Nathan Bransford, Author


Tuesday, September 7, 2010

How to Deal With Contradictory Query Advice

Just this morning out in the Literary Agentosphere there are two great posts that have wonderful advice. Rachelle Gardner delves into pen names and whether you need one, and Janet Reid's Query Shark offers feedback on a query.

There's just one problem for the compulsive reader of agent blogs: Rachelle thinks you should query as your pen name, and I think you should query as yourself. And Janet wants you to discard your prologue when you're sending the first five pages, whereas I want to see how you think the novel begins.

What in the world is a conscientious writer to do about all the contradictory advice out there?? It's hard enough just to write a query, let alone writing it when you're being spun in circles.

Here's a checklist:

1. Take a Deep Breath: As long as you're getting the big stuff right, you're going to be fine. You don't need to have every single little teeny tiny thing perfect. You can get my name or gender wrong and I still might request your pages (just did this last week in fact). I'm not going to reject you because you sent me the first five pages of Chapter 1 instead of your Prologue if I like the idea and your writing. Don't sweat the small stuff. Because really: if an agent is going to reject your query over some small niggling detail, are they someone you'd want to work with anyway?

2. Remember That Agent Blogs Are Just Trying to Help: I know how tempting it is to throw up your hands and just think that literary agents are so many Goldilocks with completely different ideas of how hot the porridge should be. Please just remember that we offer so much advice because people ask. We get e-mails and comments all the time asking about everything from paper size to fonts to anglicized spelling to serial commas. So we try to help, and we're not always going to agree on everything. Personally, when I'm wearing my author hat I'd rather have too much information than too little, so I tend to err on the side of dispensing too much agent advice. It's up to you to decide which advice you agree with and which you don't. Just remember that we're trying to help, not trying to make your life miserable.

3. Not All Publishing Advice is Created Equal:  I went back and looked at some of my early blog posts, and holy cow after just four years they're already wildly out of date. Consider the source, consider the freshness of the advice, and beware of anyone who tries to tell you that there's one way and only one way to find successful publication. Occasionally an author out there somewhere will have a sense that the way they found success is The Way That Should Work For Everyone, whereas people who have worked across the publishing spectrum have seen the proverbial cat skinned in an impossibly vast number of ways.

4. Try As Best You Can to Meet an Agent's Specifications, But Don't Go Crazy Trying to Do It: If you happen to remember that Rachelle wants you to query with your pen name and I want to hear from the real you: great! Query accordingly. But don't go creating a massive spreadsheet with every agent's particular individual preferences. No agent expects you to do that.

5. If You Think the Contradictory Query Advice is Mind Boggling, Just Wait Until You Reach the Publication Stage: In case you haven't noticed, this business is an art, not so much a science. There's no one way to do things, and you're going to face conflicting advice and opinions about your manuscript, cover art, marketing plan, you name it. There are even more opinions out there than people (sometimes people can't even decide what they think and have multiple opinions). At the end of the day, all you can do is just take all the advice into account, and choose the route that works best for you.






91 comments:

Terry Odell said...

Although I blogged about not sweating the small stuff recently, it's still a headache for someone trying to get it "right." Especially when there is no "right."

Terry
Terry's Place
Romance with a Twist--of Mystery

Scott said...

Good advice, Nathan, as always.

As an aside, I've looked through your website and I've read you for a number of years, but I can't find a definitive answer about memoirs. Do you represent them, and what is an acceptable word count range for such a work?

Thank you,
Scott

Nathan Bransford said...

scott-

I do, and I don't really offer advice about word counts. It all depends on the work itself.

Dan said...

The only rational response to conflicting query advice is to disregard all of it and do the opposite. Specifically, you should:

Query as your main character Pen name? Real name? Forget it. Query in character. Especially if your character is a sex offender, a serial killer or an angel. If you open your query with "I am an Angel of God, sent to Earth to serial-kill the women who won't date me," there's no friggin' way an agent won't ask for your pages. That's what they call a 'baller hook' in the biz.

Insult the agent If you can diminish their sense of self-worth, agents will become desperate to associate with you, so that they may shine with some of your reflected glory. If you tell an agent that you think he is an idiot but that he can prove you wrong by representing you, he will be filled with an unquenchable desire to prove he is not an idiot. That's just psychology, or something.

Mass e-mail queries You're busy and your book is a hot commodity. Let everyone know it by sending your query to everyone in Writer's Marketplace in one e-mail with the salutation: "Dear Sir or Madam." That way, they know they have a lot of competition and they had better get around to requesting your full immediately.

Good luck to you, Noble Writer, and godspeed.

Scott said...

Thanks, Nathan. I'm thinking mine will wind up in the 50K range. It seems like I've read somewhere else that 60K is the norm. I think that would be a stretch for what I'm doing. When I'm done, when I think it's ready, I'll query you and we'll see how it stacks up!

Juice in LA said...

Ah the memoir word count... well, Scott. I would not take my perspective over Nathans, AT ALL, because I do get the feeling he'd rep a good book without regard to numbers.

But if you can't get Nathan, I can tell you that I have had 3 agents tell me they would have a hard time even getting a publisher to look at a memoir over 110,000 words, and the publishers prefer it to be around 60,000 words.

I have not yet decided if I can make this "cut", but I understand the issues (cost to print, turning off the typical memoir reader with heft.)

Good Luck!

juice (www.moreinnerstrength.blogspot.com)

Anonymous said...

I don't want to play the game anymore. It's too confusing. I give up. I'm going to E-publish.

Candyland said...

Maybe you should just do ALL of it. You know, like send multiple emails informing them of option a, b, or c. That won't be annoying at all.

Author Guy said...

Uh, Dan? Much as I hate querying, don't query, and would rather die than try to write another query, somehow I don't think your advice is spot-on.

Marc Vun Kannon
http://authorguy.wordpress.com

dcamardo said...

My biggest struggle is where to put word count and genre. Some agents want it up front, some want it at the end.

Emily White said...

Great post! I do find the conflicting advice frustrating in some instances, but I do appreciate the information being there. I'd rather have to take detailed notes on what so and so wants than feel like I'm going about it blind.

By the way, I love the cover for your book! If I'm completely late on that, I apologize. :o

Jess Tudor said...

This isn't going to be a popular opinion, but...

I saw the headline for your post on Twitter and thought, "My goodness, why do we even need a post on this?"

Because, really, isn't it common sense? Tailor your query to the agent. If Nathan wants the prologue, give him the prologue, but give Janet the first chapter. You should find their preferences out in the prereq research you've done on them, so what's the big deal?

And if it's something that can't be tailored, go with your gut.

I'm reminded more and more in the over-informed information age of Kant: Immaturity is the inability to use one's understanding without guidance from another.

Sure I read all the blogs and want to make sure I get it as right as I can, but "how to deal with contradictory advice", query or otherwise? it just seems a bit much.

Krista V. said...

Oh, Dan's going for the Comment of the Week Award:)

Nathan Bransford said...

Ha - Jess, it's funny, I was thinking something similar right before I hit publish. But I always err on the side of TMI so there you go!

Regan Leigh said...

"As long as you're getting the big stuff right, you're going to be fine. You don't need to have every single little teeny tiny thing perfect."

This is all I need to hear so that I may avoid insanity.

:)

BJ said...

That's what a lot of folks don't get: Agents are individuals with their own preferences. So are editors.

When I see an argument over TNR vs Courier, I can give names of editors on either side. When I see someone arguing over what goes into a query, I can point to blogs or submission guidelines that want different things. You can even find two agents in the same office who want different things in queries.

Best rule is to follow the agent's guidelines. If they don't give specifics and if you don't know their preferences, just go with the most interesting query you can write.

D.G. Hudson said...

You must have an incredible intuitive mind, Nathan. I have been trying to sort through all the different querying advice, and this is very timely.

You're definitely on my list to query and there are a few others that I consider my best bets.

Thanks for addressing the Pen Name issue as there are many reasons that authors use them. I think the agent should know if an author uses a pen name, if its applicable. (e.g., if you're referring to your blog ID)

Personally, I like your way of asking for information. Guess that's why I follow this blog.

A great Monday morning post, Nathan.

Joni Rodgers said...

Scott ~
If you don't mind my two cents worth: "Norm" is a fat guy on Cheers. There's no such thing in publishing. A book should be as many words as it takes to tell the story, but the publisher needs the heft of a book to support the price point. I recently did a YA mini-memoir for a young pop star which will be mostly photos, and the word count on that was 31K, so IMHO, 50K or even 60K would be very slim. The minimum I'm usually asked for is 75K. My forthcoming book is about 118K. Most memoirs for adult audiences fall somewhere between.
Peace, love and grooviness ~
jr

PS ~ Right on, Nathan. As usual. This is a really excellent blog for aspiring authors.

Anonymous said...

No massive spreadsheet with each agent's preferences? But I just made my massive spreadsheet with each agent's preferences last weekend!

If only I were joking.

T. Anne said...

Another great reason to research the agent you're querying to see what they want. I don't mind the contradictions.

Marjorie said...

This is impeccable advice, but I still wonder about an author who has written a terrific book and who just may not read agents' blogs for advice and not send a good E-mail query. What If he broke all the rules and sent a few chapters via snail mail?

I think there is too much emphasis on the way these queries are formatted. It's like fixating and obsessing over the ingredients of a recipe and never getting to the point where you evaluate the dish.

Years ago before computers, how did agents determine which authors to represent? Jack Kerouac carried that scroll around in his rucksack.

Raquel Byrnes said...

Okay, so don't sweat the small stuff. Make sure my query is professional, targeted, and the best of my work...and then take a breath and send. Got it. =)

Edge of Your Seat Romance

Other Lisa said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Douglas Morrison said...

I have been trying to reduce the variables by charting agents query preferences... Ok I wasted a bit of time...maybe alot of time. It has been interesting. I have come to believe that the preferences are as much about seeing if a author can follow a set of rules at the outset. Especially on agent site that actually insist on strict compliance with their guidelines.

I think most agents are looking for a better or more efficient way appreciate the queries they receive. Writer's Digest has some amazing numbers for the amount of queries agent read...AMAZING!

The best advice I've found was on this site : follow the rules an agent asks you to follow, but add just a touch of self as you feel necessary.

I have been WAY over thinking this whole process. I have been writing different query letters for each of the agents I plan to query...EeeeeK!

Nina said...

Nobody is created equal. To think that many books out there went through maybe hundreds of agents hands before they reached the right one, says enough.

It helps you relax a little...

Mira said...

Dan, that was funny! Good stuff.

Nathan, thanks for tackling the thorny issues. I really appreciate your advice geared toward the practical and the 'relax' approach.

Personally, I can't talk about the query "system" without getting really grumpy, so I'll stop now.

Sierra McConnell said...

This is so true. I have tried and tried to get query advice for what seems like forever and only just this weekend got the perfect advice.

But even then there's going to have to be some tailoring done to the letter, I know. I had some people tell me I had to rewrite it each time, because if I didn't, no one would want to read the book. But if I rewrote it each time, they wouldn't get an accurate look at how I wrote the book, so I would feel as if I was misrepresenting myself. Lying, just for them. One synopsis should do the trick for a little while, and if that doesn't work, then I'll revisit it.

And on the subject of pen names, I already have one, because I know I'll need it. I was named after a celeb and I hate my name. Sierra McConnell sounds so much more fantasy than Jessica /Leslie Nielsen/. Ugh.

Julie Geistfeld said...

Nathan,
Thank you for this post! I thought I was querying ok, then I read more advice and refined my query. I knew I was querying better and even got a request for full. Then I read more advice, and more, and more and then I almost lost my mind!
A few tears and probably very strange queries later, I realized I had to stay true to my writing and my novel first, get the main requirements for each agent, and hope for the right match with an agent who gets me.
Still waiting for that match, but doing it more patiently now.
Thank you to all the agents, including yourself, who make yourselves more accessible and 'human' to all us writers out here.

Rebecca said...

The timing on this post could not have been better, as I spent the entire weekend trying to make perfect my query following conflicting advice. Since I know there are no glaring errors, I suppose I should just step up to the plate and send it out.

Thank you for taking the time to help us out.

Dayana Stockdale said...

Well we all know how you like your porridge! This is good advice. All in all, the takeaway message for me is, do your research and write the best query you can, and then relax.

marilynn larew said...

A very timely post. I am suffering from a surfeit of advice. I only wish it were lampreys. I like eel.

When I was doing academic work, I often found myself obsessing about that last article I couldn't find. I'm doing the same about querying, so I decided to stop doing that, try to follow the individual agent's instructions, and let it go. If you do everything everybody tells you to do, there will be no time left for writing.

LaylaF said...

Thanks Nathan. As always, very level headed advice.

But, darn! Now, I wish I had included my prologue when querying you, then for sure I think you would have requested more...darn darn darn. j/k ;)

Katrina L. Lantz said...

Okay, so...hypothetical questions?

What if the world was about to end?
What if Tommy held the key to its salvation?
What if Sara Lee made the best pie in the world, but it wasn't enough to ward off the invaders?
What if the only way out was colonization...on Mars?

Is this ever going to be a good way to write a query? :-)

swampfox said...

It seems more people write books than read them. It seems.

Christine Macdonald said...

Thank you for this. I always take something from your blogs and they are usually "okay.... relax...keep plugging away...you know a little more that will help you now."

Many thanks,
Christine
@thatgalkiki

Jared Larson said...

Nathan, you make this entire process so much clearer, it's amazing. Thank you.
And, why is it I just barely noticed the cover for your book on the right hand side of the blog? That's awesome!

TKAstle said...

Hallelujah for the voice of reason.

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

The best advice I've heard about this (besides your entire post, which is awesome) is to educate yourself in the blogosphere, and then step back and do what feels right. Hopefully, it will be successful. But it most certainly will be YOU.

BTW, I just noticed the cover for Wonderbar! Very cute! :) Can't wait for my boys to read it!

fashionbloomusa said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
fashionbloomusa said...

Hi Nathan,

What are your thoughts injecting humor in a query or story that deals with a serious topic? That's the topic of debate on the Query Shark post that you referenced in your original post.

And how in the world do you have time to do all the things you do! Reminds me of that movie Multiplicity

Marilyn Peake said...

Wow, very timely advice for me. First, I’d like to say thank you for all the incredibly valuable advice that you provide on your Blog and in your Forums. I’ve learned a lot. You’re right about finding information on some agent Blogs that contradicts advice on other agent Blogs; but over time I’ve found it all very helpful because I’ve been able to learn what only one or two agents prefer and what almost all agents prefer, and I’ve learned a lot about trends that change.

Right now, I’m having an incredible dilemma about contradictory advice; and, if I find enough guts to do it, I’ll probably ask you about it in the Ask Nathan thread in the Forums (which, by the way, is an incredibly generous thread for you to provide!) I have a science fiction manuscript that I’m thinking I should stick in a drawer for a while, but for which I also keep thinking maybe I should keep sending out queries. It took me a long time reading your Blog and other agents’ Blogs to figure out how to write a decent query letter. On about the 40th version of my query letter, I finally started getting requests for the full manuscript along with personalized responses even when the agents were no longer representing science fiction. Long story short: I’ve been getting feedback to the full manuscript that it could be a best-seller, is "high concept," and that it's based on a brilliant idea. BUT everyone has disliked different characters in my novel, and no one has disliked the same characters ... so your post today about contradictory advice really resonated with me. In my case, I think everyone who read the manuscript had very credible advice, but I’m stuck about how to edit, since everyone had completely different advice. For now, I’ve moved on to another novel in a completely different genre that concentrates specifically on the development of all the characters, since that seemed to be the problem with some of the characters in my science fiction novel.

lexcade said...

*internet hug* thanks for the reminder, nathan :)

lexcade

Jeffrey Beesler said...

The advice seems contradictory because it stems from the fact that everything is subjective. A matter of taste and such. In the end, the author has to decide what works and what doesn't work, and go with that.

Jess Tudor said...

Too funny, Nathan. I didn't mean I don't think it's a helpful post and a relief for some, it just feeds a growing frustration I have with society at large. Didn't mean to take it out on your blog. :)

Marilyn Peake said...

Hmmm ... My comment disappeared into cyberspace as I was posting it. Just testing to see if this one appears. If it does, I'll try posting again.

Nathan Bransford said...

Marilyn-

Sorry - Blogger, in its infinite wisdom, created a Spam filter, which is nice, but it doesn't alert me when a comment has landed there. I'm just supposed to check in occasionally (shaking fist at Blogger). Anyway, I marked your previous comment as "not spam" and freed it from jail. It should be there now.

Marilyn Peake said...

Thank you so much, Nathan, for freeing my comment from spam jail! I'm so sorry I posted twice. I saw your response after I posted a second time. :)

Kristy said...

Great advice as always and also a little daunting!

Rachael Harrie said...

Nathan, that's such fantastic advice. I do try to keep track of individual agents' preferences, though not in an over-the-top way I think. I guess I look at it as one more little thing I can do to improve my chances of success. But it's nice to hear that occasionally mixing things up or not complying exactly with a querying method preferred by one agent should not spell the end for my query. Onwards and upwards!!!

Remilda Graystone said...

I was wondering about this, and this post helped me out of my confusion. Thanks.

Kelly Wittmann said...

Great post, Nathan. When I was just starting out, I used to drive myself insane, trying to tailor my queries to the individual taste of each agent. Such behavior is really a time waster and an energy drainer. If you have a well written query, it may not appeal to every agent you send it to, but you certainly won't "get in trouble." In all my years of querying (14), I can honestly say that I've only had one agent (out of hundreds and hundreds) go truly psycho on me over nothing. It's just very, very rare.

Cathi said...

Dan- LOL!

Some might think this post is common sense, and when you sit back and take a breath, maybe it is. For me it was an arm around the shoulder and a hug from someone who cares enough to say, 'hey, follow the rules, do your best and let the agent gods do as they will.' The timing was perfect for me beause my head is getting ready to implode with info overload, so I say thanks, Nathan, for caring. Even the most simple reminder or pat on the shoulder means a lot. Take care, all.

M Clement Hall said...

Good practical sense as always. No wonder so many people read Nathan's blog.

Anonymous said...

Long before there was so much info on the internet potential authors querying found all their info from books like Writer's Marketplace and Writer's Digest. Agent guidelines have always varied, even within the same agency.

I think it's great you posted this, but I also think new writers need to lose this sense of entitlement and start doing their homework. Especially when it's so simple now. I'm tired of the whining and crying. Buck up. You guys (writers) have it easier than it's ever been and you don't even know it.

Elana Johnson said...

Well said, Mr. Bransford! When I present, I especially tell people about your #5. Well, maybe not the bit about the publication phase, but about dealing with the contradictory advice. I tell them to get to their mental 100%, even if they break some "rules" and then query.

Amanda Sablan said...

Serial commas, oh no! Call the cops!

Like you said, what it comes down to is what works best for YOU and yourself alone.

Rachelle said...

I appreciate this post, Nathan. I knew early today that my advice to query under a pseudonym would not be the same advice other agents would give, but I've been busy all day and haven't had a chance to go back and correct the post. The important thing to remember is, that particular piece of advice isn't one of the essentials, and authors can choose to do what works for them. Thanks for addressing contradictory advice.

Anonymous said...

remember,

Don't sweat the petty things!



and don't pet the sweaty things.....

Erika Robuck said...

Thanks for addressing this. It can all be a little much. I think the bottom line is that if you've written a great story, show the agent.

Anonymous said...

Yes, don't listen to all the advice. I couldn't write a good query as the topic I dealt with was a bit too complex. So I only sent proposals to publishers - and while all 7 queries of mine had got rejected, 2 out of the 3 publishers I sent my proposal to responded with a positive.
So, I guess you have to see what works for you.

Sara said...

Thank you so much for this! It was such a relief to take some of the almighty pressure off! :)

Sara said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sara said...

Thank you so much for this! It was such a relief to take some of the almighty pressure off - and to be reminded that agents are human too :)

Lisa said...

It gets complicated for the unpublished writer because the agent has so much power in our little world.
It is true that tailoring your submissions to the agent you are approaching is obvious, but the unpublished author (and many published authors) are forced to analyse the intricacies of that first attempt at connection, because so much depends on it from our side. Submitted MS – even the bad stuff – has been worked on for a long time. Usually more than a writer has ever worked on anything in their life.
In some ways conflicting advice is an affirmation stating the connection is ‘elusive’ and ‘magical’ which helps unpublished writers cope with rejection.
Lisa Thatcher

Claire Dawn said...

I follow Query Shark and have noticed contradictions before- like don't have your address at the top, while some agents prefer your query start just like a business letter.

For agents I follow, like you and Ms. Reid, I'd try to tailor-make my query. For other agents, I can only read their guidelines and hope for the best.

It's not worth busting a coronary

Ishta Mercurio said...

Great post. It's hard not to sweat the small stuff, but at some point, something has to give.

hannah said...

The best advice I've ever heard is: tune out any advice that starts with "always" or "never."

Sandra Pienaar said...

Hi Nathan, you must be a mindreader. Just yesterday I was in the depths of despair about this whole query system, and this reassurance is just what I need. Thanks for a great blog.

Kelly Hashway said...

Thank you for posting about this. I think every agent is different, which is why I make sure I do my homework before querying. Using Agent Query (or another site) isn't good enough. You really need to read agent blogs and tweets to see what each wants to see in a query letter. But it's reassuring to know that as long as the big things in the query are there, writers will be okay.

Gretchen said...

Forgive me if I repeat someone, I didn't have the attention span this morning to read all the comments. Isn't finding an agent all about taste (fit) anyway? I like liver, but I gag on seafood. It has nothing to do with whether either is "good" but rather what I have a taste for. So if agents are so many goldilocks isn't the task to find the one who taste most aligns with your recipe?

Writers tell their stories and agents either connect with the authors style or don't. A rejection is more like sending back the daily special when you find out it has liver in it than a judgement on the work (though it certainly can be that too).
Since there is no menu that lays out the measurements and ingredients you just have to keep trying until you get the plate that pleases you. When that happens, then both you and goldilocks can go away satisfied.

Another helpful blog post we appreciate the wisdom you share with us. Keep 'em coming.

Pamela Barker said...

Very, very helpful blog. If nothing else, makes me feel less of an idiot. I have given up and will self-publish, but do appreciate your words, very much.

Anonymous said...

"If You Think the Contradictory Query Advice is Mind Boggling, Just Wait Until You Reach the Publication Stage"

Amen!

Ariane said...

Hi Nathan!
Thanks for addressing this! It's always interesting to compare different agents' preferences, but you're right... sometimes you just have to do your best and send it!

I have a different question - is there any downside that you can see to submitting your query to a query shark type of website or to a message board for group critiques? It seems like such a helpful thing to do. But do agents regularly read these? If you received a query that you'd seen critiqued on a website/board, would that be a bad thing for you?

Thanks for any insight you can provide!
-Ariane

Fawn Neun said...

After two years of reading query advice, I just try to hit the common denominators and when I really want to work with some one, I'll utilize my internet stalking skills to find out which keywords are mostly like to get their attention. I've tried the whole highly-personalized with sprinkles on top approach and ended up just feeling jerked around and used. So, I don't get stupid with it anymore. I'll always get the right name and gender, etc., and will make a few changes in the query depending on if the agent reps mainily literary or genre work. But other than that, I wouldn't fuss too much. I read slush for a small publisher and quite honestly, as long as you hit the basics like including a decent pitch, you'll get a fair shot. You'd be surprised how many writers will submit a 60K word novel and not even bother to give a pitch or synopsis.

Malia Sutton said...

I like this post. I'm always getting questions about it.

But in a general sense, the entire problem might just fall into the category of too much information.

In other words, there's so much info floating around now about queries, people are just getting more confused than ever. And you can't blame them. They take what they read on every single publishing blog to heart. I would if I were just starting out now.

It takes years to find out that no one really knows anymore than anyone else, and the best thing to do is write well.

Anonymous said...

Why don't agents standardize?

Nathan Bransford said...

anon-

Because everyone has different preferences. It's not an easy task to field queries, and every agent has a slightly different system that works best for them. I don't think it's possible to standardize, nor do I think authors would necessarily even benefit from a standardized system.

D.G. Hudson said...

Nathan, Kudos to you for NOT standardizing. The act of standardizing anything seems to make it 'less than'.

If writing is a creative act, then why squash it by forcing all to conform? (visions of 1984. . .)

Just waiting for the You Tell Me post. . .

Anonymous said...

Nathan: completely possible to standardize. you said "don't sweat the small stuff." Exactly. Goes for agents too.

Nik said...

More good advice. Supply what the agent wants (and yes each agent may differ regarding requirements).

But also be true to yourself - and your work.

John said...

Dan, thanks to your insight, I've had 4 agents literally BEG for my full. Of course I went with all of your rules which might have been overkill for their fragile psyches.

I think what everyone needs to realize is that as much as there are GUIDELINES for this sort of thing, there are no rules. Just Google for query samples and you'll see several instances where agents post samples that break all the "rules" but the writer still ends up with a deal.

Look at Sara Rees Brennan's query for The Demon's Lexicon (http://pubrants.blogspot.com/2007/09/query-for-demons-lexicon-that-landed-me.html) for one example. There's also another such sample on Query Shark.

I used to shake my fist at the literary world until I realized it's just like landing a date. This biz is so subjective that there is no such thing as the perfect query letter, only the perfect query letter for the perfect agent. Because you don't want someone half-heartedly represting you. Wwerd.

Linda Gray said...

Question about Janet Reid's response to the content of that query (not the prologue/1st chapter issue): Do you agree that you can't combine a light-hearted protagonist voice with bad espionage things happening? Or is it maybe just that the bad things in this query were really really bad?

J. T. Shea said...

I don't need contradictory advice from agents to confuse me. I'm quite capable of doing that all by myself.

No, I'm not!

Yes, I am!

Shut up, J. T.!

Shut up yourself!

I mean myself!

Nicole said...

Huh. And I thought the cover art was the one thing we didn't have a say in! ;D

(Hey, just as long as there's no half-naked space chick on the cover of my book, I'm good.)

Theresa Milstein said...

I'm sharing this on Facebook to relax my writer friends a bit.

Yesterday, I wrote a post about queries. I wasn't getting any requests with my previous query, so I just revised it. Now I have to see if it's The One or if it needs more work or it's the manuscript. No wonder writers freak out about queries.

John said...

Funny thing is, I've sent a query that received several requests but no offers, then months later after reworking the query received requests from those who had previously rejected the query.

And I didn't really change the pitch that much.

Whatever agents or readers latch onto is generally intangible.

Anonymous said...

Hi Nathan-
I saw your tweet about the deluge of query questions. Just wondering if you still answer all your queries these days, or if you've moved to a "no response means no" policy just to cope with the volume. Alternatively, I'm also wondering if you're still having email (or gmail) glitches.
Sign me, Queried you in August (no attachments, no YouTube links to dancing space monkeys or corn dog eating contests, nothing but query w/ "query" in the subj line) and still hoping

Nathan Bransford said...

anon-

I do answer all queries, and yes, I've been having some e-mail glitches lately. Please try again, and if you still don't hear from me in a week, e-mail me your query in an attachment and mention that I said it was okay to do so in the body of the e-mail. Sorry for the trouble!

J. T. Shea said...

Nicole, I don't want a half-naked space chick on the cover of my WIP either. I want a FULLY naked space chick! Not that there's one IN my WIP at the moment, but I could always add one...

Janet Reid said...

Wait, I'm not always right? Are you sure? Really really sure?

Just A Girl said...

In addition to the submission requirements, add on the people who critique the query for you....EVERY query critique I have had tells me different "rules"...so much so that I am frustrated beyond belief. But, I now believe that if you are true to yourself in your query, the right agent will be true to you. Getting out there is about taking chances, right?

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