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When A Query is Not Just a Query

The other day we had a conversation about how a query letter, or lack thereof, might hurt any potential success an author might have. Colette, our intern, felt bad that an author who has written a good book, might never see publication because of a poor query letter. Ever the Pollyanna, I told her I didn’t think this would really happen and explained why.

There’s a lot of emphasis placed on a query, and for good reason, it’s the first introduction an agent and an editor have to you and your work. That being said, there’s much more leeway to a query than I think most writers understand. Believe it or not, agents and editors don’t expect perfection. Believe it or not, few of us are actually perfect.

The reason I truly believe that a good book will always be found is because a good and determined writer will do whatever it takes to make it happen. That means working on the query to the same extent she will work on the book.

Query letters, like agents, come in all shapes and sizes and we all have those little things that tweak our interest no matter how rough the query might be. A foodie might be a sucker for anything food related, some will always fall for a sister story, while others have a difficult time turning away anything that hints at a serial killer.

Work on your query and make it the best it can be and remember that no one is asking for perfection, we’re just asking that you spark our interest and there are a lot of agents with a lot of different interests.

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7 comments

  1. I recently submitted my query letter for critique at my writing group and was shocked at all the things I was told I’d done wrong, all the things that would guarantee my query letter was destined for the “slush pile”. However, I really like my query letter and have received two requests for materials from it, so I’ve decided not to change it. I don’t think there’s a “one size fits all” when it comes to query letters because there’s not a “one size fits all” when it comes to agents.

  2. Thank you for this. I am a new author and it seems to me that query letters have this almost mystical reputation. I get the impression that if you make one little mistake your submission is going to hit the trash can and never see the light of day, but your post makes me think there is hope.

    But I also think, for a lot of us who are new to the game, it is also easy to get discouraged because ultimately the feedback mechanisms are not really there when it comes to the agents. I know it is not necessarily their fault because they are simply inundated with new submissions it would be impossible to get clear, concise feedback to every author. I submitted to various agencies my first novel and got only one bit of feedback and that was only to tell me “thanks, but we do not need Horror fiction right now.” That I can handle, but what is irritating when when you ultimately send things into a black hole and seem to never get anything back out to even tell you if you are headed in the right direction.

  3. I know many writers complain, “Writing a good query takes a completely different skill set than writing a novel. How can you judge one from the other?”

    I think they’re missing the point.

    A good query is like a movie trailer. It gives the agent a peek at what the book is about and entices the agent to invest her time in reading a full. She won’t be judging the novel until she reads pages. The query should tease her, intrigue her, get her interested in the submission. That’s all a query has to do.

    If the book is as good as the writer thinks it is, it will do its own convincing.

  4. Thank you for this thoughtful post that should be read by every unpublished author. As a writer with three completed books I haven’t landed an agent, and I have no doubt my query letter has been a major culprit.

    Since joining the blogging community, there have been dozens of self published authors urging me to follow their path, but my instincts tell me don’t give up. If I continue to work on my query and if my work is as good as I believe it is, my manuscript will eventually find a home.

    Thanks for keeping hope alive.

  5. “Believe it or not, agents and editors don’t expect perfection. Believe it or not, few of us are actually perfect.”

    It is always refreshing to remember that everyone is human, including the people you’re trying to reach with your message. Thanks for your always honest voice, Jessica, and for leaving space for creative freedom, as well as the odd mistake.

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