Friday, September 2, 2011

Query Letters - One Size Does NOT Fit All (Killer Nashville - Part 2)

One of the more interesting sessions I attended at Killer Nashville was on Query Letters.  The panel was made up of agents and editors from a diverse mix of agencies and publishers.  I thought I had a pretty good idea of what should go into a query.  I've taken classes, read articles, and followed lots of blogs on the subject, but I decided to sit in on this one and hear what they had to say.

The most important thing I learned - one size does not fit all.  As quick as one member of the panel said he/she wanted this but not that, the next one said just the opposite.  One wasn't interested in the word count but most of the others wanted it included.  One wanted the first couple of pages of the mss included.  Others said no pages until requested. Some wanted author credentials on all queries, others said credentials on non-fiction only.

There were some points that seemed universal:

No Dear Sir/Madam/Agent/etc.  Know who you're sending the letter to and address it properly.
No typos or basic grammatical errors.
Start with a strong hook.
Include the title, word count (for most), genre (for most), and a very brief description.
Let your voice come through.
Don't say it's the next best seller.
Don't be "cutsie".
Don't tell more about the author than the story.
Include endorsements (marketable), if you have any.
Keep it tight, one page only.

The one other point all the panelists agreed on: Do your homework. 

Research the agents/editors before you query.  If an agent's web site says "Not interested in fantasy." - don't send a query on your great story about unicorns.  Find and read the query guidelines and follow them.

Custom tailor your query for each person you send it to.  Give yourself the best chance to be read.

Have a good weekend, everyone.

Groaner of the Day:  There was once a very influential farmer in a remote part of China, who had a problem. His chickens were losing their feathers and dying. He sought the counsel of the two wisest men in town, Hing, a scientist, and Ming, a sorcerer.

Hing, who had taken a number of courses in poultry science, consulted his text books and found a report that feeding the chickens gum tree leaves was a remedy for feather loss in chickens.

Meanwhile Ming studied the obscure writings of ancient wise men and learned that gum tree leaves could provide a cure.

So the two wise men reported back to the farmer. Ming says, "As gum sticks to tables and chairs, so shall an infusion of gum tree leaves make feathers stick to chickens."  Hing agrees, saying, "Studies show that infusions of gum tree leaves alleviate feather loss in chickens." The influential Chinese farmer is ecstatic, for the two wisest men in town are of a single mind. He decides to follow their recommendation.

But it doesn't work.

Moral of the Story: "All of Hing's courses and all of Ming' ken couldn't get gum tea to feather a hen."

(Oh, that is SO bad.)


Mike Keyton said...

Yup, that's clouded my weekend :)

Jess said...

I was stunned at how varied the publishers, editors and agents were in their likes and dislikes. BTW, great meeting you. I'm one of Cindy's crit partners. You did a great job of summarizing this workshop. Looking forward to reading more. I hope you'll come over and visit my blog too.

Kay C Burns said...

Great job of summarizing the query letter process! I am amazed at how different writing professionals can be. I had a wonderful time at the conference.
Please come over and visit my website/blog also at:

Sarah Allen said...

Fantabulous advice. I'm in the process of trying to figure out how to summarize my manuscript, and keeping my voice intact as well.

Sarah Allen
(my creative writing blog)

LD Masterson said...

Go find your sunshine, Mike.

(And thnks for stopping by.)

LD Masterson said...

Thank you, Jess. I'll be sure to pay you a visit.

LD Masterson said...

Cindy - It was a fun weekend, wasn't it. I'll pop over to your blog in a bit.

LD Masterson said...

Sarah - I think those are harder tasks than the original writing. Good luck.

GigglesandGuns said...

Queries appear t be the hardest part of writing.
No wonder so many went self-pub.

I'm really getting a lot out of this series.

Happy Weekend!

LD Masterson said...

I don't know, Mary. Self-publishing sound pretty hard, too.

I'm glad you're enjoying the series.

Arlee Bird said...

Yes, the groaner is bad, but silly enough to get by.

As to querying, research is the key to saving time and trouble.

Tossing It Out

Jemi Fraser said...

Love the query tips! It's so interesting how specific everyone wants things! :)

And I did groan!

LD Masterson said...

Lee - I was wondering if anyone was going to comment on that groaner. It was pretty bad.

And yes, research is definitely the key.

LD Masterson said...

Jemi - The funny thing was a couple of the panalists almost got into an argument over what should or shouldn't be included. Same thing in the session they all did on pitching.

Yeah, it was a true groaner.

Liz Fichera said...

Oh, queries. Everyone has an idea of what one should contain. When you start to get partials and requests to read from agents, you've probably written an effective query.