Agent Kristin Nelson is on quite the roll lately. Not only has she been posting an invaluable series of posts on her author/agency agreement, she also just had some big deals come down the way. But best of all — she is sharing the original query letters and her pitch letters for these now-completed deals.
If you aren’t reading her blog regularly you’d better have a darn good excuse, buster.
In particular, though, I’d like to direct you to the original query letter for DEMON’S LEXICON, which happens to begin with a rhetorical question. I KNOW.
So. Would I have pressed the reject button on this query letter because it started with a rhetorical question, and in the words of Kristin Nelson, the letter is “far from perfect”? Honest answer: I don’t know. BUT. I will tell you what I really like about the letter, and why I don’t believe I would have been scurrying for the rejection button — the letter is very original. The opening rhetorical question is answered in an unexpected way, the relationships are presented in an interesting fashion, and you just get the sense that although this is a genre novel, this is something different.
Or, in the words of the omniscient Kristin Nelson: “It’s more important for a query concept to be original than for a query to be perfect.”
I think it’s very easy to get hung up on the query letter portion of the manuscript process because it’s something you can control. It’s something we blogging agents can be specific about and offer handy-dandy pointers and preferences and we can be biased against things like rhetorical questions, and authors can work to death on the letters and get them into shape and it’s one of the more scientific parts of the process because there’s more or less a query formula.
On the other hand, “Originality,” “marketability…” these things are all so slippery and difficult to pin down. I know originality when I see it, but I could never tell someone how to go out and write an original manuscript. So we don’t talk about it much. Well, I blogged about it once, but it tends to get lost in the query obsessive culture we’ve created.
My query “rules” go straight out the window when I smell an original idea. Rhetorical questions, spelling my name wrong, obviously mass-mailed… BRING IT! I’ve requested all kinds of manuscripts that broke my rules. I don’t think it’s a good strategy to break these rules because it reduces your odds, but I’m also not going to sweat a few errors when there’s originality at stake.
Great writing is important, it’s important to know how to jump through the query hoops and to respect that process, but there’s really no substitute for an original idea and a fresh take on an established genre.
As a wise man once said: You can teach a camel to write a query letter, but you can’t force him to drink from the waters of originality.
Think about it.