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Roxxsmom
03-11-2015, 06:31 AM
Okay, so I've been studying Janet Reid's Query Shark site and worked like crazy on my query on QLH and have a 175 word, 11 sentence query letter (broken into three short paragraphs). A couple of agents in the first round of querying loved it and requested fulls (which they, sigh, passed on). But I was excited, because one of them told me it was a really good query, one he could almost use for one of his query writing workshops.

But since then I've queried 15 or so more agents and so far nothing aside from maybe 4-5 form rejections and silence from the rest (I'm on query tracker, so 2-3 of these look like almost certain nos, based on their pattern of only responding if it's a yes, while others don't seem to be getting back to anyone lately, or have sent a bunch of rejections, no requests, and still seem to be sitting on mine).

But I just saw this blog entry from an agent who gave me a form reject (she just asks for a query and no pages up front).

http://nelsonagency.com/2015/03/nlaquerytip/

So it looks like she wants a short, one-paragraph query that has no more than 5-7 sentences. Wish I'd seen this before I sent my query to her.

I saw another blog entry recently for another agent who had also auto rejected mine (also after it was too late) and she said she wants what sounds like a 2-3 sentence elevator pitch in her query letter. And I ran across another blog entry from an agent who said the plot rundown part of the query should be one paragraph, or at the most two.

Is this the new normal? What kinds of queries are people getting high request rates with lately? the Janet Reid style 3 paragraph 150-200 word-ish ones, or something significantly shorter?

Most agents, of course, are not blogging about what they want to see in a query letter, so I'm just guessing about what might hit their sweet spot, but I was figuring if I had a smooth, well-written query that was like the ones Janet Reid crits (or the success stories on query tracker) I'd be okay. But not I'm wondering.

Gringa
03-11-2015, 06:34 AM
scrolling on iphones....:D

Roxxsmom
03-11-2015, 07:01 AM
Ergh, that makes sense, especially for younger agents who can actually read the font on their smart phone screens.

So I should go with a shorter query then? The whole thing (including the non plot related part) is under a page long and around 250 words, so I was soooo proud of myself.

Damn. It gave me gray hairs getting this one trimmed down into something that made sense, each sentence led logically to the next, and had some actual voice in it. I was proud and excited about this query (especially after that one agent said he liked it so well), and every attempt to shorten it thus far has turned it into a pale ghost of itself :(

I'm going to wait until I hear back from those outstanding ones (or it becomes pretty clear I'm not going to) before I decide then.

Putputt
03-11-2015, 07:13 AM
I don't think it's shifting. My query was sent out about four months ago, pretty recent, and the traditional 3-paragraph format (with about 240 words) got a favorable response rate, as well as a less traditional list format I tried out. I'm also still seeing queries which the agent I'm interning for said yes to, and they vary from a 1-paragraph query to a 3-to-4-paragraph query. It just depends on what catches his eye.

I think this is one of those things where you just have to do your best to come up with the strongest query you can, and it sounds like you've done that. After that, aside from tailoring according to agency guidelines, there's not much you can do.

blacbird
03-11-2015, 07:19 AM
What the hell kind of creature is a "query letter norm"? Has any such beast ever existed in the history of printed publication?

caw

Lena Hillbrand
03-11-2015, 07:31 AM
I think you're good. It sounds like your query is strong. I had about the same format/length, and I also got a few quick requests when I started. In all, it took me 10 months and over 100 agents before I found 'the one.' Hope you don't have to go through that many, but my advice is to have patience. Sometimes it happens overnight (or so I hear), but if it doesn't, you will still find the right agent if you don't give up.

Roxxsmom
03-11-2015, 07:58 AM
Well, I thought it was strong, but in the end, we have to choose a focus and a format and go with it. I think it's strong on flow and voice, and shows I can write, but it ignores the very important secondary protag, who is female, and there's really not anything world building related at all, aside from a description of the magic that is at the core of his conflict with himself and his antagonist.

Maybe that's why I'm not getting deluged with requests for pages after those first two :( A large number of agents say they're looking for fantasy set outside the classic medieval European mold. My setting is more early modern and while it's got European touches to it, it's most definitely not just merry England or whatever. But no idea how to get that across in a query that focuses on those "three basic questions."

I just didn't want to keep sending it out if it's not the format that most agents are actually looking for anymore.

Thanks, everyone.

hikarinotsubasa
03-11-2015, 02:30 PM
FYI, Kristin Nelson recently sent me a tiered form (it was form, I think, but "your query letter is strong" kind of thing, different from the one people have posted on QT) for a query that is 310 words, 180 in the pitch paragraph(s) (there are two of them; the rest is for genre, word count, "I was previously with this agent but she quit and we haven't been on submission" type things).

So it's not absolute. Just make sure with your query (like your book), that every word contributes something necessary. If so, you're probably good.

Those no-responders are frustrating, though, aren't they? *sympathetic happy-vibes*

Whimsigirl
03-11-2015, 05:46 PM
I received a partial request from Kristin Nelson a few months ago for a query letter that was 3 paragraphs and ~200 words. I don't think agents care too much, as long as it's not like 10 paragraphs long and is easy to read.

Siri Kirpal
03-11-2015, 10:13 PM
Sat Nam! (Literally "Truth Name"--a Sikh greeting)

Still querying, but the quality of the rejects has improved since I switched to the shorter query.

Blessings,

Siri Kirpal

Drachen Jager
03-11-2015, 10:40 PM
Every agent has different standards. Write a good query letter and hope for the best.

What will weigh out in the end is your pages.

I've queried Kristin Nelson four times, got one partial request and passes on the other three. Of all the queries I sent to her, the one she requested on was the one that had the lowest overall request rate from agents, so it was arguably a worse query than my other three.

The moral is, you just can't second-guess that shit. Do your best. It sounds like you've already got a great query letter, so don't sweat it. If you need something to work on, get cracking on your first pages. Ultimately they're the kicker.

suki
03-11-2015, 11:39 PM
Roxxsmom, I think you are over focusing on the query itself, and maybe missing other issues. Or just being impatient. ;)

Every agent has their own preferred query "sweet spot" in terms of length, format, etc. But many (most?) agents are going to request partials and fulls from queries that aren't hitting that sweet spot if the idea and writing spark their interest.

If there were pages attached to that query, and it was within the generally acceptable norms for queries (ie, wasn't all gimmick, didn't include inappropriate or unprofessional personal information, was a decent pitch of your book, etc.) then you can't assume that it was rejected simply for not hitting perfectly the agent's ideal of a query.

You don't need a perfect query -- you need a good enough query, meaning good enough that the agent scrolls down to look at the pages. And even the most perfect query isn't going to result in a request if the pages don't entice the agent.

Since a few have said it's a good query, I'd assume it's within the normal query range, ie, not an auto-reject for any agent. So, what's going on? Well, it might simply be that you haven't yet found the "right" agent (the one who will really love this book/think they can sell the hell out of it). OR, possibly, you aren't querying the right agents (ie, agents most likely to connect with your writing/manuscript). Or maybe the query is just fine, but the pages aren't strong enough. Or maybe the concept itself is going to take just the right agent to know how to sell it. Or...other reasons, not related to the quality of the query.

Now, if you think the query isn't a good enough pitch for your book, rework it. But rework the pitch, as opposed to trying to hit every single agent's preferred sweet spot.

If you worry the pages aren't strong enough, rework them.

But if you think the pitch is good enough, the pages strong, and the query is within the normal range for queries, then all you can do is keep querying until someone tells you otherwise.

Good luck!

~suki

Roxxsmom
03-11-2015, 11:57 PM
I received a partial request from Kristin Nelson a few months ago for a query letter that was 3 paragraphs and ~200 words. I don't think agents care too much, as long as it's not like 10 paragraphs long and is easy to read.

Ah, well, maybe they don't even know what they like for sure. Or maybe this represents a recent change of taste or heart on her part. For whatever reason, she form rejected my query, even though her former assistant really liked it and ended up with the full MS (which she later rejected). I was hoping to get some love from her, as I was thinking that maybe her former mentee would have similar tastes.

But she's one of those agents who specifically says no pages with the initial query letter, so I couldn't send any and hope she'd peek at them. She's definitely an agent who has to be sold on the query before she requests pages.

The agent who liked the query so well really liked the opening pages. So did Nelson's former assistant, though both eventually passed politely on the fulls, one because he thought "a lot came out at once maybe in the story, but that might just be his taste," and the other because she recently sold something that's too similar. Hard to say what either of these really meant.

I suppose it's the path to madness to try to see patterns in something that's probably very chaos driven. But yeah, I'm impatient. I've been polishing this darned thing for a long time.

There was someone querying a 130-140k word fantasy novel at the same time as I was who got a ton of requests right off the bat and already has several offers (don't know who it is, because they've made their profile completely private). I'd kill to take a peek at their query, but so far the "success story interview" hasn't been posted.

Lately, I've noticed there's a lot of emphasis on very short pitches lately, probably because of twitter. But it seems like those just result in agents asking people to send queries and pages, which you do with a normal query anyway. So unless it's an agent who's normally closed to submissions, I'm not sure if they're worth while or not.

Dreity
03-12-2015, 12:00 AM
Ugh, I was just thinking about starting a thread about this. After spending ages getting a 270-word pitch (it'll be longer after personalization or bio are included) I'm kinda sorta happy with, I listened to a not-really podcast thing that had one of my ideal agents as a guest. (Recorded in 2011, but hardly ancient history.)

She seems to favor the 3 Paragraph Hook, Book, Cook format, which I don't see around QLH much these days. I spent of couple of hours writing a query that fit that structure, just as an experiment. While it's much sparser on the plot and magic system details, it introduces both POV characters and their arcs, which is something I really wanted to make work with my longer query and never could. After including the personalization and bio, it's still leaner at 226 words. I also had space to mention my intentions for a series, and give a one-line summary of what that would entail. Overall, it feels like a more complete, if less colored-in picture of what I'm trying to sell in the long run.

I should note that this agent also wants a synopsis and decent size sample in the initial submission package, so I don't feel as much pressure for my query to be the greatest thing they've ever seen.

I think with an agent that wants a query only at first, I'll submit the longer, voicier, more focused one, unless they specifically ask for something shorter in an interview somewhere. In fact, I'm scouring the internet for anything I can find regarding specific agent preferences. A lot of times it's something small like "housekeeping up front", but I'll take what I can get.

I think that's really all we can do. Tailor to individual preferences when we can, and send the query we like best when we don't have that information. I don't think an agent is going be too terribly picky about format if the content draws them in. *she says to herself over and over*

ElaineA
03-12-2015, 02:15 AM
I don't know if we can know if they're shifting until we can look back in hindsight.


Well, I thought it was strong, but in the end, we have to choose a focus and a format and go with it. I think it's strong on flow and voice, and shows I can write, but it ignores the very important secondary protag, who is female, Not terribly uncommon, but if you can sneak in a mention of her it'd probably be helpfuland there's really not anything world building related at all, aside from a description of the magic that is at the core of his conflict with himself and his antagonist. Hmm, I have to say this is a scosh worrisome to me if your "world" is unique-ish in the genre.

I just didn't want to keep sending it out if it's not the format that most agents are actually looking for anymore. I think you're generally fine in this regard. Especially if you've done your homework on each agent, which it seems you have.


The thing is, as others have said, you're very likely just caught in the numbers game--Mutive's post about percentages and other mathy stuff lays out the almost meaninglessness of A-rates and R-rates until you get to a very large sample size--BUT, there are so very many Fantasy queries filling agents' mailboxes that you do want to be sure you have something unique in yours. Something to click the OH! switch for them.

Otherwise, I think it's almost impossible to try to logic a way to understanding what works and what doesn't within a generally accepted format. If you follow #10queries and those sorts of things, you'll see you're ahead of the game already. After that, you're dealing with agents' gut feels, and you simply can't do a darn thing about that.

Wishing you best luck moving forward! :)

Roxxsmom
03-12-2015, 06:25 AM
Yeah, I've looked at 10 queries, and unfortunately, none of the agents on my query list seem to participate in it.

Even if they handle genres that have nothing to do with what I'm writing, it's interesting to see what the people say about the things coming across their desks, and indeed, I see that mine is far better than most of their auto rejects. Though sometimes it can be hard to know what something they say really means.

Aggy B.
03-12-2015, 06:35 AM
I had two versions of my query letter. One had a three paragraph summary of the plot. One had a three sentence summary of the plot. It was the latter that hooked the agent I signed with, but overall the percentage of positive responses was the same between the two versions.

quicklime
03-12-2015, 08:49 AM
....
So it looks like she wants a short, one-paragraph query that has no more than 5-7 sentences.
....



I saw another blog entry recently for another agent who had also auto rejected mine (also after it was too late) and she said she wants what sounds like a 2-3 sentence elevator pitch in her query letter.

And I ran across another blog entry from an agent who said the plot rundown part of the query should be one paragraph, or at the most two.

Is this the new normal? .....


there's certainly nothing wrong with wondering.

At the same time, you have an "n" of three at best (and the middle one I would be inclined to read as 'get your shit into a single pitch line or two in your query' rather than suggesting she only wanted 2-3 sentences in total) so it may be that times are changing, but I'd be a million miles from concluding that. If nothing else, the nerd in me says "wait, there's what, maybe 600 agents at least? So that's a trend of......seeing 0.5% of all agents (or less) asking for this...."

Right now it would be a bit like the climate change rejection group that points to last winter and says "see, see, it was fucking cold!!! global warming isn't possible!!!!"......maybe if they got their wish for a decade or three but a datapoint (or two or three in your case) does not indicate a trend. yet.

For now, my guess is there is no trend. And there won't be. At the same time, you know what THOSE agents want....And you should give the agent what he/she wants--if Janet Reid wants a query letter written in baby entrails, I'd at a bare minimum check the "Free Stuff" section of Craigslist before I subbed to her in case anyone was throwing out some babyguts. So for them, by all means, tailor. But don't draw a hasty conclusion founded on minimal data.......the temptation is there, especially when you're not doing as well as you'd hoped, but it can lead to a whole lotta lotta kicking yourself over imaginary what-ifs and changing things for the worse as you second-guess.

Write the query any given agent asks for. If they aren't specific, I don't see enough evidence yet to suggest you ought to revise your format for everyone else based upon two or possibly three agents.

Roxxsmom
03-12-2015, 09:03 AM
Well, THAT PERSON on Querytracker who got started shopping her 140k word fantasy novel at the same time I started querying mine (a relatively skinny little thing at only 119k words :tongue), and who got 20 requests and 7 offers (and has signed with the agent who was interested in mine for a bit and whom I desperately wanted :) ) has her success story posted, and I can see her query letter and story on querytracker.

It's very interesting, and the query is definitely of the longer persuasion. I notice that she mentions some things about her world building in the general information part of the query as well, so maybe I'll take a page out of her book.

But as jealous as I am of this person, I can't say she hasn't earned her success after reading the trials and tribulations she's endured to get to where she is. I have to say the book looks interesting, and I'm going to keep my eyes out for it, because I have a suspicion it's going to sell and is probably pretty good.

So the moral of the story is keep plugging away.

quicklime
03-12-2015, 09:11 AM
another thing to consider:

A single, incredible line can compensate for, or eliminate the need for, another three paragraphs.



That's lovely, and something we should ALL strive for. But sometimes you just don't have that single incredible line or three. So you do what you can with a few more. Those shorts queries, some agents flat-out want them. And some....well, they're good enough they simply earned their keep in 25 words where most still fail at 250. That doesn't automatically mean anything more than that they worked, and others did not. The "why" is a lot harder to locate, and probably much less concrete.

whiporee
03-12-2015, 09:42 AM
Fo what it's worth, I think it's a mistake to abandon your judgement to any agent's idea of a perfect query. Janet Reid is awesome and I'm a regular reader, but the truth is that a lot of people treat the way SHE wants queries as gospel, and that may not be the case for anyone other than herself. The same thing with Kristen Nelson, who is out here in Denver and perhaps a bit removed from the heart of the industry. I'm sure she does well and is a great agent, but I wouldn't extrapolate anything she says to anyone beyond her agency. And for the record, if she doesn't want actual queries, she should just say so. You can't really know anything about a book in 140 words, and to not even accept digital pages just shows you don't really want to read. It's an unnecessary hoop to ask writers to jump through, and this guise of helping us is more than a tad condescending.

I'll just give you my experience. I went to a conference for the single reason to take a seminar taught by agents. Their take was to do the best job you can and to not worry about word counts or specifics -- just write a hook, tell a bit about the book and a bit about yourself.

So I used that a while and got a pair of full requests out of 30 or so queries. Then I switched to Janet's style for anther 40 and got blanked. Both the full requests offered so I stopped. And my agent uses the most of the query I wrote her as her submission letter, and she's never had it passed up (the books been passed all over, but they always ask to see it).

So if someone like Janet or Kristen asks for a specific format, follow it. But don't sculpt your query to match what she wants for everything you do. Trust yourself more than you trust them (or anyone, for that matter).

Putputt
03-12-2015, 11:31 AM
So if someone like Janet or Kristen asks for a specific format, follow it. But don't sculpt your query to match what she wants for everything you do. Trust yourself more than you trust them (or anyone, for that matter).

I think it's highly important to end up with a query that, above all, YOU believe in.

After my stint in QLH for my last book, I wasn't sure about the query that most of the squirrels liked. I had a couple of non-traditional ones which I adored, so I chose to send the QLH-approved one plus the ones I loved out. And they all performed more or less the same. So eh, I think sometimes format just doesn't matter as long as you're showcasing your story clearly.

So if you think your story is better served with a mention of the female character and a bit of world-building, I would put that in. You know your story best. The rest of us haven't read it, so we don't know what are the awesome parts of your book. They could very well be selling points.

Captcha
03-12-2015, 02:58 PM
I think there's something about the querying process that encourages us to think of agents as godlike arbiters of all writing wisdom, or at least as an end, rather than a means.

Sure, it's important to convince an agent to sign with you, but it's also important to sign with an agent who isn't a capricious twit who will only accept queries submitted in one preferred, though unspecified, style. Would any of us actually want to work with an agent who played power games like that?

I'm not saying that any agents are actually that arbitrary, just that I think we sometimes imagine them as being that arbitrary. I bet they aren't, really. Most of them are almost certainly looking for queries that are clearly written, tell them enough about the story to see if it would be something they could find a buyer for, and that show some sense of style. If they have more specific requirements than that and don't bother to post the requirements - are they really someone you'd want to work with?

mayqueen
03-12-2015, 05:00 PM
I think it's highly important to end up with a query that, above all, YOU believe in.


I think there's something about the querying process that encourages us to think of agents as godlike arbiters of all writing wisdom, or at least as an end, rather than a means.

Sure, it's important to convince an agent to sign with you, but it's also important to sign with an agent who isn't a capricious twit who will only accept queries submitted in one preferred, though unspecified, style. Would any of us actually want to work with an agent who played power games like that?

I'm not saying that any agents are actually that arbitrary, just that I think we sometimes imagine them as being that arbitrary. I bet they aren't, really. Most of them are almost certainly looking for queries that are clearly written, tell them enough about the story to see if it would be something they could find a buyer for, and that show some sense of style. If they have more specific requirements than that and don't bother to post the requirements - are they really someone you'd want to work with?

+1 to both of these things.

I feel like writing a query is sort of a negative process, in the sense that there are glaring things you should absolutely NOT do, and then the rest is a matter of subjective taste. Use agent guidelines for those agents, use QLH to make sure your query is solid, but at the end of the day, send the query you believe in. It's kind of like applying for jobs (a subject near and not dear to my heart right now). Do the best you can on your materials, but know that there are a million things going on behind the scenes that affect whether you get an interview.

FLChicken
03-12-2015, 05:45 PM
+1 to both of these things.

I feel like writing a query is sort of a negative process, in the sense that there are glaring things you should absolutely NOT do, and then the rest is a matter of subjective taste. Use agent guidelines for those agents, use QLH to make sure your query is solid, but at the end of the day, send the query you believe in. It's kind of like applying for jobs (a subject near and not dear to my heart right now). Do the best you can on your materials, but know that there are a million things going on behind the scenes that affect whether you get an interview.

This thread stressed me out (no offense to the OP). It's just that I am finally close to having a query written (in the QS kinda way with QLH assistance), and I've also seen agents specifying queries in a whole other manner. But what you've said above has calmed me down. Thanks. ;)

Jamesaritchie
03-12-2015, 06:12 PM
The only norm for queries that really work well, ever, is really good writing, whether in a query, or in the manuscript itself.

More often than not, a single great line has always sold a query. All "normal" synopses sound alike, and make your eyes lose focus instantly. If it takes 250, or five hundred, words to sell a query, that query is unlike to sell. One good, well-written, unexpected but true sentence has always worked. The rest of the query is just minutia that backs up the good writing.

It isn't length that matters, it's quality, showing the editor you can write well, and that your novel will also be written well.

popgun62
03-12-2015, 06:31 PM
I queried about 100 agents with each of my first three novels, and got that many rejections. All three were published by small presses. I landed an agent with my fourth novel with a query that was about 700 words long, including my bio, my "elevator pitch," and blurbs from big name authors, and a contract offer from a publisher already in hand. There is no magic recipe for landing an agent. Write a query that you think is the best you can write and send it out. The only thing I changed in my query was the introductory paragraph, customized for each agent - everything else was the same. If they asked for the first five or ten pages of the manuscript, I also sent that. So just write the best query you can and forget about length. No one cares, as long it's well-written.

Drachen Jager
03-12-2015, 08:39 PM
Speaking of Query standards, did anyone see this tweet the other day from Sara Megibow?

"I'm a fairly laid back person but YOWZA- there is absolutely no such genre as middle grade erotica. #autorejection (https://twitter.com/hashtag/autorejection?src=hash)"

I'm sure if you avoid mistakes like that you'll at least stand a chance.

Dreity
03-12-2015, 08:57 PM
I did see that. So squicky. Between that and Slush Pile Hell, I have nothing but sympathy for agents as they go through their inbox each day.

FLChicken
03-12-2015, 09:49 PM
Speaking of Query standards, did anyone see this tweet the other day from Sara Megibow?

"I'm a fairly laid back person but YOWZA- there is absolutely no such genre as middle grade erotica. #autorejection (https://twitter.com/hashtag/autorejection?src=hash)"

I'm sure if you avoid mistakes like that you'll at least stand a chance.

I follow her on my Twitter but somehow missed that one. That is just creepy as all get out. <shivers>

rwm4768
03-12-2015, 10:10 PM
I've noticed this tend with one particular agency. On the site for Liza Dawson Associates, they say the plot description should only be three sentences long. I wish I'd read that before querying there.

Roxxsmom
03-12-2015, 11:43 PM
I've noticed this tend with one particular agency. On the site for Liza Dawson Associates, they say the plot description should only be three sentences long. I wish I'd read that before querying there.

Me too. I sent a normal query letter, and got a form rejection.

And the instructions aren't under their submission requirements or on the agent profile, but are a link to a blog entry or something under their FAQs.

I found another agent that wants the first paragraph to be the general information about your novel--length, title, why you wrote it, where it fits into the market. The second to be what it's about. The third to be about you.

So yeah, some do want a very different approach from what I've seen encouraged at query writing workshops, in QLH or on Query shark.

Another question I've had recently is this "where does your novel fit into the current market?" question that a lot of agents are now saying (in blogs and on twitter) they want in query letters. That's another one I've glossed over, because Reid and the agents I've met at workshops discourage it (says unless you know a bestselling novel that's been published in the last year that appeals to the same demographic, you probably should skip that part).

I mean, aside from it being fantasy set in a secondary world, I don't even know its exact subgenre. I know which authors I like, but I don't think my work is an exact match for any of them in terms of style or world building or whatever. I was trying to be kind of unique, actually, and write something I'd like to read--character-driven fantasy with a more modern narrative style (not stilted, formal HF) and a focus on intrigue and loyalties/relationships, set in a secondary world that's more early modern than medieval. The closest I can come up with is fantasy of manners, but that's not quite right either, as magic is central to my plot, and it's grittier and far less focused on court life than the novels I know of in that subgenre. I don't think it's noire either, as that's essentially a subgenre of UF, and I don't think mine has quite that feel either (for one thing, it's not first person, but limited third with three pov characters).

I don't know of any recent bestselling secondary world fantasy that isn't epic in scale (and length), to be honest.

Laer Carroll
03-13-2015, 12:00 AM
Writing one query & using it for all agents may be a good way to start the query-writing process. But trying to find one perfect query for all of them is not a good idea. Agents aren't clones of each other.

Each agent wants something at least a little bit different. I'd suggest we study each and tailor the query for that particular agent. The tailoring may not have to be a big job, but it has to be done.

We are likely to be partnering with that individual for many years. Start treating them as one unique individual person right from the start rather than some ideal.

Putputt
03-13-2015, 07:32 AM
Another question I've had recently is this "where does your novel fit into the current market?" question that a lot of agents are now saying (in blogs and on twitter) they want in query letters. That's another one I've glossed over, because Reid and the agents I've met at workshops discourage it (says unless you know a bestselling novel that's been published in the last year that appeals to the same demographic, you probably should skip that part).


I interpreted that question by giving comp titles. "My novel should appeal to fans of BOOK A and BOOK B" sort of thing.

But I don't think it's a make or break whether you answer that question, tbh.

Roxxsmom
03-13-2015, 07:44 AM
Does anyone have any idea how to find recent (as in within the last year) bestselling novels in your genre that target the same demographic niche as your novel does? I don't even know where to find sales figures or relative sales rankings for fantasy novels, aside from Amazon's, which are kind of a mess.

This is simply not something I tend to think of at all when I get an idea for a story. I just fall in love with a set of characters and their situation and start writing. In fact, I was told early on by other writers and so on not to worry about writing to demographic niches or copying another author's style, because whatever's popular at the moment will likely be saturated by the time the novel is published.

Evidently, the people who told me this were wrong, as many agents are saying on their blogs they want and expect the debut author to have researched the market thoroughly and know where their novel fits in.

Sigh.

Mine is somewhere in the middle of epic to S&S scale with regards to stakes, and while it's grittier than classic high fantasy, it's not quite noir, let alone grimdark (I actually have a protagonist with a conscience and a guardedly optimistic ending), and while it's a world with gunpowder, it's not a gunpowder or miliatary fantasy. The closest I can come (based on what a few of my betas have told me) is saying it might appeal to fans of Robin Hobb, but it's got a more modern voice or narrative style that might also appeal to fans of UF or YA (even though it's not YA).

Putputt
03-13-2015, 07:55 AM
Maybe something like... "[TITLE] is comparable to Robbin Hobb's [TITLE] with a more modern voice." Uh, but less unwieldy.

Roxxsmom
03-13-2015, 08:27 AM
That's probably what I'm going to have to do, though Hobb's latest book is the newest installment of a very old series. Not sure it's what agents and editors have in mind, really. Looking at a lot of the successful queries on query tracker (for YA titles a lot of them), they'll make a direct comparison to another currently popular series or book.

Probably the book I can think of that I've read that remind me most of my own novel stylistically is The Curse of Chalion by Bujold (though I think my limited third is a bit deeper). Ironically, I didn't discover that book until I'd already finished draft #1. Not sure how I missed it when it was first published, but I'd always thought of her as a SF writer. But it is very different in some ways (not the same plot at all), but it has some similar themes going, and a similar level of stakes--not epic but not simply personal either. But it's way too old a book to use. I believe comparisons are supposed to be for current bestsellers.

Maybe it was a mistake not to go epic after all. Everyone told me that a debut writer could never sell an epic fantasy, but darn it, every single bestselling debut secondary world fantasy novel I can think of in recent years is pretty darned epic in scale.

Actually, my novel is as if some of Hobb's and Bujold's stuff had an unholy orgy with some of the noire fantasy or S and S that's out there. Maybe Carol Berg is the closest.

Becca C.
03-14-2015, 08:22 AM
Does anyone have any idea how to find recent (as in within the last year) bestselling novels in your genre that target the same demographic niche as your novel does? I don't even know where to find sales figures or relative sales rankings for fantasy novels, aside from Amazon's, which are kind of a mess.

I just know these things from reading in my genre. My strategy, in picking comp titles, was 1) go for books that maybe aren't SUPER AMAZING bestsellers, but did well and are by recognizable names, and 2) pick books with similar subject matter and tone. Since my book is about a girl who whisks her autistic brother off on a trip to Paris, I picked PERFECT ESCAPE by Jennifer Brown (established YA author, book about a girl and autistic brother on a road trip) and ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS by Stephanie Perkins (author with rapidly growing fan base, book about Paris with a tone that goes from sweet and fun to very serious, like my book).

Old Hack
03-14-2015, 11:39 AM
You could always look at best-seller lists. The big ones are usually archived online, aren't they?

Roxxsmom
03-15-2015, 12:46 AM
You could always look at best-seller lists. The big ones are usually archived online, aren't they?

Where? And is it possible to get a list of relative sales rankings for trade-published fantasy/SF anywhere?

Laer Carroll
03-23-2015, 02:27 AM
Up to you, but I wouldn't bother answering that question. All it will likely do is reveal how limited is your knowledge of the market. Your 1-2 paragraph teaser should tell an experienced agent enough to decide where your book fits in with the overall scene for that genre.

As for general publishing news, Publisher's Weekly is one but it costs $168 per year. For sci-fi/fantasy a good source is Locus Magazine. After having a yearly subscription, I just buy an occasional issue for $5, usually the February issue which has a useful Year-End Review. You can get a print copy or download any one of several email-formatted copies.

http://subs.publishersweekly.com
http://www.locusmag.com/

Liz_V
03-24-2015, 12:40 AM
--character-driven fantasy with a more modern narrative style (not stilted, formal HF) and a focus on intrigue and loyalties/relationships, set in a secondary world that's more early modern than medieval.

It's a pity you can't just say that -- because that sounds like something I'd like to read, too. In all the push to use fewer words, I think sometimes the industry loses sight of the fact that not everything can be reduced to a three-word sound-bite; sometimes you really do need more words to convey an idea properly.


Probably the book I can think of that I've read that remind me most of my own novel stylistically is The Curse of Chalion by Bujold

Okay, now I really want to read it. Chalion is one of my all-time-favorite books.

Roxxsmom
03-24-2015, 12:44 PM
I'm thinking this might be my problem. 10 or more years ago, there were a ton of fantasy novels that were set in secondary worlds but weren't exactly epic, though the stakes were more than just personal. They tended to have a blend of adventure, combat, intrigue, and romance, and the stakes were sort of in between personal and world altering. I'm writing something kind of similar but a bit darker/grittier and maybe a deeper/closer narrative style and with more attempt to make the world building internally consistent and not just a standard "ye olde" fanasy world. But it's definitely not Grimdark or military fantasy either, and while I'm playing around a bit with gender roles and so on, my world building isn't nearly as out there as, say, Kameron Hurley's Mirror Empire.

lizmonster
03-24-2015, 04:17 PM
I'm thinking this might be my problem. 10 or more years ago, there were a ton of fantasy novels that were set in secondary worlds but weren't exactly epic, though the stakes were more than just personal. They tended to have a blend of adventure, combat, intrigue, and romance, and the stakes were sort of in between personal and world altering. I'm writing something kind of similar but a bit darker/grittier and maybe a deeper/closer narrative style and with more attempt to make the world building internally consistent and not just a standard "ye olde" fanasy world. But it's definitely not Grimdark or military fantasy either, and while I'm playing around a bit with gender roles and so on, my world building isn't nearly as out there as, say, Kameron Hurley's Mirror Empire.

While you may be the victim of a market shift, it's worth noting that Kameron herself discusses in her blog from time to time how hard it was to sell Mirror Empire. It's doing quite well, and sure, it's possible that there are agents sifting through queries looking for "the next ME" - but if you look at what's selling in SFF, there's plenty of less out-there stuff doing screamingly well.

Which is only to say: Don't talk yourself out of it. I saw an agent on Twitter (can't remember who; might have been Sara Megibow, actually) who said she always scans the query letter for where the pitch begins. If there's introductory stuff she doesn't toss the query for it - she just skips it.

And you've probably already been there - but I always found QLH a good place for jump-starting query ideas. If you post what you've got and say "I want this shorter and punchier," the hordes will help out.

Debbie V
03-24-2015, 06:05 PM
If you're writing YA or younger, Publisher's Weekly has a free online newsletter called Children's Bookshelf. They have some reviews and deals listed and show the bestseller list for each week as well as industry news. There are other newsletters too. Check their site for more info.

Publisher's Marketplace has it's Publisher's Lunch too, but I can't recall the fee.

A whole lot of children's agents like to see these market comparisons. I think they're called log lines and come from the film industry. You have to strike a balance with them. You can't make it sound like you think you've written the next HP or Hunger Games, but you can't list something no one has heard of. I leave them out unless I'm specifically asked for them. This is because I have no idea about which books to use.

Perhaps your crit partners can come up with some ideas. If not, a trip to the bookstore is in order. The advice I've heard is the same as the advice you received, write what you need/want to write. Figure out where it fits afterward.

Good luck.

waylander
03-24-2015, 06:36 PM
I'm thinking this might be my problem. 10 or more years ago, there were a ton of fantasy novels that were set in secondary worlds but weren't exactly epic, though the stakes were more than just personal. They tended to have a blend of adventure, combat, intrigue, and romance, and the stakes were sort of in between personal and world altering. I'm writing something kind of similar but a bit darker/grittier and maybe a deeper/closer narrative style and with more attempt to make the world building internally consistent and not just a standard "ye olde" fanasy world. But it's definitely not Grimdark or military fantasy either, and while I'm playing around a bit with gender roles and so on, my world building isn't nearly as out there as, say, Kameron Hurley's Mirror Empire.

This sounds very similar to my first novel which got me agented. I regret to say that the novel remains unsold at this point.

Mr Flibble
03-24-2015, 10:07 PM
I'm thinking this might be my problem. 10 or more years ago, there were a ton of fantasy novels that were set in secondary worlds but weren't exactly epic, though the stakes were more than just personal. They tended to have a blend of adventure, combat, intrigue, and romance, and the stakes were sort of in between personal and world altering. I'm writing something kind of similar but a bit darker/grittier and maybe a deeper/closer narrative style and with more attempt to make the world building internally consistent and not just a standard "ye olde" fanasy world. But it's definitely not Grimdark or military fantasy either, and while I'm playing around a bit with gender roles and so on, my world building isn't nearly as out there as, say, Kameron Hurley's Mirror Empire.

Good news -- I have a series coming out this year almost exactly like this,(I'm not playing with gender roles in this that much -- that's next project) so there is a market for it.

Hold on, let's see how we pitched it...


Well basically we showed it in the body of the pitch, using worldbuilding (the existence of magicians) coupled with a flavour of derring do (highwaymen and guild duellists) to show what sort of book it was, rather than tell it? Add in some comparable titles (Promise of Blood without guns! Or something good :D)

I have a few examples sitting on my HD -- I could PM them to you if you like.

Argus
03-24-2015, 11:53 PM
Seems to me they want longer queries, these days. But I get why some agents want it shorter. IPhone and all.

Roxxsmom
03-25-2015, 01:02 AM
And you've probably already been there - but I always found QLH a good place for jump-starting query ideas. If you post what you've got and say "I want this shorter and punchier," the hordes will help out.

Yeah, I worked it over on QLH. Went through many possible iterations. I got it to where no one was saying it was horrible, and some people really liked it, though a few wanted to see more world building details in it (I honestly don't know how to get out there that it takes place in a gunpowder world, and one of the things the male protag has to deal with is that is a move from a patriarchal theocracy to a more matrilineal culture, since that's all in the background and not central). But there's still that back and forth, those lingering doubts about whether it could be better in some way, but also about all the trade offs.

Should I insert more world building information into it at the expense of voice and flow? Should I somehow try try to work my fmc and her arc into the thing, even if that makes it more name soupy or deemphasizes the central conflict? And of course, which of the many (shifting) wants my protagonist has in the novel is the most grabby and interesting to put at the center of the pitch?

And of course, am I (and my QLH critics) just fooling myself about the things I think the query letter does well?


Seems to me they want longer queries, these days. But I get why some agents want it shorter. IPhone and all.

I've heard this as well, but then I run across comments on twitter from a couple agents who insta Rd that they think a writer should be able to get everything that's essential about their plot into three sentences, and if they can't, there's something fundamentally wrong about their story or their writing chops are sorely lacking.

Well, sure, I can do that, but what I can't seem to do is boil it down to the basic plot in a way that also imparts what is unique about my characters, their relationship, my world building and so on. And I sure as hell can't come up with one of those cutesy poo "Star Wars meets The Hunger Games" kind of mash ups I see sometimes on publisher's marketplace dealmakers.

Actually, when I see a simplified, boiled down version of a plot like that, it makes me not want to read the novel. Because it makes it seem trite. Even assuming I loved both of those novels or movies, why on Earth would I want to read something that's *just* like them?

One of my betas made a comment that my novel reads a bit like something Robin Hobb might write if she believed a happy ending was possible. I can't think of a way to make that work in a pitch, however.

Mr Flibble
03-25-2015, 02:32 AM
One of my betas made a comment that my novel reads a bit like something Robin Hobb might write if she believed a happy ending was possible. I can't think of a way to make that work in a pitch, however.

Fans of Robin Hobb who also like happy endings will love this...

Comparable titles do not need to be the Same

I used Harry Dresden for my Rojan books. There's a similar sort of thing to them but it's also different. IIRC I said "A darker, more cynical and British Harry in a second world" It's not exactly right -- but it gives you a flavour of what sort of book. So if you want to say "Like Promise of Blood only with X magic and a greater focus on characters", or whatever then that should work

For some agents. Whatever you do some agents won't like t (some don't like comparable books frex)

IIRC my elevator pitch for forthcoming series was "fantasy three musketeers"

The elevator pitch for Fade to Black was "Bladerunner only with mages instead of replicants"

If you can think of things that are similar in tone then you can say "like this, only with X" if you need to keep it super short.

Using an elevator pitch in a query (as your OP seems to indicate) seems a bit weird to me, but hey, agents work how they work!

By following their instructions you are both showing that you can write (by distilling you novel into whatever constriction) and that you can in fact follow instruction (this bodes well for later on, when you are editted and it is not instruction, it is suggestion. But it still bodes well)

Roxxsmom
03-25-2015, 03:31 AM
IIRC my elevator pitch for forthcoming series was "fantasy three musketeers"

The elevator pitch for Fade to Black was "Bladerunner only with mages instead of replicants"

If you can think of things that are similar in tone then you can say "like this, only with X" if you need to keep it super short.

Using an elevator pitch in a query (as your OP seems to indicate) seems a bit weird to me, but hey, agents work how they work!



Maybe it's a defect in my imagination, but I just can't think of a single classic movie or work of fiction to which I can make that kind of comparison. It doesn't mean that such don't exist, of course, but maybe I'm just too close to my own work to see it.

I don't think most agents want three sentence pitches in their query letters, but I've run across interviews, blogs, or tweets by a couple who say they do (after they rejected my query shark style 175 word, lots of white space query, of course).

And I just ran across an agency recently that seems to have a good rep, but what they're asking for doesn't resemble a query letter at all.

Argus
03-25-2015, 08:31 AM
I'm pretty much of the opinion that the three sentence query letter has gone the way of the dodo. Even if you can do it, and I'm bold enough to tell you I can, agents don't care. They want a lot more meat these days. Heck, I wish they did want just three sentences. It make my attempts at getting an agent that much easier.

But tastes vary.

Still, my three sentencer did get the most responses back in the day. So who knows.