HomeWritersLiterary AgentsEditorsPublishersResourcesDiscussion
Forum Login | Join the discussion
+ Reply to Thread
Page 1 of 2 1 2 LastLast
Results 1 to 10 of 13
  1. #1
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Sep 2010
    Posts
    508

    Query Pontification

    Starting a thread about Q fundamentals and hoping others will chime in with their ideas.

    Here's mine.

    Too often Q writers think that a successful Q means reducing 100,000 words down to a page. They think that if they can shrink their plots without obvious error and with a flow that makes sense and has some drama -- ta da, they've succeed, they've grasped the brass ring.

    This most common fundamental approach for Q writers is centered on the writer's work. It's me-driven. It screams diary that should never escape friends and family.

    It screams, ill-considered tactic.

    There are few times when a writer is able to use all his or her skill with words to appeal to ONE person. This is a luxury. Most writing requires us to consider of all sorts of readers, even when we're writing for a narrow genre. A Q allows for a ratified sort of communication with ONE other mind.

    Yet Q writers, again and again, ignore this substantial advantage. They strip their advantage even in the thinking/planning stage when they focus on their works rather than on their audience -- of ONE.

    To use an analogy, a boxer will review and dissect every move from his opponent's recent fights so that he will be able to adjust his strengths and weaknesses to his opponent's. He goes into a fight thinking about how he can meet his opponent, not just show off his skills.

    Q writing is no exhibition. It's a fight. Only a few will win.

    I know, the analogy breaks down in all sorts of ways. Except this: Good writing, like good fighting, focuses on the opponent. Right? If you can write well and have a good story, you're not all up into proving that for yourself. No, you're all up into proving that to ONE agent at a time.

    That's the shift -- from wring a Q that proves something to yourself, to writing a Q that proves something to this ONE agent you know and know you want. This shift opens up a confidence that comes across to every agent you Q.

    Again and again, I see writers who don't want to be bothered to research and understand their audience of ONE in Q. Neither agents nor readers are fooled. The writer who can't be bothered to strain and stretch to reach even ONE reader, probably hasn't been able to extend beyond him/herself to reach an audience large enough for any agent to wish to champion.

    The instinct to communicate is fine and dandy and most everyone has it. The instinct of a writer goes beyond that to communicate to someone. In the case of a Q, to ONE someone.

    For anyone working on a Q, I encourage to you find one likely agent, read five of the first-time novelists she's repped. Read a couple of her long-term clients. Read every article and industry bit you can find about her. Get that agent firmly in your mind; then write a Q to her.

    Yes, it's a lot of reading, but you're doing that anyway. Right? Yes, it requires you to de-spam your whole Q approach, but you know how captivating spam is to you. Right? Take a month out of your current approach and dedicate yourself to getting to know ONE agent you really want. See how your approach changes when you quit selling yourself and sell to ONE person who can make your career.

    Sheesh that was long.

    Anyone else got ideas/insights into Q fundamentals?



  2. #2
    Senior Member Diane Theron's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2011
    Location
    Ontario, Canada
    Posts
    305
    That was pretty wonderful!

  3. #3
    Senior Member Diane Theron's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2011
    Location
    Ontario, Canada
    Posts
    305
    Ok, so I thought about focussing on one agent at a time - in theory that sounds good, BUT really putting all my eggs into one basket? Would it not perhaps make better sense to investigate publishers and find their buying points and punt THAT to the agent?

  4. #4
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Aug 2010
    Location
    Los Angeles, CA
    Posts
    394
    I agree with CK that you should put time and effort into researching agents and find out as much as you can about them before you query them. And I also agree that it's good to customize your letters so that it sounds like you are reaching out to a specific agent for a specific reason. It's good to say something about the agent and/or the agency. If you find information about the types of work an agent is drawn to then it makes sense to to reference that and let him know that your manuscript contains those elements. If you read an interview where an agent discusses what makes a query letter pop for them, then yes you should sculpt your query letter to that agent in that way.

    And while you definitely want to have a handle on who they represent and what type of writing they are drawn to, you, I don't think you need to "read five of the first-time novelists she's repped" Or numerous books by their "long term clients." Realistically you will be querying dozens of agents, many simultaneously. It may not be feasible to read that much, and it also isn't necessary. You can find out a lot about an author or a book, without reading it cover to cover.

    Also remember, most agents have diverse client lists they represent authors in different genres with different writing styles. In fact one of the things agents are often looking for in a new client, is a fresh, distinctive voice. One that fits into their list but is not derivative of their other clients.

    So I think when writing a query, the most important thing to do is to remember that the purpose of a query is not to tell what your story is about. The purpose of a query is to get someone to want to read your story. Unfortunately, chances are that you will not be able to find information on what your ideal agent thinks is the ideal query. And even knowing what type of writing a specific agent likes, doesn't mean you will know what resonates with him in a query.

    So you may need take another tack when trying to figure out how to get that agent to want to read your book. First of all, you need to strut your stuff as a writer. You need to get your voice into it. You also want to make it clear that your manuscript has commercial potential - (something that publishers would be interested in because readers are interested in it). You want to highlight what makes your story different than the others in the genre but also make it clear that there's an audience for it. Your story should sound fresh but familiar.

    And I think a lot of the queries posted on this site for critique fail to do that. The freshness is missing both in the concept and in the writing.

    You have to remember that hundreds if not thousands of queries are being sent to the agents you are targeting. You are expected to meet query protocol regarding the structure and content, but you still need to stand out. If your book sounds just like dozens of others queried in the same genre, if the writing isn't original or at the very least engaging, your query is headed for the rejection pile.

    Be fresh.
    Last edited by Simon Says; 05-05-2011 at 12:41 PM.

  5. #5
    Senior Member Zoe Saadia's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jan 2011
    Posts
    350
    Thank you, CK and Simon Says!
    It's an interesting advice (and a really fresh one )
    Thinking of piles of QLs the agents receive, maybe a customized QL is the answer.
    It sounds like a lot of work, but CK is right, we are doing a half of it anyway while researching every agent.

    Thankx!

  6. #6
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Sep 2010
    Posts
    508
    I'm not talking about only Qing one agent, no eggs in one basket. But with EACH Q write to ONE agent.

    My pontification is not so much about research as it is about making the mental shift from selling your book to selling your book TO someone. You have to know quite a bit about the audience to make this shift and research is the best way I know.

    I'll give an example outside of the bookworld.

    My son was watching a TED Talks lecture about the Texas anti-littering campaign recently. I'll probably mix some of the facts, but it goes something like this. Years ago, Texas hired a firm to design the campaign. The firm focused on the MESSAGE -- don't litter. They used an image of an Indian chief with a tear in his eye and said something about caring for the the earth. Littering rates remained the same.

    Texas hired another firm for a new campaign. These guys started the task by studying the AUDIENCE, the folks littering. Of course, it was young men in trucks with gun racks. So they figured out how to take the same message -- don't litter -- and make it meaningful for the actual litters, which turned out not to be moved by tearful Indian chiefs and earth-loving messages. They came up with, "Don't Mess With Texas." I only remember one of their campaign images, but it featured young guys in the back of a pickup. Littering rates dropped and continue to do so.

    That's the difference focus that learning about your audience first can make. Same message (same book), but an approach that addresses the problem -- how to actually diminish littering (how to actually move the agents you want to ask for the manuscript).

    The fact that this approach also means you end up with a good list of agents and know enough about them to add those personal touches is a byproduct of the main focus of shifting your thinking from message to audience.

  7. #7
    Senior Member Diane Theron's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2011
    Location
    Ontario, Canada
    Posts
    305
    Ok, now I understand. When you talk about marketing I get you. And omg I just posted a QL without first reading this so you are going to think I am an imbecile.

  8. #8
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Sep 2010
    Posts
    508
    Diane, I'm just pontificating, not prescribing. I'll probably think you're an idiot no matter what you do! I think I'm an idiot and I'm always following my advice.

    Simon Says, excellent advice. I don't think this bit you wrote gets mentioned enough. "In fact one of the things agents are often looking for in a new client, is a fresh, distinctive voice. One that fits into their list but is not derivative of their other clients."

  9. #9
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Oct 2010
    Location
    Australia - for now ;)
    Posts
    598
    For what it's worth, here's my experiences in a nutshell.

    Wrote a MS - draft one - didn't know better (watched too many Hemingway/Jane Austen type movies) and thought YEP! Got it - now where's the publishing lists?

    Clearly foolish me had a lot to learn.
    First lit agents - what? who are they? Then QL and synopsis' (again what? I have to 'sell this masterpiece to them?' OK I wasn't that bad but you get the idea)

    So like most ppl, I 'did some research' and found pages and pages of useless info before I found anything useful.
    Mistake 1 - MS was not nearly ready (of-course)

    Mistake 2 - QL letter was so bad it hurt my eyes to look at it (I have kept all my versions)

    Mistake 3 - I did what everyone else did, 'numbers- it's all about numbers, if I query 30 ppl, then 5 will ask for a partial and one will take it - simple math!'

    Mistake 4 - I actually did get requests for partials, even with a shyte QL - but the MS was shyte too! lost opportunities!

    Mistake 5 - (and this is a bit one) not taking the time to learn about the agents. Honestly, once I took 1 hours or so to read their blogs, read other info on them or whatever, even the rejections were no longer form (in most cases) but rather constructive advice and in several cases open doors to re-send! (SERIOUSLY). I now have my standard QL. from it, I chop and change, read notes on the agents, paste little 'quotes' the agent has made that I really liked/understood, into my intro in the QL. My QL does not drift too much from one to the next in content, but my approach changes to the agent I am approaching. Mind you - I'm still making mistakes - read the next one!

    Mistake 6 - rushed through the re-writes and made promises to those who were willing to wait, that I could not keep

    Here's my advice on MS, QL and queries.
    Start with the MS. When you think it's done, you are wrong. It's not.
    If you are not willing to accept that - fine, write a synopsis, see if you can without seeing holes in your own MS. Now go back and re-write your MS.

    OK you still think it's the next "Animal Farm" - whatever - lets move on.
    Read sample QL's in your genre.
    Read Query Shark
    Attempt a QL
    Post it on here
    Get slashed to bits.

    Start another, then another, and another......... this will go on for about 3 months before you finally realise you need to go back to the MS. Work on that for another 3-6 months.

    While doing that, to keep yourself motivated, start investigating Lit Agents. Start a data file. Read everything you can, on them, on their agency, on the market. Anything. (Cross check tey are ligit)

    MS draft finished? great.
    Now read a book (that is not yours)
    Write your own QL on the book.
    If you're lucky and it's a well known one, you may even find a copy of the QL or synopsis online as a sample. If so, how does your version stand up?

    Try another QL for your MS. Go back to this site, post it.
    Try posting it with Query Shark (by the way, are you checking QueryShark at least every other week? and have you read all the pages and pages of QL with critiques? Priceless, priceless info)

    After another few months, and assuming your MS is actually ready, divide your agents into A, B,C,D
    Send your QL to a sample of the B, C, and D agents. Check for bites. What for hints in replies as to why or why not. If you have done your research you WILL get actual useful comments.

    In the past 6 weeks I have had 12 rejection letters 9 of which have been personal.
    5 staying they cannot see why I could not re-submit my sample chapters after looking into making some changes as suggested.
    3 telling me that while there was merit, it was no longer something they wanted to handle (one of whom suggested another agent for me).
    And thee last one telling me that she is no longer accepting unpublished clients due to her workload but made a point of saying "This is not a form rejection, I read your sample chapters 3 times because I was very tempted. I wanted you to know that. I want to one day see something of yours published, even if not represented by this Firm."


    Sorry about the war and peace of my post.
    The truth is if I had taken the time NOT to make mistakes 1-6, I would (I believe) have an agent by now. I burnt so many due to rushing and stupidity.

    My father often says to me "Stop being in such a hurry to fail"Not a bad motto I think.

  10. #10
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Sep 2010
    Posts
    508
    Rave, cool of you to detail where you went wrong, how mistakes hurt you, and how you've learned and adjusted. Suspect your post will be helpful to plenty of folks. Great quote from your father.

    And congrats! on garnering so many personal replies in your latest round of Qs.

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts