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RoccoMom
03-26-2006, 06:22 PM
Over the past 6 months I have sent out queries on 3 different novels that I wrote over the course of the last two years. One agent, a pretty well known one, responded back to one query that he/she felt the premise would have sold back in the 70's but not in today's market. When I submitted queries on the other two (mind you, no sample chapters or entire mansucripts) I received an answer back that this person felt the writing was not strong enough to compete in today's market and suggested that I might benefit by hiring an editorial service.

Ok - my question is, can an agent really tell if your "voice" isn't strong enough just from your query? Also, what constitutes a "strong" voice. I would really like to know the answer, as it would save me embarassment in the future. After reading this agent's remarks, I seriously began to doubt my writing ability.

DamaNegra
03-26-2006, 07:02 PM
Well, in my experience, you can tell the voice even from your posts at the forums, so a query letter may tell more about your novel than you know.

And my guess would be that saying your writing isn't strong enough means that it still needs to be polished a lot. You should read this thread (http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=6710), it is full of excellent information about writing novels.

Hope this helps, I'm as much as a newbie as you are :)

Irysangel
03-26-2006, 07:04 PM
I think it depends on how well your query matches your book. Both of my queries were fairly lighthearted and slangish. I didn't try to keep it too formal, and wasn't afraid to use words like 'dorky' and 'crappy' and 'suck', because it set a tone appropriate to the story.

I *did* originally start out with a much more serious letter, and didn't get many responses -- probably because I had a cutesy title and a lighthearted book, and I was trying to dress it in serious clothes.
As far as your problem, I don't know if it's voice inasmuch as your query letter just isn't hitting the right chords. The first one -- obviously she didn't like the story concept, so you can't judge it the same. But the second two? If she's suggesting an editorial service, you might check for typos and run-on sentences in your query just to make sure there's not anything that she's catching and is making it an automatic turn off.

Other than that, just chalk it up to 'not right for that agent'. If they're only seeing the query, I doubt it has anything to do with the book itself and more with your story blurb.

Cathy C
03-26-2006, 07:50 PM
Well, since I can't think of a single agent who would suggest an editorial service, you might need to look for different agents.

In my personal opinion, I really don't think that "voice" can be determined by a query. However, what the agent CAN learn from a query is how well you put together sentences (punctuation, spelling, grammar), and whether s/he thinks the overall plot is saleable.

Maybe it might help for you to post your query over on the SYW forum and I can take a look. :)

Jamesaritchie
03-26-2006, 10:44 PM
No one alive can tell how well you write fiction by reading a query. It simply isn't possible. What they can tell from a query, however, is whether or not you can write a page of prose that error free, and that's in active voice. This is all anyone can tell from a query, but it's usually enough for an agent to decide whether or not to request more. Or many think it is.

Unfortunately, some very good fiction writers can't write a good query, and some truly lousy fiction writers can write wonderful queries.

If you haven't already done so, you might read the threadin novel writing about enclosing from three to five pages of your manuscript along with the query. It can sometimes make a difference.

I never trust an agent who suggests you hire an editorial service. If you really need one, it's unlikely they can help you. If you don't need one, you're wasting money. I would ask whether or not the grammar and punctuation in yur query were as perfect as need be, and whether or not you wrote in active voice? If you have problems in such areas, then you need to learn grammar, punctuation, and how to write in active voice. You do not need to hire an editorial service.

If your query did not have these problems, there's no reason an agent should have suggested an editorial service.

And remember that you're going on the opinion of one person, and even the best agent out there can be full of beans when it comes to such matters. But I don't care how well known she may be, I don't think a good agent ever suggests an editorial service.

dantem42
03-27-2006, 09:38 AM
No one alive can tell how well you write fiction by reading a query. It simply isn't possible. What they can tell from a query, however, is whether or not you can write a page of prose that error free, and that's in active voice. This is all anyone can tell from a query, but it's usually enough for an agent to decide whether or not to request more. Or many think it is.

Unfortunately, some very good fiction writers can't write a good query, and some truly lousy fiction writers can write wonderful queries.

Good points. I'd add, though, that nowadays, anyone who sends out a half-baked query has only him/herself to blame if no agent looks further. It says to the agent that the writer hasn't done the homework. There are plenty of good books on the subject and dozens of good query examples on the Web.

You can also post your query on thread and have a bunch of people critique it. Some of them admittedly don't know what they're doing, but you should get enough feedback to judge if your query is a dud or not. The query is only a matter of a couple of pages (even with a synopsis), and there's just no excuse anymore for sending out a bad one, especially considering how competitive the fiction market is now.

RoccoMom
03-28-2006, 12:13 AM
Please refer to the thread "Prose Laboratory" in Bewares and Background Checks. That is the service the agent referred me to, and i notice another writer received a referral there from an agent as well. Don't know if it is the same one or not.

Jamesaritchie
03-28-2006, 11:14 PM
Good points. I'd add, though, that nowadays, anyone who sends out a half-baked query has only him/herself to blame if no agent looks further. It says to the agent that the writer hasn't done the homework. There are plenty of good books on the subject and dozens of good query examples on the Web.

You can also post your query on thread and have a bunch of people critique it. Some of them admittedly don't know what they're doing, but you should get enough feedback to judge if your query is a dud or not. The query is only a matter of a couple of pages (even with a synopsis), and there's just no excuse anymore for sending out a bad one, especially considering how competitive the fiction market is now.

I agree. No query will ever receive a 100% positive response simply because an agent may be overstocked, or just have very different taste in how she wants something done. There is, however, enough good avice readily available to allow any writer good enough to write publishable fiction to also write a query letter that will convince an agent to ask for more.

Dark Sim
04-20-2006, 05:16 PM
I tend to write in more formal English in a business letter than in my novel. Given that a query should be a form of business letter, wouldn't it be appropriate to be in a more formal, serious style than the actual novel? Likewise, in a covering letter or a synopsis, the style might be in a more "tell rather than show" style compared to the actual novel. Would this not mean that if the agent were merely going by the query letter, they would only gain a feel for my business letter voice, and not my novel writing voice?

Cathy C
04-20-2006, 06:49 PM
Yes, your query letter SHOULD be a business letter. Writing is a business. While the story blurb can hook the agent enough to want to read the story, the query isn't intended to tell the agent whether you have strong characterization, or a viable plot, or a wonderful style. The query tells the agent that you have a (for example): 100,000 word mainstream novel with suspense elements and a romance subplot. The writing style will probably appeal to readers of Clive Cussler, and the basic plot is XXX. One page, basic details about the plot, return information and you're done. :)

CaoPaux
04-20-2006, 08:30 PM
Please refer to the thread "Prose Laboratory" in Bewares and Background Checks. That is the service the agent referred me to, and i notice another writer received a referral there from an agent as well. Don't know if it is the same one or not.It is, and, as was explained at the time, likely means the agent is participating in a referral scheme. Ignore him and move on.

As others have said, an agent can't determine your "voice" from a query, but they can certainly judge your basic craft and professionalism. Continue to improve your presentation and you'll get better responses.