I was reading through some disgruntled comments surrounding the formatting of queries (everything from font to phrasings, tag-lines to typos), called “Hoops” by many – even those that approve of them. It got me thinking (which rarely ends well)……..Are these “Hoops” actually a subtext?
If an agent comes across a submission which does not match the guidelines published on their websites, and although they make a decision solely on the story/voice, do the “Hoops” in themselves inform the agent about the author rather than the Novel. “Great book – but they rushed into submitting, so could be a headache to work with.”
In other words, if every query was exactly in-line with an agents specific guidelines would the agent be losing a valuable source of information?? Does the HandForeheadSlap queries make managing the slush that much easier? Obviously, you can’t create an Industry Standard because each agent has their preferences. But what if the Industry Standard was somehow personalised? Is this even a desirable scenario?
The reason I ask is because I’ve thought of a way in which an author is able to always obey guidelines, streamlining their submission process to agents, also finding the RIGHT agents, and tracking results to see what they are doing right, or wrong, with query letter revisions. However, if this simply removes a valuable tool for agents, why bother?
I have two thoughts on your question because it’s a very interesting one.
I think (one of the reasons) guidelines about queries evolved because authors asked for them. When agents attend writers’ conferences or blog, we get tons of questions from authors, and I think the most frequent questions are about how to get published. Back in the day of the typewriter, when authors had to snail-mail submissions, I remember attending a conference at which authors spent almost five minutes asking me the details of what type of envelope should be used to mail in submissions. And no, I’m not kidding. Now queries are the thing. It’s the rare agent who accepts unsolicited material, so your query is your first introduction and, naturally, it’s what authors stress most about.
Another thought. I think guidelines evolved because agents got tired of junk. In other words, we see hundreds of queries every single week. Heck, every single day, and believe it or not we get sick of hitting the rejection button. It really is true that we want writers to succeed, and giving formatting guidelines hopefully takes some of the mystery out of the query process and helps the author. It also streamlines the system for us. Let’s face it, I skim queries. I look for that blurb to hook me in and I go from there. If an author spends three paragraphs telling me her life story, all about her career, her three children, and her travels in Europe, only to finally get to the book and tell me nothing, she’s going to get rejected. I don’t have time to ask her for more information and start a back-and-forth. The one who has lost is the author, so by establishing guidelines I’m hopefully helping the author get her foot in the door and hopefully I’m not wasting my time by reading more queries that tell me nothing.
Unfortunately it’s not the formatting or the nit-picky stuff that’s usually the problem (which is why a form probably won’t help), it’s the blurb, it’s finding a way to excite an agent about your book. That’s what is going to make the query stand out for an agent and that’s what is going to grab the agent’s attention.