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!