Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Query Week!

I try to avoid being too helpful in general, lest people come to expect it of me and are then disappointed or shocked when they come to my blog to find my latest Yeti-Leprechaun romance, or Teen Drama Screenplay. However, I thought I'd dedicate a few days to queries.

And, to start us out with a bang, a guest post by my fabulous agent, Michelle Wolfson! She took the time to go over my FLASH query, posted the other day, and tell us what worked for her about it as well as some general query advice. (You may want to re-read my query first, but you don't have to.) (In fact, there are very few things you have to do on my blog because guess what? I'll never know!) With no further ado, I give you Michelle.

Having read how writers analyze and agonize over agents’ form letter rejections, I am a little bit hesitant to post my comments on FLASH here for all eternity. But really, even though a query is very important, you should remember that it is mostly because it is a way to get an agent’s attention. Ultimately it is the writing that matters. So write your query with the goal of getting pages requested. With every word, you should be thinking, is this going to make her request pages? If not, cut it out.

You may have noticed that since I don’t have a blog, whenever I have a chance to post on someone else’s, my true verbal diarrhea kicks in. In short, I would be a terrible query letter writer myself. But I will stop with the general advice (unless some more occurs to me) and tell you all the things I loved about Kiersten’s FLASH query. Kiersten may edit this down, so if it makes sense, you should assume she did so. (Note from Kiersten: I didn't change a word. Michelle underestimates herself.)

That first sentence is fine. I do like word count to be in there somewhere since unfortunately I do have to rule out manuscripts that are 18K words or 300K words, and knowing that you know what genre it falls into is always nice. But if you jump right in, that’s fine too. These aren’t make it or break it issues in my mind, so don’t stress about them.

Ok, 1st line. You’d think a girl who can see the future could avoid being kidnapped. I read that and thought Yes, I would have thought that. Tell me why she didn’t. I felt like I was already hooked. I really wanted to know why someone who could see the future wouldn’t be able to avoid being kidnapped. And she answers with an explanation of how she sees the future as well.

Next paragraph—now here we up the stakes right away as Sarah gets kidnapped at gunpoint. This is mainly a paragraph that describes the plot, but she sticks to the very main points and covers a lot of ground here. Speaking from the perspective of having read the manuscript, this is really a perfectly edited down version of the events. She cut out plenty of major events and characters but still gives me a sense of the major driving plot points.

In the next paragraph I feel like there’s more of an emphasis on the emotional conflicts and she addresses what would be the obvious question-why not just have Sarah touch Will and find out how he really feels-and lays out the ultimate high stakes involved—losing her life, her sanity, etc. all to find out if Will is really the man of her dreams.

On to her bio-short and sweet. She published a short story, fine. If she hadn’t, that’s fine too. But don’t apologize for not having publication credits. You don’t have to tell us you won your 3rd grade creative writing essay contest.

So this is actually way more analysis of the query than I gave it at the time. I tend to have fairly commercial taste and so if a story intrigues me, I’ll take a chance on the writing. However, I have found over the years, that there is a correlation between well written queries and well written manuscripts, so I do pay attention to the writing itself and not just the plot.

Finally, to quote myself in an interview that just got posted earlier this week and sounded pretty smart if I do say so myself, re queries: The most important thing to realize is that this is a numbers game and you have to be in it to win it. If you don’t send your query out there, and most likely out there to a lot of agents, you will never get published. On the other hand, if you are getting passed on over and over, perhaps your query isn’t doing a good job representing your work and you should make some changes to it. Let it be a marketing tool for you.

You should also realize that you should spend a decent amount of time and energy on the thing (i.e. the query letter) that is going to decide whether or not an agent will look at part or all of the manuscript that you spent the last year working on. Don’t you think that deserves more than an hour of your time? I do.

So with that in mind, good luck to you all with your queries!


Marybeth Poppins said...

Thanks for this post! I always love hearing an agent's take on a query letter. Plus you do happen to have a super awesome agent!!!

Candice said...

I just read your query. Along with Michelle's analysis I found the whole thing to be very helpful. Flash sounds like a great story! I hope it gets published someday.

Kristan said...

A) Great insight.

B) Great pep talk / lecture, lol. It walks that line really well, the last full paragraph especially. So many writers (myself included, sometimes!) will whine about a query, but at the end of the day, it's a "necessary evil" (or hey, we could think of it as an amazing opportunity!) and we need to make sure we put 110% into it.

Lol and now that I've said that, I am majorly doubting my own query... Lol. Oh well. Maybe I'll have a kick@$$ revised version to send out by the end of this week. (Pending some helpful feedback... wink wink.)

Thanks for this, Kiersten and Michelle!

Kristi Faith said...

You know, I really enjoy a person that can let go and talk! :0) Thank you for the advice and your analysis of Kiersten's awesome query letter. I'm in the process of working on mine and your insight is truly helpful.

Have a great week, both of you!

Adri said...

I really enjoyed seeing that insight into the agent's thought process while reading the query--not just the usual take on commercial potential, hook, etc. but the questions you'd ask about the plot details provided and how Keirsten's query hooked you just as it might a reader in a bookstore. Really helps dissipate the whole "faceless rejection" image.

And the advice on query letters is a resounding yes, yes, YES. I suck at query letters; I fully admit this. But I try anyway, and take my time picking over every word and trying to pitch from the right angle. It baffles me when I see writers say they just finished their query letter in 15 minutes and blasted off 50 queries in the time it takes to blink. Mon petit ecure--er, Michelle's right: take your time, really focus, and if you do it right you might end up with a query as awesome as Kiersten's.

(In short: great interview, and Kiersten, really looking forward to reading PARANORMALCY.)

Alexis Grant said...

Great insight. It always helps to hear specific feedback -- and those of us working on queries can easily apply this. Thanks!

Liberty Speidel said...

Thanks for the advice! I recently discovered that Michelle was on my short list when I started submitting (prematurely, I may add) about 3 years ago. I've since whittled down my book and am getting it ready to go out into the agent world again, and I still think Michelle will be on my short list. :) I guess she can take that as a warning! :p

Great advice, and timely too, since I'm actively working on 3 different drafts of my query right now, trying to figure out what elements are 'right'.

SM Blooding said...

Michelle, you're just fun!

This was a great post and very helpful! I just recently went over the query for my YA series and gave it a total overhaul. It's now a little long (by 30 words), but it so much better and gives a clearer understanding of what the book is really about. So, I think I'm happy with it.

But it is something that I spend a great deal of time on. I spent months working on the book, so *shrug* it only makes sense to spend a lot of time on the query.

This was very helpful. Again, thanks!


Patrick Alan said...

I won my SIXTH grade creative writing contest!

Kiersten White said...

Absolutely mention that, then, Patrick.

Jessie Oliveros said...

This was helpful to read. I feel pretty lucky b/c I won a contest and an agent is critiqing my query right now. Yea! Anyway, I can't wait to see what else you have for us this week.

Heather said...

Great post! I feel like no matter how many agents' advice on queries posts I read, it's still not enough...and my favorite are the ones like this, which tell us what works, since so often we hear what doesn't work. Thanks!

Kelly Bryson said...

Hey Kiersten and Michelle. That was really helpful. I've been working on a new and improved query all week and posted it on NBs forums and have gotten some good feedback.

My problem is that each time I think This is truly interesting and then hubby or random critiquer shows me the holes. Can it really take sooo many revisions to get it 'right'?

How many times did you rewrite your query, Kiersten? I know it shouldn't matter because every writer is different, every story is different, blahblahblah but I'm looking for a really high number, okay? *wink*

Kiersten White said...

Kelly--At least six, and I sent out three different versions.

If that's not high enough, then, umm, fourteen-thousand.

Candyland said...

I love hearing what works from an agent's point of view. It's really helpful in editing my own query.

Stephanie McGee said...

Great advice! Thanks for posting this, Kiersten. And a big thanks to Ms. Wolfson for offering her advice. It was well thought out and very honest but not brutal. A refreshing voice in the sea of query advice.

Myrna Foster said...

Thanks for the query analysis!

Dara said...

Thanks for this post! I'm not at the query stage yet, but I know it's going to take a lot of time and effort for me to pare down my story in a good, concise letter.

But that's the challenge all of us aspiring authors must face!

Thanks again for the insight!

Shannon Messenger said...

As someone who is probably entering query wars by the end of the month, this is EXACTLY what I need, so thank you so much for this post. And...back to revising my query letter.

Rebecca Knight said...

Kiersten, how did you know I was getting ready to query and in need of advice? Are you cyberstalking me AGAIN? ;)

Seriously, though--thank you for this! I love seeing real successful queries and finding out why they worked. You rock!

Patrick Alan said...

My query will be something like this.

Dear Agent of Interest,

The essence of my story is just like this NY bagel. If you love eating this bagel, you will love my story.

I won a SIXTH grade writing contest and met the President of the USA. He gave me executive control over a green beret platoon. I had them invade New Mexico. That is how it became the 64th state.

I am very marketable, kind of like Brad Pitt or Ben Affleck, if you have heard of them. They are very popular in New Mexico. Trust me.

I expect your response in the next fifteen minutes, after you eat the bagel.

-Patrick Alan

What do you think? Would you request pages?

Tawna Fenske said...

It's always wonderful to get a glimpse into an agent's brain and not to be too disturbed by what's in there. Fabulous post from a fabulous agent (which I can personally vouch for, since she's my fabulous agent as well!)

Great job with the query, Kiersten. I'm looking forward to reading FLASH someday after PARANORMALCY hits the shelves and leaves us all panting for more.


Rissa Watkins said...

Hooray! Query Week! Hooray! Michelle's review of Kiersten's query! Hooray! The five-year-old is back in school today and I am able to read this without saying, "Put that down" or "no, the dog can't eat that" or my favorite... "is that food? No? Then it doesn't go in your mouth."

I love reading query reviews. Since Michelle is one of the agents I hope to dazzle with my query letter, this was very helpful. Thank you.

AchingHope said...

Thanks Keirsten and Michelle for sharing with us :) This was very helpful and encouraging, and I want to go work on my query letter right now and send it out to people. Yay! :D

Whirlochre said...

Go, Team W.

Many thanks.

Nisa said...

Fantastic post! I spent a good chunk of last week working on mine and I'm sure it still needs a lot of work. I love that Michelle points out how it's worth more than an hour of our time. That makes me feel better about the time I've spent on it!

Thanks to you both for taking the time to blog!

Abby Stevens said...

Kiersten, where can we read TANGLE?

Kiersten White said...

TANGLE is in Issue #55 of Leading Edge Magazine, available for order on http://leadingedgemagazine.com. They don't have an online order form yet (get on that, Leading Edge!), so you have to mail in an order request and a check.

mumfusa said...

Even though I'm not even at the query stage yet, I find it immensely helpful to read the queries that snagged an agent and the queries that freaked the agents out. And better yet, to read the reasons why the agents passed, poo-poo'd, or approved the manuscripts.

And it's infinitely more interesting knowing that while that query letter connected you with Michelle, it's not the book that's going to make you a published author.

The world of publishing is a fickle, fickle lady.

lotusgirl said...

Thanks for this, Michelle. This is exactly what I've been working on. I like the line: "With every word, you should be thinking, is this going to make her request pages? If not, cut it out." I need to go back over my query and ask myself that question repeatedly. Maybe it can become my mantra. Too bad I sent you my query yesterday and can't do it for you. *crosses fingers and hopes it won't matter--that I already did it subconsciously*

Marsha Sigman said...

I really enjoyed hearing Michele's thoughts on your query! I think it's so helpful to hear what an agent likes, not just what they don't.

Rachelle said...

Loved this post and the fun personality of you and your agent. I'm so glad I found your blog. :)

Bethany Wiggins said...

Thank you for being so helpful!

Susan Quinn said...

Thanks for the awesome insight into query magic!

Linda G. said...

Wonderful guest post, Michelle! :)

Kiersten, you have guts! I would never ask Michelle to dissect my query. I'm too afraid she'd admit she was high on cold medicine when she requested my ms, and delirious with fever when she offered representation. ;)

Annarkie said...

Great guest post, Michelle! And yes, your comment in the interview did sound smart :) You rock.
And Kiersten: I can't wait to read Paranormalcy and Flash sounds great too. I hope that one will find a home.

Corra McFeydon said...

This is great! Thanks for sharing, Michelle and Kiersten.

I especially like the reminder that it's a numbers game. Scary to think about that.

Appreciate the post!


from the desk of a writer

writtenwyrdd said...

Thanks for sharing, it's very helpful to see how the 'dark side' thinks!

And I've nominated you for an award on my blog, Ms. K.

Ryan said...

Thank You Kiersten's wonderful Agent Michelle for allowing me to look at what goes through the mind of an agent when looking at a query letter. Now...if I could just dissect an agents brain to better understand the way those thoughts are formed...O.O...I said that out loud didn't I? Crap...

Corra McFeydon said...

Hi! This is just a quick note to let you know I linked this article in my February review at Wordpress. I can't figure out how to do trackbacks to Blogger. I'm also tweeting it either tonight or tomorrow.



from the desk of a writer