Nathan Bransford, Author


Thursday, January 8, 2009

More on Ghost Queries

Thanks to everyone who weighed in yesterday on the question of ghost queries and queries by committee. Strong feelings all around!

Having now read the relevant blog posts, I'm actually not sure that the query that kicked things off is actually the best test case for the debate that followed. I can't speak for Agent Kristin, but my guess is that since Courtney's query was preceded by a client's enthusiastic recommendation and a successful in-person pitch appointment, Agent Kristin probably would have requested the manuscript short of Courtney confessing to a crime and/or stating that she hates kittens and puppies in the query (and she doesn't -- she's very nice). That's more of an example of how well networking and referrals work than anything else.

But back to the subject at hand: My own personal preference is absolutely that the person who wrote the book should write the query. I want to hear from the person I'm potentially working with, in their own voice, with their own writing. Incorporating feedback is fine, but I want to hear from the author.

And yet despite those opinions I have always felt decidedly ambivalent about this question, mainly because I know my own personal preferences are basically irrelevant. People are going to do what they're going to do.

The more important question, to me, is this: does it work?

Call me skeptical.

A query letter is not a competency test. Well, it partly is. Researching how to write a good one is valuable and increases your odds of having your manuscript requested. And getting good feedback from those in the know can definitely help, and I don't have a problem with that in the least.

At the same time, I think there's a huge tendency out there to overthink the form of the query, namely because it's the one part writers can easily control (and what, ahem, blogging agents can blog about). Aspiring authors begin to view the query letter as a lock that can only be picked by those who hold the secret key.

But more important than nailing the form is conveying the author's voice. It has to come through in the query. And how can a ghost query or query by committee convey the author's voice?

In a recent interview, agent Dan Lazar talked about how in an otherwise rambling letter there are times when certain lines stand out and make him want to read a manuscript. If the author's voice wasn't there, that wouldn't have happened.

I'm sure a ghost query or query by committee worked before -- it's a big publishing world. But if I were an aspiring author I'd be very careful, paranoid even, about ceding my voice to others. Even if you were to get to the partial request stage, it's still your work that's going to rise or fall.

I still stand by my basic feeling: if you can write a publishable book you can write a good query. It may be painful, annoying, time consuming, need feedback, result in hair loss, need some more feedback, take years off your life, and take multiple tries, but you can do it. You are a writer, after all.

(Bonus: Jennifer Jackson addressed this topic as well.)






73 comments:

Scott said...

Thanks, Nathan. Agreed and amen.

astems n. pl. 1. those bits of a query that are written by someone other than the writer that often belie the writer's own voice. :)

Anonymous said...

I've heard other writers say that if it's taking you months to craft a perfect query letter, then there's something wrong with your manuscript. Do you believe that's true, Nathan?


Query letters are so subjective. I've read many agents' blogs, writers' websites and books, and some queries that are spotlighted and praised as brilliant aren't that interesting to me and don't keep my attention and I would never read the book.

Nathan Bransford said...

anon-

Well, I think the reason it's so frustrating for writers and agents is that it's both subjective and objective. Jessica Faust at Bookends today has a post on the subjectivity of taste. And she's right. There's a whole lot of subjectivity involved.

At the same time, yes, there very well may be something wrong with the manuscript or the underlying idea. Or it just might not be good enough.

I think the main problem is that people define success as the default position. As in, if it's not working something's wrong. Look -- success in this industry is exceedingly rare relative to the number of people who want it. Every successful debut book should be viewed on the order of a minor miracle. Success shouldn't be expected.

But that's not the way aspiring authors treat the process. So many people approach the business expecting success, and if they don't find it they find fault with the process.

Sorry to ramble, but there's no easy answer on this one.

Professor Tarr said...

Thanks for the comments, Nathan. It's funny, but your voice is quite unique in its own right. Even though the issue is a sensitive one to unpublished writers, you gently navigate the treacherous waters without jumping into the vitriol of the surly. That is so much appreciated.

Anonymous said...

"At the same time, yes, there very well may be something wrong with the manuscript or the underlying idea. Or it just might not be good enough."

Good points.


"Every successful debut book should be viewed on the order of a minor miracle. Success shouldn't be expected."

Amen.

By all means, ramble on. It's appreciated.

BookEnds, LLC said...

Nathan:

Very well said.

jhf

Jael said...

Writing a great book and writing a great query letter are separate but related skills. I think most people struggle with the query because they want to sum up the whole book, and that enterprise is doomed to fail. Don't sum up. Tease. Intrigue.

There's a time when I would have been outraged to hear that a query letter wasn't written by the author of the book, and I respect your position, Nathan. But at this point I truly believe that books get representation and/or sell based on whether or not the agent/editor thinks they rock, and a great query letter isn't going to save a bad book, no way, no how.

Great point too about the "minor miracle." An editor or agent can't read your book and think, "Oh, this is good." They have to think, "This is too good NOT to publish." Such an odd business to be built on excitement, isn't it?

Anonymous said...

Once again, you've quelled the waters of paranoia by a blog post.

I think reading others' queries helps you write your own as well. That's why every so often when you take the "first three" queries and then comment on them (you did this awhile back) or when I go on Query Shark, it reinforces what I know and gives me pause about what I don't.

It's all helpful, as is this post. Class act, Nathan.

gwen said...

Quite honestly, finally composing my query letter scares the crap out of me. I'm fine writing a novel-length manuscript, but the thought of writing a one-page query just makes me want to go cry in a corner. I dread the day when I finally have to do it... manuscript still under construction. I don't actually think I'll be able to write a good one. Sigh.

Elyssa Papa said...

I can't begin to tell you how many drafts of a query letter I write. I'm sure I drive my CPs crazy with them. But, I so try to get my voice down and what the tone of the novel is in the query. I never have a problem in writing the query, it's just that my first drafts are horrible. (I'm thinking of what Anne Lamott dubs first drafts as, but I don't want to use a curse on this blog). I definitely look for feedback/critique, but I'm not going to change my voice.

And I find that even if your query is really good, that agents could just not be that into you.

MzMannerz said...

"But more important than nailing the form is conveying the author's voice. It has to come through in the query. And how can a ghost query or query by committee convey the author's voice?"

Excellent point.

Anonymous said...

Oooooh, thanks for the link to the Dan Lazar/others article. Fascinating!

Ugly Deaf Muslim Punk Gurl! said...

you are right, a query letter is almost a "test" of writing skills and I am sad to say that I am horrible with queries.

Ugh

Margaret Yang said...

Nathan, I asked this yesterday but it kind of got buried in all the good comments.

What about the query that the agent sends to the editor? That one is written by the agent. If the "voice" were all-important, then the agent would send the original query to the editor, yes? However, the agent makes a new query from scratch. On PubRants, Kristin Nelson posted the query she sent editors about Ms. Milan's novel and it was quite different.

Or am I comparing apples to oranges here?

Whirlochre said...

It has to be about voice in the end, doesn't it — even if the writer of the query is synthesizing the fruits of crit groups and other input.

Nathan Bransford said...

Margaret-

I think it's apples to oranges. The letter that an agent sends to an editor can help frame the work in the right way, but it's far secondary to the agent and editor's relationship, the agent/agency's reputation, and most importantly, the work itself.

In other words, I'm not trying to get a foot in the door with a pitch letter -- I know the editor is going to take a look at the material. I'm just framing the work to put the editor in the right mindset. It's a different ballgame.

Lady Glamis said...

I believe a good query letter is a must, but it's also just as important to query the right agents.

That can take a lot of time and research, as well, from what I understand.

Marilyn Peake said...

From Nathan:
"I think the main problem is that people define success as the default position. As in, if it's not working something's wrong. Look -- success in this industry is exceedingly rare relative to the number of people who want it. Every successful debut book should be viewed on the order of a minor miracle. Success shouldn't be expected."

Amen to that. Took me years to realize that. It’s easy to come to the conclusion that one’s query letters are problematic when they’re met with rejection from an agent without any explanation whatsoever about why the book’s being rejected. I know authors who have received letters from agents, even one who received a phone call from an agent, to personally communicate how much they loved their book but to explain that the book isn’t mainstream enough for them to represent it. My feeling is that it’s best to just keep on writing, submitting to both agents and small press publishers, hoping for financial success with writing but never expecting it.

Margaret Yang said...

Nathan, this is interesting. I wonder if you could talk about it a bit more in a future blog post? What happens to a manuscript once an agent starts the sales process is quite a mystery to us newbies, even those of us who are happily agented.

LiteraryMouse said...

Good point about the author's voice needing to come through in the query. I've seen too many query letters beaten into bland pulps because writers were trying to follow a proven formula or had too many people re-writing the letter for them.

I've been re-working my own query letter and have definitely asked for feedback. Some of my fellow writers were even kind enough to do some re-writes for me, but I didn't use those because I couldn't hear myself in the query anymore. Rather, I listened to their criticisms and fixed the problems in the query using my own words.

It's very similar to editing a manuscript, I think. If someone offers you criticism, would you let that person do the re-write? Probably not. Rather, you'd probably use the feedback to identify the problem and fix it yourself. That's the way I see it, at least.

Nathan Bransford said...

Margaret-

Definitely understand, although that is touching on one of my proscribed blog topics. I don't feel too comfortable divulging much about the submission process, but there are other blogging agents who share more.

Madison said...

I'm going to quote something from the post:

Quote:
I still stand by my basic feeling: if you can write a publishable book you can write a good query. It may be painful, annoying, time consuming, need feedback, result in hair loss, need some more feedback, take years off your life, and take multiple tries, but you can do it. You are a writer, after all. Unquote.

THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU, Mr. Bransford! Nothing is easy, so why should the query be? Why get out the easy way? I admit, in the past I have loathed writing queries, but now I've actually begun to enjoy it. None of them have gotten me even to a partial request yet, but, hey, I'm having fun striving to achieve my dream, and that's what counts! Thanks again! :D

Julia Weston said...

Thanks for prompting another great discussion.

lotusgirl said...

I think what we all would love to have is a well written, representative query that reaches the right agent at the right time.

I appreciate that you are helping me with the "well written, representative query" part, and I think the ball is then in my court to find the right agent (you've actually helped with that too) and hope that the right time is now--well, in a month or so when the book is ready.

LiteraryMouse said...

I'm starting to think the submissions process involves dressing up in black robes, placing the manuscript on an ancient seal, saying a few incantations in Latin, throw in an evil albino for good measure, then POOF!

The manuscript magically appears on some editor's desk in New York. Or falls out of the sky and knocks someone cold in Hoboken, NJ.

Steve Fuller said...

I know it's the nature of the business, but there is more discussion out there about how to write great queries than how to write great fiction.

I tend to believe a great query flows from a great novel. You may think you've written an amazing book, but if no one is publishing it, then maybe your novel is the problem (and not the query).

Just a thought.

Adaora A. said...

Honestly, I have to agree. But you say it so well....

Your put a bit of yourself in (and on) evertything you touch and participate in. When you write a letter, it's your style and your personality that's being laced between the words on the page. How can someone else do this for you? How can the first correspondence that you're putting out to someone you want representing you, NOT be written with your own hands? They are going to be working with YOU and YOUR work. Not the person you hired.

Anonymous said...

Reading the specific directions on submission guidelines is important, too. I'm editing an anthology right now and all I'm getting are wonderful, well written queries. But I don't want queries, and I'm not reading them. Query = delete. I want pages and that's clearly stated in the guidelines.

Sorry for ranting :)

Robena Grant said...

I'm coming in late to the party, but heck I've been busy writing. I agree with the "write your query yourself" side. It's part of the whole writing/creating process. Who knows your story better than you?
However, I'm still riding the rough road to getting the art of query writing down pat. After frequenting your blog Nathan, and Jessica Faust's blog, and braving putting several queries or pitches on the blogs for feedback, blush, blush, I have learned several major points. Thank you both.
While I'm still learning how to write a query letter it has never once occurred to me to ask anyone else to write it for me. Just like I wouldn't want anyone else to write my story for me (feedback is okay because I can take it or leave it) but to have someone else write it, or parts of it that I found difficult, would be to my mind a misrepresentation. Color me stupid, maybe, but while we all want to get a foot in the door, and the query is the first step, I still want to achieve that on my own.

other lisa said...

But more important than nailing the form is conveying the author's voice. .

Thanks for confirming something that I've long suspected. Well, maybe not that long, but since I queried my most recent MS. I also love the insight about how writers can overthink the query. So true. That can suck the "voice" right out of it.

Oops. I started a sentence with "that."

Stephanie said...

I think sometimes we can get a little paranoid when we read about "good query letters." We start to think, what if mine is one of those atrocious ones and no one has told me? I do tend to have a harder time writing queries and synopses than actual manuscripts, mostly because I feel like every sentence is going to be a massive mistake that everyone in the industry knows about but me. So I procrastinate. You can always tell when it's query letter/synopsis-writing time because my house is spotless.

Doug said...

Nathan, while I agree with what you've said about the query being a bit of a test, while doing some of my own research, it seems that the style and form recommended by former or current agents varies so much that it is sometimes difficult to decide exactly how to write it. I know, like the work, the query letter is about what the agent likes, but it's hard to find that out without submitting something. The usual rejection letter has no feedback about what was liked/disliked so it feels like us authors are shooting in the dark sometimes.

Doug P.
Follow me on Twitter as thenextwriter

Amber Lynn Argyle said...

Before I found my agent, I felt like sending out blind queries was like shooting bats in the dark. What would grab one agents fancy depended upon so many factors. Some of them are super strict about the form, others aren't. It seemed more a product of mood than anything else.
What I found the most effective was to connect to the agent. Meeting them at a conference, being a regular poster on their blog, etc. Those were the things that opened the doors. Not necessarily the query.

CapitolClio said...

Writing a query is like writing a personal ad. A well-crafted description will get you first date. But when the agent realizes the prose doesn't match the tease, there will be no second date.

Scott said...

By the way, I just read the interview provided by the link and it was extremely informative. I recommend all writers check it out as it really takes you through the many facets of selling of a book and what agents are up against up in their "ivory towers".

Of those things I learned, the two that struck me the most were how passionate agents can be about their properties and how mean Jeff Kleinman can be when he's drunk.

Just keeding, Jeff! He was alarmingly frank about the entire business, and his views on New York reps was very interesting to say the least. Good thing you're in SF, Nathan!

Dearth of Reason said...

I write superb query letters and get requests for my manuscript more often than not. But my novel sucks, so I have made no progress. It seems I am wasting my talent. I'm going into the query-writing business. This week I'll offer a special on writing your query in your own author's voice. It will be costly, but aren't you worth it?

Seriously it's not as hard as all that. Here's the secret: Just be yourself. Only, be organized too. And do your homework first. Yes, all of it, sorry. And did you forget to floss? Don't. And never never let anyone represent you in your own domain... except that would eliminate using an agent... Er, forget I said anything.

Sarah Jensen said...

I have a question on voice. My query sounds like me. Not my character. Is that what you want? Because I'm 36 and my MC is 17. We sound very different. So which voice should I use?

Anonymous said...

Query letters would be a hell of a lot easier to write if there wasn't a girth of contradictory info on how to write them festering on the web.

Also, if you read various agent blogs and websites (this one excluded), you sometimes get the feeling that queries are flat-out loathed and considered a nuisance.

It's not hard to see why many are overwritten. I don't care how well you think you digest rejection, nobody wants to see years of hard work amount to nothing because a crabby agent dislikes the way you tried to pare a 300-400 page manuscript down to one page.

Best of Success,

Disgruntled

Nathan Bransford said...

Re: contradictory info.

It's always going to happen, whether it's trying to muddle through the query process or incorporating an editor's feedback on a manuscript. It's part of writing and the publishing process. One person is going to think you should do one thing, someone else thinks you should do another. All you can do is consider the advice, decide what you want to do, and plow forward.

Sarah Jensen said...

And the voice? Mine or my MC's?

Phoenix said...

Nathan, I respect you -- and your opinion -- a lot. It's why I follow your blog. But this statement ...

Every successful debut book should be viewed on the order of a minor miracle. Success shouldn't be expected.

... absolutely floors me. The odds are great, granted. But you play the lottery to win. Athletes play to win. Entrepreneurs start businesses to succeed. Career writes write to sell.

Only a hobbyist shouldn't expect success. Yet in the comments yesterday, you talk about the difference between a hobbyist and a professional. What professional shouldn't expect to succeed? The mindset of a professional should always be that if there's not room for everyone, it's the other guy that's gonna fail. Whether that's the reality or not.

A query's success is measured on whether it receives requests for more material. Not on the book's ability to sell.

I do, however, fully agree that finding fault with the process isn't the right response. Making excuses isn't the right response. But having a dynamite manuscript to go with a dynamite introduction to an agent/editor -- whether via the written word or the social network -- is.

Uh, I guess now wouldn't be a good time to send you my query, would it? ;o)

Ink said...

Phoenix, I think what Nathan is speaking to is less about having confidence that you will succeed and more about having a sense of entitlement. I'm owed this... success is my right... everything should work out as I think it should work out and if it doesn't it's anyone's fault by mine and I'm gonna demand answers...

I see that a lot, and I can see why it can bother people in the business who know the reality of things. That's my take on it, anyway.

My best,
Bryan Russell

Nathan Bransford said...

Sarah-

Your description of your work should convey the spirit and tone of the work. So if the book is funny the description should be funny. If the book is literary the description should be literary.

The rest of the e-mail (such as the personalized parts) can be in your own voice.

Nathan Bransford said...

Phoenix-

More on that on Monday. But expecting success isn't professional, it's irrational, particularly when you expect that it comes easily. You hope for success, and then work furiously toward that goal.

Nathan Bransford said...

bryan-

Yup, that's what I mean.

Anonymous said...

Nathan,

I assume you're an AAR member. Have they attempted, in the past, to standardize queries and the like?

Nathan Bransford said...

anon-

Not to my knowledge. I don't even think it would be possible, given the varying opinions.

JES said...

Jael: ...most people struggle with the query because they want to sum up the whole book, and that enterprise is doomed to fail. Don't sum up. Tease. Intrigue.

That's a stupendously helpful bit of advice. Really! Thanks for including it in your comment; whatever other problems my queries might have, I am certain the temptation to sum up is a fatal flaw.

(Now if you tell me you're a 12-year-old protege who's never had to write a query, well, I'm hanging up my spurs. :)

other lisa said...

Seconding Scott's recommend on the linked interview. Really interesting!

Sarah Jensen said...

Thanks Nathan, back to the query drawing board
:)

M Clement Hall said...

"Good" is not a measurable compopnent, it's purely subjective, like beauty.
"Success" is measurable. A query that may seem good to the point of perfection will not meet with success unless the agent wants to sell the work and thinks (s)he can.
The first issue then is to address the right agent. Information is available on agents' interests, but Nathan can tell us how very often that information may not be appropriate.
Writing a query has been reduced to formula, and having mastered the formula the query may not represent a mastery of writing in general.
I note that now we are well into the era of e-mail enquiries, many agents suggest including a few pages or a chapter of the actual work. That way the author can feel his/her writing has been seen, and the problem does not merely lie in a failure to pass the magic query portal.
Furthermore, the agent doesn't have to read past the first line of the query if the author states the work is 250,000 words, non-fiction, life of Queen Victoria and the agent handles only steamy romance.

Lea Schizas - Author/Editor said...

Let me ask you a question, Nathan. If you recieved a query that wasn't up to par, however, the theme of the book caught your interest, would you request to see the first three chapters?

Knows-His-Pen said...

I get the impression that those who hate query letters most of all are fiction writers, while nonfiction writers seem to have less of a problem with them. That would be understandable to my way of thinking, but I'm not sure if it's true as a generalization.

I've gone through many, many drafts of a single query letter--as many times, or more, as I've reworked my book proposal. I can't see a friend or hired professional lending that kind of stamina and persistence to my query, or allowing me to learn from the rewriting.

M Clement Hall said...

I didn't read Jennifer Faust's piece until after I'd posted. It's well worth reading

Deborah said...

By the time a writer gets to the query portion of the “on the way to publication” experience, they are toeing the freak out point. After all the time, creativity, effort and sacrifice they have put into writing the book, now they have to face the final test of the query.

I think the terror of the query is twofold – you must condense your story that may have taken you years to write, into one or two paragraphs and then there’s the possibility of a hundred or more rejections along with the realization that your story may never be published.

At the point of having someone pen your query, I think the writer probably went through many, many drafts but because they are too close to their work, they are now paralyzed with fear of screwing things up. I don’t have an opinion on whether or not it is the right way, but I can understand the desperateness writers feel when they believe in and love their stories and want to see it in print and share it with the world.

Marjory Bancroft said...

I hate to disagree with our glamorous Mr Bransford. But I do.

Experience speaks. I’ve paid for query ghost-editing. And for bonus points, query-by-committee.

Here’s the story. My writer’s group critted my YA contemporary query, but I had a memoir so volcanic I opted for anonymity and paid not one but two professional agencies to vet the query. (Disclaimer: I’ve researched the guts out of queries, written slews of ’em and once hooked an agent for an epistolary novel. Dumped her gracefully after she moved to Hungary without apprising me first.)

The results?

1) My writer’s group critted the YA query for clarity. They reordered a bit, and altered tiny fragments. That’s all.
2) For the memoir, the first query doctor did an overhaul. She vastly improved the query. Chopped, honed, rearranged, highlighted. She couldn’t and didn’t fix the broken bit: the hook. But the result was a leaner, cleaner query. It almost snapped with starch. Worth every centavo just to see her axe swing. (The second paid editor changed almost nothing of her work.)

And now… Trumpet! Guess which book hooked an agent? The query I wrote myself. Agent is sweet and a pro, busy marketing the YA and two days ago she almost had a Penguin imprint. Still. The doctored query dead-nearly snagged Dr. Phil’s agent (Lor’ bless her she charged with javelins, but the agency won) and hooked praise from other serious agents.

So why the blazes do I disagree with Nathan? Because writing a query is marketing. Writers, especially of the literary ilk, are sensitive, receptive introverts. A bad query doesn’t mean a bad book. And for some of us, the learning curve is steep. Yes, a ghost query from scratch would worry me too. But if we can afford paid help, we learn from it.

Nathan Bransford said...

Marjory-

So..... your doctored query didn't work, the one you wrote yourself did, and you're disagreeing with me how?

Lucy said...

"gwen said...

I'm fine writing a novel-length manuscript, but the thought of writing a one-page query just makes me want to go cry in a corner. I dread the day when I finally have to do it... "


"Deborah said...

By the time a writer gets to the query portion of the “on the way to publication” experience, they are toeing the freak out point. After all the time, creativity, effort and sacrifice they have put into writing the book, now they have to face the final test of the query. "

****

Deborah, I think you nailed it very nicely with your comment about the "freak out point." And I included a quote from Gwen, because it dovetails with what you said.

And I'm saying this gently, Can we please take some of the terror out of this process? It doesn't really need to be so bad.

I hear the advice over and over, "Finish your manuscript before you write your query letter." No. Finish your manuscript before you send your query letter. There's no rhyme or reason not to be experimenting with your query letter while the manuscript is still in progress. In fact, especially if you're concerned about writing a query letter, you have all the more reason to do so.

Make time your friend, not your enemy. So your manuscript may not be ready for another six months, a year. Alright, just take an hour here and there to play with pitch paragraphs and queries. Those efforts will add up.

Please take Anne Lamott's advice about [unprintable] first drafts. I literally worked at my pitch paragraph off and on for months, and doing so helped me significantly in finding the focus and relationship structures of the book, when before, I only knew the story. But let me tell you, those first attempts were as atrocious as they were frustrating (partly because I was attempting to query using elements of the plot and not really touching the central conflict). I've saved them all in a file, just to remind myself that you can't write anything good unless you write.

So, please, give yourselves a break, y'all. There is nobody who deserves a flogging here. As Nathan says, there are no guarantees of success in this business; but there's a lot to be said for enjoying what you're doing, and taking your sweet time to get there.

All the best,

Lucy

PurpleClover said...

Nathan:

Well said.

Phoenix & Nathan:

I'm a little confused why we are differentiating between a "professional" and a "hobbyist" as if one is a professional author and the other is not? The difference should be career vs. hobby. Both are professional authors. Am I wrong?

Phoenix:

Why would hobbyists’ expectations be less than those who choose it as a sole career? I am working towards establishing a career outside of writing, to give me the stable income my family requires but does that mean my manuscripts are less important because I don’t thrust myself into it 12 hours a day? It may have taken me longer to write it, but there is still passion, blood, sweat, and tears. Well…passion.

I understand Nathan’s comment that someone giving up is most likely a hobbyist, because they have that luxury, whereas if it is your career, you are in for the long haul.

firedrake said...

hardest bloody thing I've ever written, unlike the manuscript, still a work in progress..
I think I may go with my gut next time/next agent and try and find some balance between formula and passion for the novel.

Maureen James said...

I still don't get it whats with ghost writers as they stay in demand as far as writing stints is concern.

buy essay

Marjory Bancroft said...

Nathan,

Sorry for the lack of clarity.

1. I learned a LOT from the doctored query and used that knowledge in the successful YA query.
2. The un-doctored memoir query garnered dozens of form rejections while the doctored one earned the highest ratio of positive comments to dead forms I’ve ever had.
3. I resisted the lessons and sent out the doctored query with an updated version of my own. But doctor-lady’s query won hands down. I will use that knowledge always.

My ultimate point is that excellent writers fail where garbage writers win. The difference: marketing skills. Not only for the query but for networking, optimism, punch and drive. For those on the fringe, the query’s our only, lonely inroad. Use it or lose the chance.

I vote for the learning curve and against anything that tells us: don’t learn. Where you may be right is the authorial voice. Let us tease that out. I doctored the doctor to tweak the voice back in, though she’d captured it the best she could.

You say: “A query letter is not a competency test.” But it is. (As you partly admit.)

You write: “I have always felt decidedly ambivalent about this question, mainly because I know my own personal preferences are basically irrelevant. People are going to do what they're going to do.” I submit that your intuition grasps how the two skill sets don’t overlap. Often they do for writers of pulp and bestsellers. But literary fiction and works of substance? Tougher curve.

Thanks for your time and savvy. This blog's a treasure.

Down the Rabbit Hole... said...

I enjoy the posts on this blog - hope you don't mind me "tagging" you?

http://pipscuriosity.blogspot.com/

Professor Tarr said...

The underlying subtext of alot of this discussion is that entitlement thing. We feel that we should write our books and the rest will happen somehow magically. It's a process. Writing a book is not a goal. Writing is a life with various components attached to that.

For years before my first book was published, folks would say, 'Man, you should be a writer.' I would always respond that I was already a writer. Publishing is one aspect of that. Querying is another. How we can best learn that aspect will impact the other.

Kathleen Peacock said...

I get the impression that those who hate query letters most of all are fiction writers, while nonfiction writers seem to have less of a problem with them. That would be understandable to my way of thinking, but I'm not sure if it's true as a generalization.

I've wondered about that as well. I don't view query letters as easy but they don't intimidate me (though I suppose they might once I start querying).

Perhaps my lack of worry has to do with the fact that I do a lot of business writing. Though it has never been part of my official job description, I've ended up writing press releases and brochure copy for the last two companies I've worked for.

Dara said...

I'll admit the whole query letter thing has me a bit nervous, but the only thing I can do is try.

I'm sure many writers hope to become a success, whether "professional" or a "hobbyist." (In my naivete, I'm still trying to figure out what the dividing line between a hobbyist and a professional is...) It's something we all have to work for and strive to attain, even if it takes numerous re-writes of the query and parts of the novel.

It's a process; the query is just one of those markers along the way. Personally I'm more concerned now with all the editing I have to do to make my novel ready.

Jael said...

JES: You made my day! Don't worry, that's not an instinctive insight, that's hard-won clarity from 10 years of drafting and sending out dozens upon dozens of queries and reading a lot of agent blogs. I screwed it up a whole lot before I finally got it right.

Disgruntled: Believe me, queries weren't any easier to write before there was conflicting info on the web. When there was no info at all it was just as hard. I'd rather have conflicting info than none.

All the query needs to do is make the agent interested in reading the sample pages. It's easy to get really caught up in whether you should say "this is my first novel", or whether it disadvantages you to have published short stories, and whether you should have one paragraph of summary or two, but really, if you tell the agent just enough about your book to make them want to read more, your query is full of win, regardless.

ICQB said...

Firebrand Literary is having a Query Holidy. You can send in the first chapter of a completed work without a query until Jan. 15.

The interesting thing about this is that agent Nadia Cornier is keeping track of number of submissions and number of requests for fulls. She has noted that the request rate is about double that of traditional query plus two pages submissions.

Sarah Laurenson said...

It's funny. I'm one of those who don't see a problem with someone getting major help on their query. But I am also one of those authors who stubbornly resists the idea for my own books and is determined to learn how to write a good one on my own - with critique help, of course.

Being on blogs where queries and first pages are critiqued, I have seen really bad queries paired with really good first pages. And probably vice versa, though those don't stick out in my memory.

Anonymous said...

Form...Motion...Structure.

Form are the words, motion is the plot, structure is the overall arc of the piece. That's all that matters. Period, end of story (no pun intended).

From YOUR perspective, of course, it's not the whole story. Fortunately, my interest in your perspective is fairly limited (as it should be...greatness in a work's overall structure is my first interest and concern).

Bottom line: It is possible to be a great novel/non-fiction writer without being a great query writer.

To wit: Imagine someone with Autism, someone who is a savant, but limited in their ability to manipulate words...someone who requires DECADES to manifest artistic greatness. A query that matches the voice of the original world would be (and nearly is) impossible for the above reasons.

But still, your thoughts are welcome, and, for the vast majority of writers, well reasoned.

Thanks!

jimnduncan said...

Well, I agree and disagree. Should the writer's voice come through in the query? Technically, yes. The agent wants to get some semblance of the author's voice in that one measly paragraph meant to entice you to read pages. Often, the query can be horrid, but the voice comes through, so pages are request on the hunch that the writing will be good. On the otherhand, I've read many a story about pages being request just off of concept alone, horrid query aside. Agents request for all variety of reasons I believe, often times just off of gut reaction to some tidbit in the query. While I agree with you Nathan about what is wanted and needed ideally about the query, I'm of the opinion, that if it gets you to read pages, so what if it was ghost written? How many times has a great query resulted in pages you could hardly stand to read?

JDuncan

Nathan Bransford said...

jduncan-

If a writer's goal is to get their pages requested, then yeah, I suppose the ends would justify the means. Whatever it takes. If their goal is to actually be represented, I don't think it's a good strategy to have their pages requested by an agent who was expecting something different.

Devon Ellington said...

Nathan, I agree with you. In my opinion, it's part of the job requirement. Writing a good query letter is a learned skill. So sit down and learn it already. There's nothing wrong with getting feedback on it, but I think it's important for the writer to learn how to do everything required in the job, just like one needs to learn skills in any job.

I also see writers often try to query before the manuscript is ready for submission, and I think that's part of the problem. I'm a big believer that you don't send it out until you've got the logline, the one paragraph summary, the outline, the synopsis, and the query letter in the best possible shape.

Too much of the author's voice is necessary in the query letter, in my opinion, to job it out. I want an agent or publisher to be interested in ME, not someone mimicking my voice.

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