Sunday, June 14, 2009

Query Tips

Does the thought of query letters give you headaches, indigestion, or mysterious rashes that can only be cured by consuming large amounts of chocolate? If so, combat your fears by taking advantage of the resources around us. Agents themselves provide priceless information. If you haven’t already, check out Nathan Bransford’s posts Anatomy of a Good Query Letter I, Anatomy of a Good Query Letter II, and Hoops vs. Hints. Agent Kate Schafer Testerman sometimes does a live-blog, commenting on queries she receives. While keeping the letters anonymous, she explains her decision-making process. Some agents who blog post client query letters that grabbed them, and some agents, while speaking at conferences, share examples of quality query letters they received (with client permission, of course). We writers can learn from all of this.

We can also learn from each other. While I’m currently “agentless in Seattle” (or near Seattle, if you want to get technical), I’ve learned a thing or twelve about query letters. I’ll share a few with you today. All three involve time.

Write your book blurb as soon as you finish the first draft of your manuscript. The blurb, the paragraph in the query letter that tells about your book, is so important. It’s also difficult to write. My advice is to write it as well as you can and even run it past your critique group as soon as that first draft is finished. Make whatever changes you feel will improve it then put it aside while you revise your manuscript. When query time gets closer, you can look at it with fresh eyes and polish it.

After drafting your query letter to an agent, always wait at least twenty-four hours before sending it. Just as time allows you to see your manuscript, synopsis, and book blurb more clearly, time will give you a fresh take on that letter. I personally have caught careless errors just by waiting one day. I can’t say I’ve caught them all, but I’ve definitely improved my submissions this way.

Trickle your queries. Starting with your A-list, send your query to only a few agents, maybe three to six. (Obviously, personalize each letter, and follow each agent’s submission guidelines.) From my experience, query letters improve through the query process. This means that the eleventh agent you query may be seeing a sharper letter than the first one, but I still believe in starting with the A-list.

Having only a few letters out at once also helps gauge trends. If, for example, three out of five agents tell you that your protagonist is too unsympathetic, I’m betting she is. If you haven’t already wallpapered New York with query letters to all your favorite agents, you can revise your manuscript without having to delay other agents who request pages of a manuscript that you no longer feel is query-ready.

Remember not to get too discouraged when an agent rejects you. It’s business and nothing you should take personally. That said, the agent hunt is a bit like dating, and it can take a while to find Mr. or Miss Right.

How about you? Do you have any tips you would like to share?

1 comment:

Lazy Writer said...

Querying is fun, fun times, isn't it? I love your tips here because I have lived every single one of them (and probably posted about them, just not all at the same time). I would really emphasize the final one about not taking it personally. Time and time again, I have learned how subjective this business really is. I also write YA and wish you all the luck in the world!