references to QueryShark and other industry insider blogs. So, basically, QLH is a great place to figure out what you're aiming for.

Thanks. I tried to clarify what I'm asking for in the above reply. But, I'm asking in a hypothetical sense, which would you rather have between two equally written queries: a technical piece or a creative one? Hunter S. or Stephen Hawking?

Before I wrote the practice query, I read some of the stickies here and there, read a couple queries in QLH, and visited that site that has successful queries and explains what the agent liked about it. I'll have to check out QueryShark and that Putputt thread.

SenorSativa
09-30-2014, 08:51 PM
Also, the problem with prioritizing one or two agent's responses is that you are only getting one or two agent's responses, and they're individuals, just like writers. You might get someone in here who says they love that flair of humor/creativity at the end, but she might represent the smallest percentage of agent views. Then you'd send off your letter, confident in your gonzo bio and get rejections simply because of that bio.

Anyway, I'm not an agent, but in querying (and reading through slush) I err on the side of (and prefer) business over personality.

Thanks.

I understand that there'd be limited perspective from only the one or two agents around. I misunderstood this subforum.

And thank you, that's what I was looking for. You'd prefer something that was more business/by the book.

cornflake
09-30-2014, 09:09 PM
I appreciate the opinions, but I already understand that the best query letter is going to be a mixture of the two. I'm not looking for views on the middle ground, nor feedback on my specific query letter. I'm nowhere near ready for querying, that's something way down the road. But, I may try practicing query letters down the road and I'm curious what I should be aiming for.

I'm looking for an opinion of whether you'd rather see a concise business letter that follows the 3 part formula or something that goes outside of the box. And as much as I don't wish to marginalize anybody's opinion, I would like it from an agent or at least somebody who's dug through slush piles before.

I know that in similar jobs where I've had to read a slew of monotonous material, I would love that. But I have a bit more tolerant a mind for that kind of stuff. I don't know if an agent would be annoyed by something that didn't treat it like a business proposition or if they'd welcome it as something that broke the monotony.

I think what you're really missing is it's not a slew of monotonous material and your 'funny' thing. It's a giant mix of stuff, including dozens upon dozens of people who think they're the only ones being quirky or original or hilarious or self-deprecating. Do you know how many 'I'm the best writer in the world' 'hilarious' things agents see a week, nevermind the other options?

SenorSativa
09-30-2014, 09:28 PM
I think what you're really missing is it's not a slew of monotonous material and your 'funny' thing. It's a giant mix of stuff, including dozens upon dozens of people who think they're the only ones being quirky or original or hilarious or self-deprecating. Do you know how many 'I'm the best writer in the world' 'hilarious' things agents see a week, nevermind the other options?

I do not. That's why I ask the question. Coming from somebody who has no idea what the professional landscape is like, all the reading I've done has made it seem like every query letter is: 1. hook 2. synopsis 3. about me.

Thanks, that puts it in perspective. It makes me think they keep putting that material out there because people keep wanting to show how special a snowflake they are.

cornflake
09-30-2014, 09:39 PM
I do not. That's why I ask the question. Coming from somebody who has no idea what the professional landscape is like, all the reading I've done has made it seem like every query letter is: 1. hook 2. synopsis 3. about me.

Thanks, that puts it in perspective. It makes me think they keep putting that material out there because people keep wanting to show how special a snowflake they are.

That, and that they don't realize how many other people are doing the same thing.

Like saying, 'guess it's free!' to a cashier when an item doesn't scan. Everyone thinks it's hilarious and will make a cashier smile. Every cashier hears it 50 times a day and wants to bludgeon people with the scanner gun when they do it (because they hear it 50 times a day).

Only with this, it's a whole mix of 'Bob spends his days writing about zombies and his nights eating brains - sign him or watch out, he knows where you work,' 'Bob, the best writer the world has never heard of, lives to serve,' 'Bob has nothing to say,' 'Bob has been writing since he could hold a pen and loves the work of Hunter S. Thompson, whose life he emulates in only the most self-destructive ways,' and on and on and on.

Also, don't write a query like that, with the hook, synopsis, about me.

Old Hack
09-30-2014, 09:48 PM
I'm not an agent nor have I ever been one. But I have worked in publishing for a while, and this is my opinion.


I got a bit bored/stuck when working on my book, so I decided to go ahead and write a query letter for a bit of practice. While I was writing it, I came across a dilemma.

I wrote the synopsis and info about the book concisely, with no funny business. But as I came to the 'about me' part... I kind of went off the deep end. To me, it's hilarious, but I don't know if an agent wants a whole lot of humor in a query letter.

A synopsis and a query are two different things.

Your query should give the flavour of your book; your synopsis will probably be quite dry, will only tell what happens in the book, and is not likely to be indicative of the book's voice.

If it's appropriate to the book you're querying, then use the funny stuff. If it's not, you'll be shooting yourself in the foot.


Should the query letter be a concise business proposition or a piece of creative writing in itself? Which would you agents rather see coming from the slush pile? Would it change depending on the book?


It all depends on the book.


I am not asking what the BEST query letter would look like. I'm asking in a hypothetical sense, not an applied one. I guess another way of phrasing what I am asking for is which would be preferred, a technical industry-standard letter or a creative one. Kind of like the difference between nonfiction and fiction, each can be equally good but you couldn't really compare the two. So, between two equally well written pieces, would you rather have a technical one or a creative one? Would you rather have Hunter S. or Stephen Hawking?

It all depends on the book you're querying, and who you're querying. There is no one-size-fits-all here.


I'm sorry if I came across as insensitive or unappreciative.

Nicely done. Thank you.


Thanks. I tried to clarify what I'm asking for in the above reply. But, I'm asking in a hypothetical sense, which would you rather have between two equally written queries: a technical piece or a creative one? Hunter S. or Stephen Hawking?

You keep asking the same question. I shall keep giving you the same answer. It all depends on the book, and who you're querying.

mayqueen
09-30-2014, 11:06 PM
Hmm I feel like there was recently a discussion on gimmicks in query letters, but I can't find the thread. SenorSativa, you might comb through the first couple of pages of posts here. I think that actually there have been a few questions lately about queries that break "the rules" (meaning, entertainment over business).

Agents are constantly tweeting about folks who do things bonkers things, like claim to be the next JK Rowling or whatever. You might check out the #tenqueries hashtag and others like it.

I've seen some about me sections that weren't strictly by the book that worked. But they were more subtle. I can't think of any off the top of my head right now in QLH, so I'm going to make something up. Let's say I'm querying a quirky mystery about a murder in an academic department. "I am currently a PhD student who spends most of her time in esoteric theory texts, but I hope that my first novel more is comprehensible" is not the way to go. "I am currently a PhD student who understands that the job market is killer" might be slightly more in line.

But cornflake is right. If it's the kind of thing that would make your Starbucks barista roll her eyes, you don't want it in the query.

Old Hack
09-30-2014, 11:28 PM
I think the best thing for you to do is to write the book first, and then write your query--after you've read a boatload of successful queries, and learned more about the form. It is a knack, writing a good one, and it takes knowledge and hard work. You can do it, but you will have to put the effort in.

SenorSativa
10-01-2014, 12:32 AM
Thanks to all who bore with me through that. I think I understand what the answer to my question was... though I don't quite know how to put it into words. Something along the lines of 'do something to stand out, just don't keep beating a dead horse'

Mutive
10-01-2014, 12:45 AM
I'll throw in my 2 cents. (For what it's worth, I do read cover letters, but it's for short fiction where they don't matter very much.)

A really great bio does favorably predispose me. Someone who can make their life story bounce off the page probably has a way with words in other contexts.

With that said, well over 90% of attempts at spicing up a bio hurt. (At least to me.) At best, bios tend to be pretty irrelevant (unless what the person is writing is legitimately tied to the story in some way). At worst, they make me think the person is a lunatic. For that reason, I'd error on the side of professional.

Quickbread
10-01-2014, 02:59 AM
I don't think a standard query is a dead horse from an agent's perspective. It's quickly skimmable and gets them quickly to what they care about most: your manuscript pitch. And if it shines and hits all the right notes, your query has succeeded because they'll ask for the manuscript.