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Rose_C
01-17-2017, 06:59 PM
As you put a toe into the murky water of getting published, one of the first things you notice, is how many guidelines there are on 'How To Get Noticed'. It's an entire industry! So how accurate / necessary / effective are all those hoops you seemingly have to jump through in order to get an agent to notice you and take you on?

Does it genuinely make the agent sit up and take notice when an author managed (by some miracle) to type THE PERFECT opening paragraph, give you the most captivating summary of their story, and not manage to mess up the closing?

To my mind the more formulaic and ritualistic the entire process becomes the more nonsensical it all is. Either the book is good or not and surely how you construct a letter saying Hi, I am ... Please find attached the first ... of my book. Thanks so much. is not going to make any difference? And if it does ...


PS I have a friend going through the process of submitting to agents and editors and he spends more time trying to hit the magic jackpot with his covering lettering than he did writing and editing the book (and he spent a lot of time and money on writing and editing), and as I watch him, that is what it seems like, like you are trying to get some impossible magical formula right and if only you hit on THE exact right phrasing then Ka-BOOM the golden doors will open and you pass through the portal. And that's ridiculous. It just can't be like that.

PPS It kind of sounds like I'm moaning, and I guess I am mildly, but I'm hoping that the impression I have of the magical mystery tour getting your submission letter 'juuust right' is wrong and entirely made up by all the good folks trying to sell you their "Guide To Getting Published' only $8.99 with this special offer.

PPS I keep thinking of things to add - this is not a backwards way of saying 'please take me on'. I'm not remotely there, and not sure that is the way I ultimately want to go.

Helix
01-17-2017, 07:12 PM
It's not that nonsensical. A well-crafted query letter shows whether you can write in an engaging way. If it's dull and plodding, it's not going to entice an agent to request the manuscript.

Rose_C
01-17-2017, 07:24 PM
Yes but have you seen how many 'guides' there are? And reading all the webpages, blog posts, advice threads dedicated to the subject as well as seeing friends going through the process, it seriously feels like you are standing in front of the magical cave filled with gold and trying to work out the magic password. It doesn't feel like it is a normal business process of presenting yourself in with a reasonable letter in coherent English. It feels like there is a formula and if only you can get it right then the cave will open sesame! I see people writing and rewriting and going through untold levels of stress trying to get it right, to hit that magical (( know I keep using that word, but genuinely that is the way it seems) combination of words that is going to work.

And I'm hoping it isn't the way it seems. That there is some normal process involved. That all you need is to write a business-like letter and follow the guidelines for submission and that the entire process isn't solely dependent on hitting some special combo of words in your letter.

cornflake
01-17-2017, 07:45 PM
Do you know how many query letters agents get? Hundreds a week.

It's not like, well, just be polite and don't make a grievous error and you'll be fine, any more than that'd work applying to a super sought-after job.

You don't just send a properly-done resume to NASA and get to be an astronaut, or show up to a Broadway show audition with a proper photo and resume and join the cast. It's crazily competitive, and lots of the people competing with you also have perfectly properly done resumes, have taken lots of dance classes, and can sing, if you see what I'm saying. You also have to fit the part (what they're looking for right then), or the mission parameters (you might be a Nobel-winning chemist, but if NASA needs to fill an engineering spot, tough crap).

Lauram6123
01-17-2017, 07:50 PM
Writing a decent query should not cause as much angst as it does.

If you remember the following things about query letters, you will be ahead of the game.

A query is NOT:
Formulaic.
A dry business letter.
A summary of your entire MS.
A place to explain why you wrote your MS.

It is usually NOT:
Told in first person.
Told in past tense.
Bogged down with backstory.

A query IS:
An actively written sales pitch for your MS.
A clearly written showcase of what your MC wants, what they have to do to get it and what will happen if they fail.
A few paragraphs that demonstrate an ability to put sentences together in a clear, engaging way with enough panache that makes the agent curious enough to click on your sample pages.

A query usually:
Is told in present tense.
Is told using the POV of the main character. (Although romance queries can contain dual povs.)

-Riv-
01-17-2017, 08:04 PM
To my mind the more formulaic and ritualistic the entire process becomes the more nonsensical it all is. Either the book is good or not and surely how you construct a letter saying Hi, I am ... Please find attached the first ... of my book. Thanks so much. is not going to make any difference? And if it does ...

Yes but have you seen how many 'guides' there are? And reading all the webpages, blog posts, advice threads dedicated to the subject as well as seeing friends going through the process, it seriously feels like you are standing in front of the magical cave filled with gold and trying to work out the magic password. It doesn't feel like it is a normal business process of presenting yourself in with a reasonable letter in coherent English. It feels like there is a formula and if only you can get it right then the cave will open sesame! I see people writing and rewriting and going through untold levels of stress trying to get it right, to hit that magical (( know I keep using that word, but genuinely that is the way it seems) combination of words that is going to work.

And I'm hoping it isn't the way it seems. That there is some normal process involved. That all you need is to write a business-like letter and follow the guidelines for submission and that the entire process isn't solely dependent on hitting some special combo of words in your letter.
It's not a simple business letter/cover letter, at least not in the U.S.. Some agents don't want pages attached to the query, so the query is the sole means of selling/enticing. It's the writer's platform to show how and why their manuscript deserves time devoted to reading pages, and it's the agent's means of narrowing the very competitive field.

Words that grab the agents attention and and have her thinking, "I must take a peek a the manuscript!" are the "special combo of words," the "magic password." Once the agent looks at pages, the query's job is done.

Many agents have tweeted, blogged, and posted what they expect from a query letter, as well as what will earn an instant rejection. Research those and consider them to be a window into the normal process.

Yes, there are a billion guides out there with different takes on how to craft an effective query letter. Take each with a grain of salt and find what works for you and your story. You don't need to read any of them if you are confident you can write a query letter that will do its job: entice the agent to read pages.

All the best,
Riv

Marissa D
01-17-2017, 08:05 PM
To add to that list, a good submission package with an enticing, well-put together letter and the materials that the individual agent prefers--correct number of pages either pasted in or as an attachment, synopsis (or not)--also helps demonstrate that you're a professional who is serious about the business and not a special snowflake who can't be bothered to read submission guidelines (or worse.) It's a preliminary interview on paper.

Dennis E. Taylor
01-17-2017, 08:05 PM
OTOH, I've seen some dreadful query letter attempts. IMO, it's one of those 80/20 things. You don't necessarily have to get it 100% right, but you have to get it mostly right. There are so many ways to go wrong, and it's not necessarily intuitively obvious what those are.

Posting your query in QLH, for instance, will get you the most bang in the first couple of pages of posts. At some point, you'll start to get conflicting advise from different squirrels, and that's when it's reached the realm of personal preference rather than toxic sludge.

And, as Query Shark illustrates, it is possible to break the rules and come up with something captivating, but thinking "if I break the rules, too, I'll be captivating" is like thinking you can win golf games by wearing the same socks all the time.

Aggy B.
01-17-2017, 08:45 PM
There is a fair portion of finding an agent and getting published that relies, not just on writing a damn fine book, but also being able to sell that book. As in, pitch it to the folks who matter in a concise and compelling way.

I strongly recommend that folks study how to construct a log line as a foundation for writing a query. (Because you can build upon the elements necessary for a log line and make a sharp three paragraph summary of your book.) It's not magic, but it takes being able to break something complex (your book) down into something simple. And if you can do that, you will make an agent sit up and take notice.

Laurasaurus
01-17-2017, 08:52 PM
I wouldn't have thought it was necessary at all to pay to learn how to query well. There's free information all over the internet.

I definitely think we get a little bit TOO het up about getting everything perfect though. Down to worrying over whether to put one blank line or two blank lines between 'Dear Ms. Smith' and the query paragraph. And so on.

There comes a point where you just have to throw caution to the wind!

Cyia
01-17-2017, 09:02 PM
I'd like to add that it's always smart to join a platform like Twitter and INTERACT with the agents you're interested in. Use an account with the name you'll query under. You might get an opportunity to participate in contests with a submission invite as the prize.

Comment on their blogs/tumblr posts. If your name comes up enough, and your posts are eye-catching, they'll remember you when you query.

Rose_C
01-17-2017, 09:11 PM
Fair enough, one has to demonstrate some ability to coherently string two sentences together, but here is my problem... if I was a marketing guru I wouldn't need the agent, publisher etc taking a huge chunk of change to sell my book for me. So why do I have to demonstrate to someone who is, ostensibly, going to sell my book, that I know how to 'sell the book' by writing that 'perfect' sales pitch? *scratches head*

Even these replies are demonstrating what I'm talking about. What you are all basically saying is that there is a magic bullet, and you think you've got it, but there are several other people who think their formula works too. A. you can't all be right B. Trying to follow these 'rules' can and does drive people insane (seen it firsthand) C. In the real, real world does anything EVER work like that? I suppose it is kind of like trying to write the perfect CV, getting the 'formula' right, when in reality, there is no formula. There can't be. Otherwise someone would publish a blank form 100% guaranteed to work, fill in the blanks and bob's your uncle!

It doesn't work like that.

Apart from the common-sense 'follow the submission guidelines' advice , and keep it to the point and coherent, the bottom line MUST be that there is no magic. No special way of writing the letter that is going to be the equivalent of Open Sesame. Either you catch the agent's eye or you don't. The 'something' that grabs them can't be quantified and certainly isn't some magic in how you write the letter.

PS I did say quite clearly that I'm not soliciting anything. I'm not remotely ready, if I ever will be, to solicit an agent/publisher. So please don't turn this into a 'you need to' thread.

I genuinely want to know if agents really do go by some magic formula in the letter or if they operate in a slightly more real world.

LJD
01-17-2017, 09:19 PM
Well, you have to remember that this business is very subjective. What one agent loves, another may hate...

Marissa D
01-17-2017, 09:39 PM
I kind of maybe get the idea that you're not as well acquainted with how publishing works as you might be, and that's creating a disconnect.

An agent is your business partner--it's his or her job to find a publisher for your work and to help your with your career. To do that, they have to love your work and believe in it and in you as a writer--there are emotional elements here, and elements of artistic judgement and personal taste because books are not one-size-fits-all. So there isn't going to be One True Way to entice an agent into wanting to represent your work, and none of us have said there is, unless that magic formula is "write well and follow submission guidelines." No one can tell you how to write well, or how to capture the essence of your story and make it shiny, though we can make suggestions or offer examples of what's worked for others. But you have to be the one who does it in the end.

And, um, publishers bring a heck of a lot more to the table than marketing savvy. They edit, create cover art and interior design, have a sales force, and provide distribution of your book to physical sales channels. I don't knock self-publishing--I'm a happy hybrid authors and want to continue to both self-publish and sell to trade publishers--but in the genre I write--YA--I know I'm going to sell more book via a trade publisher than I will self-publishing.

Thedrellum
01-17-2017, 09:45 PM
My query letters were straight-up business letters--formulaic and boring except (hopefully) for the plot description, which is the meat of the query anyway. I received a number of requests.

The truth is that there is no magic bullet, but that an agent is only going to request if they like the idea for your book. The letter needs to clearly convey the book's plot/hook so that they'll know whether they like it or not.

Toothpaste
01-17-2017, 09:55 PM
There is no magic bullet and not a single person here has said so. What people HERE have said is that you need to write something somewhat compelling, professional, and that accurately captures your book. I don't think any of that suggests one right way of doing things. But there definitely are those people out there in the world who WILL make suggestions, and people will try to capitalize on anything for a quick buck: "Write exactly this way and you are destined to succeed!" But that's just people trying to make some extra cash on the neuroses of artists - like always. It's pretty common, you get used to shutting those people out. I feel like you're arguing something here out of exhaustion and annoyance with people here who have never said there is only one right way. Heck people say all the time don't use rhetorical questions in your query and I did just that personally. Trust me, none of us here think we have the magic bullet nor have ever claimed to.

So I can agree with your sentiment that people DO overthink queries, and others DO pretend to have all the answers. But I don't see that here. So if you are just venting, I totally get it, but very few people are actually going to agree with the premise here. Most people here are from the "Do whatever is most effective" and "Every agent is different and you can't expect to please everyone" camp. We're not the ones creating these online guides etc. We're just trying to help in the best way we can. That's why you have so much debate in the Query section here in fact.

Rose_C
01-17-2017, 09:58 PM
Well, you have to remember that this business is very subjective. What one agent loves, another may hate...

In theory that should ONLY apply to the work submitted, not the blinking letter ... because well... if it is really that arbitrary ... but I'm assuming none of the replies are from actual agents. (Please let none of the replies be from actual agents)

Cyia
01-17-2017, 10:06 PM
Fair enough, one has to demonstrate some ability to coherently string two sentences together, but here is my problem... if I was a marketing guru I wouldn't need the agent, publisher etc taking a huge chunk of change to sell my book for me. So why do I have to demonstrate to someone who is, ostensibly, going to sell my book, that I know how to 'sell the book' by writing that 'perfect' sales pitch? *scratches head*

You're looking at things too narrowly. An established audience is always a plus, as is the ability to grow an audience, but you don't have to have huge numbers to get an agent or a publisher. I think I had less than 150 followers at the time of my first sale. Agents/publishers also want to see how you conduct yourself on a public platform to make sure you're not an embarrassment waiting to happen.


Even these replies are demonstrating what I'm talking about. What you are all basically saying is that there is a magic bullet, and you think you've got it, but there are several other people who think their formula works too.
Again, you're reading too narrowly. No one's calling any method a magic bullet. They're suggesting alternatives to the things already listed. Different things work for different people. The only constant is: write well and be professional.


A. you can't all be right

Yes we can. These things have worked for different people. The catch is that you don't do all of them because they won't all work for everyone.

B. Trying to follow these 'rules' can and does drive people insane (seen it firsthand)
They aren't rules. There's no governing body in place that says: do this or you are disqualified!


C. In the real, real world does anything EVER work like that? I suppose it is kind of like trying to write the perfect CV, getting the 'formula' right, when in reality, there is no formula. There can't be. Otherwise someone would publish a blank form 100% guaranteed to work, fill in the blanks and bob's your uncle!

I could list a few best selling authors with a patented "best-seller" plug and play formula for their novels, but I won't. Instead, I'll tell you that YES in the real world all of these things work. Networking works. Writing stellar pages works. Getting to know agents online works. Winning contests works. Writing an unexpected query works. All of it. Just not for everyone.


It doesn't work like that.

The NYT bestseller list would disagree with you. However, you also have to add "brand recognition" to the "formula." People who grab a Nicolas Sparks book know exactly what they want and exactly what they'll get. The same goes for James Patterson, Sherilyn Kenyon, Nora Roberts, etc.


Apart from the common-sense 'follow the submission guidelines' advice , and keep it to the point and coherent, the bottom line MUST be that there is no magic.

No one ever said there was magic. It's work - hard work.


No special way of writing the letter that is going to be the equivalent of Open Sesame. Either you catch the agent's eye or you don't. The 'something' that grabs them can't be quantified and certainly isn't some magic in how you write the letter.

It comes down to voice and presentation. The query that got me the most attention was way out of the norm and just over 50 words long. The one that got me my first agent was closer to your average presentation, and around 250 words long.


PS I did say quite clearly that I'm not soliciting anything. I'm not remotely ready, if I ever will be, to solicit an agent/publisher. So please don't turn this into a 'you need to' thread.

I genuinely want to know if agents really do go by some magic formula in the letter or if they operate in a slightly more real world.

They operate a real business in a multi-verse of fictional worlds. They don't adhere to, nor claim, any magic formula. All they want is particular information that they need in order to make an informed decision about your work. How you present that is up to you. The reason it feels formulaic is that when people step outside the lines to "stand out," most of them do it in the same, barely coherent way. It's annoying, rather than intriguing, and that's the last thing you want. So they post guidelines with pointers about how best to make your introduction to them.

They're guidelines, not laws etched in stone.

Rose_C
01-17-2017, 10:07 PM
There is no magic bullet and not a single person here has said so. What people HERE have said is that you need to write something somewhat compelling, professional, and that accurately captures your book. I don't think any of that suggests one right way of doing things. But there definitely are those people out there in the world who WILL make suggestions, and people will try to capitalize on anything for a quick buck: "Write exactly this way and you are destined to succeed!" But that's just people trying to make some extra cash on the neuroses of artists - like always. It's pretty common, you get used to shutting those people out. I feel like you're arguing something here out of exhaustion and annoyance with people here who have never said there is only one right way. Heck people say all the time don't use rhetorical questions in your query and I did just that personally. Trust me, none of us here think we have the magic bullet nor have ever claimed to.

So I can agree with your sentiment that people DO overthink queries, and others DO pretend to have all the answers. But I don't see that here. So if you are just venting, I totally get it, but very few people are actually going to agree with the premise here. Most people here are from the "Do whatever is most effective" and "Every agent is different and you can't expect to please everyone" camp. We're not the ones creating these online guides etc. We're just trying to help in the best way we can. That's why you have so much debate in the Query section here in fact.

I'm not sure what everyone thinks I need help with. I posed a genuine question in a section titled 'Ask An Agent', so I thought 'hey this has been bugging me for a while, let me ask', because in my mind it just can't be that ridiculous.

So I'm still hoping, that this being 'ask an agent' that an agent, or someone in the industry is going come along and say - no we actually don't require such insane things from applicants - just follow the guidelines and any reasonable letter will get fair attention.

Toothpaste
01-17-2017, 10:08 PM
In theory that should ONLY apply to the work submitted, not the blinking letter ... because well... if it is really that arbitrary ... but I'm assuming none of the replies are from actual agents. (Please let none of the replies be from actual agents)

So first of all I'll address your last point about hoping that none of the replies in this thread are from actual agents. Sometimes they are, this time I don't think so. What they ARE are replies from authors, some of whom HAVE agents, and ARE published and understand the industry pretty darn well. So you might want to be careful about being so dismissive of what people here in this thread have to say.

Second of all . . . I don't get your frustration that is coming across in your posts. I really don't. You seem to actively HATE the idea that a query letter matters. So let me try to explain it from a different perspective. I'm an actor. And I was an actor before I considered writing professionally. As an actor I am very used to being judged based on things that have absolutely nothing to do with my skills and talent. When I send a cover letter, resume and picture to an agent or casting director, they then make a decision based not on what I can do, but based on my looks and my previous experience. They literally have no idea if I can act or not, when they decide if they want to see me for an audition. You can imagine that it is a tiny bit frustrating.

When I first started sending out query letters though to literary agents, I was amazed. Because even though the letter is not the book, the letter is still a demonstration of my skills and talent. The query letter alone was an audition, as it were. I got to bypass that first step one takes as an actor as a writer. I got to audition. I got to show them my ability to put words together, to be funny, to be clever, to be many things. That letter was like a first audition and it was amazing. No one was judging me based on my looks alone. They were judging my talent.

And I LIKED that. I didn't think to myself that the judgment should "only apply to the work submitted, not the blinking letter". I thought that this was an advantage that writers had over actors. I thought it was a good thing.

Maybe some people do spend way too much time with their query letters, but isn't it nice that they can? As an actor even auditioning you only have a couple days to prepare and then you gotta bring the goods. As a writer you can take as much time as you want. Now maybe taking that much time is a bad thing for some, maybe people need to give themselves cut off dates. But man, writers are lucky. Writers get to show off their writing in all mediums. Including forums. I see that as an advantage, personally.

Toothpaste
01-17-2017, 10:11 PM
I'm not sure what everyone thinks I need help with. I posed a genuine question in a section titled 'Ask An Agent', so I thought 'hey this has been bugging me for a while, let me ask', because in my mind it just can't be that ridiculous.

So I'm still hoping, that this being 'ask an agent' that an agent, or someone in the industry is going come along and say - no we actually don't require such insane things from applicants - just follow the guidelines and any reasonable letter will get fair attention.

You asked an angry question that came across as antagonizing, and you wanted a specific answer. But the answer you are looking for isn't that easy. The answer is: no it shouldn't be THAT hard, but it also does require some effort. And everyone's definition of "reasonable" is different. Yours seems to be not much effort spent and a basic description. To some, that's unreasonable, to others it's sufficient. You want an easy answer, there isn't one. Just as there's no magic bullet for your friend querying. It's all subjective. And that's probably the most frustrating thing of all, but . . . welcome to the arts.

cornflake
01-17-2017, 10:12 PM
Fair enough, one has to demonstrate some ability to coherently string two sentences together, but here is my problem... if I was a marketing guru I wouldn't need the agent, publisher etc taking a huge chunk of change to sell my book for me. So why do I have to demonstrate to someone who is, ostensibly, going to sell my book, that I know how to 'sell the book' by writing that 'perfect' sales pitch? *scratches head*

If you think marketing is all agents and publishers do, and that a marketing guru would be successful self-publishing because they were a marketing guru, you should probably learn some more about publishing.


Even these replies are demonstrating what I'm talking about. What you are all basically saying is that there is a magic bullet, and you think you've got it, but there are several other people who think their formula works too. A. you can't all be right B. Trying to follow these 'rules' can and does drive people insane (seen it firsthand) C. In the real, real world does anything EVER work like that? I suppose it is kind of like trying to write the perfect CV, getting the 'formula' right, when in reality, there is no formula. There can't be. Otherwise someone would publish a blank form 100% guaranteed to work, fill in the blanks and bob's your uncle!

Who in this thread said there was a magic bullet, and that they have it?? Where was that, because I read the thread and didn't see anything like that.


It doesn't work like that.

Apart from the common-sense 'follow the submission guidelines' advice , and keep it to the point and coherent, the bottom line MUST be that there is no magic. No special way of writing the letter that is going to be the equivalent of Open Sesame. Either you catch the agent's eye or you don't. The 'something' that grabs them can't be quantified and certainly isn't some magic in how you write the letter.

Ok, you're right, we're all wrong. It's just exactly like you surmised when you started the thread. I don't know why you started the thread in that case, but hey.


PS I did say quite clearly that I'm not soliciting anything. I'm not remotely ready, if I ever will be, to solicit an agent/publisher. So please don't turn this into a 'you need to' thread.

I genuinely want to know if agents really do go by some magic formula in the letter or if they operate in a slightly more real world.

If the 'real world' is the one you're imagining, in which a letter, written politely, gets an agent because all you need is a simple business letter laying out the basics, then no, that's not where the agents who get hundreds of queries a week operate.


In theory that should ONLY apply to the work submitted, not the blinking letter ... because well... if it is really that arbitrary ... but I'm assuming none of the replies are from actual agents. (Please let none of the replies be from actual agents)

What if agents only want the letter? Then, see, they don't see the work. What if they get 40 queries a day and don't have time to read the 10 pages submitted with every single one?

Make no assumptions here.

Laurasaurus
01-17-2017, 10:13 PM
I'm not sure what everyone thinks I need help with. I posed a genuine question in a section titled 'Ask An Agent', so I thought 'hey this has been bugging me for a while, let me ask', because in my mind it just can't be that ridiculous.

So I'm still hoping, that this being 'ask an agent' that an agent, or someone in the industry is going come along and say - no we actually don't require such insane things from applicants - just follow the guidelines and any reasonable letter will get fair attention.
What are the insane things?

Myrealana
01-17-2017, 10:18 PM
Apart from the common-sense 'follow the submission guidelines' advice , and keep it to the point and coherent, the bottom line MUST be that there is no magic. No special way of writing the letter that is going to be the equivalent of Open Sesame. Either you catch the agent's eye or you don't. The 'something' that grabs them can't be quantified and certainly isn't some magic in how you write the letter.

True, there is no "one right way" to do it.

But your query letter better damn well not be boring.

It seems you want to boil all the advice on how to write a compelling query letter to "prove you can follow directions and string two coherent sentences together."

Yes, you have to do that, but it's not enough, not by half.

You have to also create a compelling reason for that agent to want to read your attached pages rather than spend those few minutes on one of the other hundred or so queries she has received today. That's where the "magic" comes in. If you write a competent but boring query, your book has about a 99.9% chance of being rejected out of hand.

Is there a formula for that "magic?" No. No more than there's a sure-fire formula for writing that break-out best-selling novel. There are tips and tricks you can try, but in the end, "magic" like beauty is in the eye of the beholder. An agent knows it when they see it.

If there was a perfect way to do it right every time, agents would have to find some other way to quickly filter their in-boxes. There are simply FAR more queries than space available. So, yes, your query has to have that certain special something that no other writer can provide to even get the time of day. That is the way of things.

mccardey
01-17-2017, 10:19 PM
Does it genuinely make the agent sit up and take notice when an author managed (by some miracle) to type THE PERFECT opening paragraph, give you the most captivating summary of their story, and not manage to mess up the closing?

It's not a miracle. it really is hard work.


PS I have a friend going through the process of submitting to agents and editors and he spends more time trying to hit the magic jackpot with his covering lettering than he did writing and editing the book (and he spent a lot of time and money on writing and editing) It's a difficult process - try to be supportive. If you've reached the end of Supportive, go for a long walk ;)

Also - maybe point your friend to AW to make sure he checks out the people he's submitting to. And perhaps show him Query Letter Hell (http://absolutewrite.com/forums/forumdisplay.php?174-Query-Letter-Hell-SYW) on the Share Your Work page. He may be able to get a lot of help there without paying anything.

Dennis E. Taylor
01-17-2017, 10:20 PM
I'm not sure what everyone thinks I need help with. I posed a genuine question in a section titled 'Ask An Agent', so I thought 'hey this has been bugging me for a while, let me ask', because in my mind it just can't be that ridiculous.

So I'm still hoping, that this being 'ask an agent' that an agent, or someone in the industry is going come along and say - no we actually don't require such insane things from applicants - just follow the guidelines and any reasonable letter will get fair attention.

Query Shark (http://queryshark.blogspot.ca/) is an actual agent critiquing people's actual query letter submissions. The takeaway from it is that there are many ways to do it right, but far more ways to do it wrong. Your goal is to be in the former group rather than the latter. To achieve this, there are certain Best Practices that have been shown to work. They're not mathematically correct, but they are statistically more likely to result in success. Thus, "Best Practices."

Rose_C
01-17-2017, 10:28 PM
I guess because I look at things from the perspective of 'what I would do if...'

And what I would do if I were an agent is not judge on the basis of a business letter or email, because that is completely unfair. How can I, or anyone, make an assessment on the quality of the book presented if I don't at least read some of it?

I realise that they must get literally hundreds of query letters per day so there has to be some way weed out the absolutely worst - not my genre, didn't follow the guidelines, not in English ... but after that - I'd focus on a summary of the plot - interesting = investigate further, bleh seen that before = sorry no, and actually have a fair and reasonable method of narrowing it down to a manageable number of things I'd actually look at the sample of the MS sent in. Because THAT is what is important. Not how well an author can construct a letter. Because the author might be very good at constructing letters and absolutely horrible at writing books. Or might belong to a forum that is really good at helping authors construct a wonderful letter, or they might .. whatever that results in a good letter with a not very good book attached to it.

Part of what bothers me is that it seems to be all about writing the perfect query letter. I think I can count on one hand the number of times I've seen someone say 'get the book right'. You'd get the impression the book is the very last thing on anyone's mind. And there is something upside down about that.

cornflake
01-17-2017, 10:30 PM
I guess because I look at things from the perspective of 'what I would do if...'

And what I would do if I were an agent is not judge on the basis of a business letter or email, because that is completely unfair. How can I, or anyone, make an assessment on the quality of the book presented if I don't at least read some of it?

I realise that they must get literally hundreds of query letters per day so there has to be some way weed out the absolutely worst - not my genre, didn't follow the guidelines, not in English ... but after that - I'd focus on a summary of the plot - interesting = investigate further, bleh seen that before = sorry no, and actually have a fair and reasonable method of narrowing it down to a manageable number of things I'd actually look at the sample of the MS sent in. Because THAT is what is important. Not how well an author can construct a letter. Because the author might be very good at constructing letters and absolutely horrible at writing books. Or might belong to a forum that is really good at helping authors construct a wonderful letter, or they might .. whatever that results in a good letter with a not very good book attached to it.

Part of what bothers me is that it seems to be all about writing the perfect query letter. I think I can count on one hand the number of times I've seen someone say 'get the book right'. You'd get the impression the book is the very last thing on anyone's mind. And there is something upside down about that.

So you have a full-time job as agent, the people you rep calling and emailing you, you calling and emailing editors, doing paperwork, office work, talking to the other agents, your assistant, etc., and you're also going to read, say, three chapters of 50 books, every day, because that's the only fair way? Ok then.

Cyia
01-17-2017, 10:33 PM
Look at it this way. Write a query for an established novel. (I always use Harry Potter, as it's easily recognizable by most people.)

This is "competent":

Harry is an 11 year old boy who's been mistreated by his family for as long as he can remember, but on his birthday, a giant stops in to tell him he's actually a wizard. He has to go to school to learn to fight the evil wizard who killed his parents.

It's also boring as dry toast.

This is the same book, presented differently:

11 year old Harry's had a hard life. He lives in a closet; his family uses him as an indentured servant, and everyone says his parents died drunk and penniless in a car crash. Everyone, that is, except the giant who breaks the door down on his birthday and congratulates him on getting into wizard school. This is news to Harry, who's been taught that magic doesn't exist, and neither do dreams, imaginations, or happy thoughts in general.

He's whisked out of that dismal existence to a castle - complete with creepy pathways, dungeons and ghosts, thank you very much - where he begins learning to use a wand. But its not all fun and games. Something more dangerous than poltergeists is roaming the halls, and unless Harry learns his lessons very well, he'll be rejoining his parents sooner than he thought.

Either of these could be sent to an agent with pages. The agent could decide to read the pages based on either (some skip the letter completely and go straight to pages), but between the two, there's more voice in the second one. Same information, better presentation, better first impression.

mccardey
01-17-2017, 10:35 PM
I guess because I look at things from the perspective of 'what I would do if...'

And what I would do if I were an agent is not judge on the basis of a business letter or email, because that is completely unfair.

It's business. Business is often unfair.


How can I, or anyone, make an assessment on the quality of the book presented if I don't at least read some of it?

You won't have time to do any agenting, if you're reading too many books. Far better to have a process that gives you a taste of how well a writer can manage a specific form of communicating the story. That has the added bonus of giving you as an agent a quick chance to get excited by the story, or to engage with its potential.


Not how well an author can construct a letter.

Writers should be able to write letters, though.


Because the author might be very good at constructing letters and absolutely horrible at writing books. Or might belong to a forum that is really good at helping authors construct a wonderful letter, or they might .. whatever that results in a good letter with a not very good book attached to it.

Part of what bothers me is that it seems to be all about writing the perfect query letter. I think I can count on one hand the number of times I've seen someone say 'get the book right'. You'd get the impression the book is the very last thing on anyone's mind. And there is something upside down about that.

Ah, but you're looking at it as reader perhaps, and not as someone functioning in the freelance world of writing and getting published.

It's not an ideal system, but it's the one we have for the moment so it seems wise to work at doing one's best to meet the demands as they stand.

ETA: There are people who break "the rules" and write stonkingly good books, and manage to sell them without a query letter that conforms to standard. It's not as common as people who write a conforming query and get picked up, though.

Rose_C
01-17-2017, 10:42 PM
and not as someone functioning in the freelance world of writing and getting published.

Nope I'm not. I write, I have goals and ambitions for my writing, but I am not involved in the process and the more I see of it the less I want to be. Has to be another way. I don't do song-and-dance routines to someone else's tune in order to get noticed. Never have, never will, not going to start now.

mccardey
01-17-2017, 10:46 PM
Nope I'm not. I write, I have goals and ambitions for my writing, but I am not involved in the process and the more I see of it the less I want to be. Has to be another way. I don't do song-and-dance routines to someone else's tune in order to get noticed. Never have, never will, not going to start now.Oh well good luck then. I hope it works out for you.

Rose_C
01-17-2017, 10:51 PM
Oh well good luck then. I hope it works out for you.

Thanks. It will. Walking your own way is always the better way. In any creative endeavor especially. Might take longer, but you keep your integrity (and sanity) in the process.

mccardey
01-17-2017, 10:54 PM
Thanks. It will. Walking your own way is always the better way. In any creative endeavor especially. Might take longer, but you keep your integrity (and sanity) in the process.I'm sure you don't mean to imply that anyone who writes a good query letter and scores an agent is lacking integrity. Or sanity.

AW Admin
01-17-2017, 11:00 PM
Nope I'm not. I write, I have goals and ambitions for my writing, but I am not involved in the process and the more I see of it the less I want to be. Has to be another way. I don't do song-and-dance routines to someone else's tune in order to get noticed. Never have, never will, not going to start now.

Then just self-publish and skip the entire process.

It's not so much a song-and-dance routine as it is a way to filer out large numbers of books that simply don't have a chance with that particular agent—a large percentage of the subs are entirely inappropriate (genre the agent doesn't submit, theme agent specifically said not to send, writer struggles with standard English).

Once that part is filtered out of the submissions, there's a high probability that a full or partial is requested; at that point you're already doing better than probably 90% (or more) of the people who submit.

The partial is the real deal; reading a chunk of the book will tell the agent if it's a book they can sell.

cornflake
01-17-2017, 11:02 PM
I might wonder what the point of the thread was, if you're not interested in querying and think the people you're asking questions of lack integrity.

Cyia
01-17-2017, 11:06 PM
Your query is your application. You want a job, then you apply. Simple as that.

Toothpaste
01-17-2017, 11:15 PM
I don't get it. Why are you so adverse to writing a compelling query? Is it really that difficult for you? What about writing a compelling query means you lack integrity? And why do you want to take the longer route writing something boring?

Don't we as writers generally want to be compelling in all mediums?

lolly334
01-17-2017, 11:47 PM
You realize you have to do the same thing if you self-publish, right? How do you think people browsing on Amazon decide what books to read? The blurb, then if that's interesting, the sample of the actual book. "Song-and-dance routines to get noticed" are what ANYONE who publishes has to do, unless you want to just throw up your book on Amazon and have no one read it.

AW Admin
01-17-2017, 11:50 PM
I think we're pretty much done here. Rose_C if you want to avoid agents you have two main alternatives, self-publishing, or subbing to publishers who do not require agents, but you'll be queries there to, so I suspect you'll be happier self-publishing.

It's a lot of work, but there are many members here with extensive self-publishing experience; see the Self-publishing forum (http://absolutewrite.com/forums/forumdisplay.php?47-Self-Publishing-Print-Digital-Papyrus-or-Clay) for lots of information.

Old Hack
01-18-2017, 12:16 AM
Sorry--I left a tab open and the thread was closed while I was away. Ignore me.