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  1. louis1
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    louis1 Contributing Member

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    Query letter help.

    Discussion in 'Query & Cover Letter Critique' started by louis1, Jun 10, 2012.

    About three paragraphs.
    Four sentence each. First paragraph stating the genre and market (ex: YA science fiction), word count (ex: 65,000 words), and comparable titles (ex: Lauren DeStefano's Wither meets Marissa Meyer's Cinder). Next paragraph should be a synopsis of the story. Last paragraph should be a little bit about who you are/what qualifies you as a writer (ex: active member of SCBWI and blogger at kidlit.com, regularly attends the Algonkian Write-to-Market conferences).

    Am I missing something ?
     
  2. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I'd skip the comparable titles, and I'd leave out the qualifications paragraph entirely unless have previously published works in the same genre.

    You should begin with a statement of what you are requesting, i.e. consideration of your manuscript for publication.
     
  3. louis1
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    louis1 Contributing Member

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    Makes sense to remove the qualification but a real Literary agent said that she liked comparable titles. I guess it depend on the person you are sending it to.
     
  4. Show
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    There are so many "right ways" to write a query letter that you can find and so many of them don't agree. What to start with, what to end with, you ask 5 different "experts" and you're likely to get five different answers.

    As an unpublished author, my advice is this: Give the agent what they ask for, even if it goes against what you've been told. Cog says to leave out this or that but many agents I've seen have specifically requested exactly those materials. (As well as a few "experts" on query writing.) Your example is perfect; many agents do ask specifically for comparable titles (one of the ones I sent out to lately did just that), and I've also seen a respected Pro suggest that you HAVE to include it. There are so many answers for what is "right" that a young writer can get whiplash just trying to keep track of them. The only advice I think is really universal is give the agent what they want. If they say they want it, give it to them. (Unless of course common sense tells you that it's not relevant to your query, like overly personal info or money.) I've read query blogs, a certain famous agent's big advice for writing queries, and a lot of other stuff, and I still am not sure what is widely considered a good query letter. Probably because there isn't one. Everyone seems to have their own idea about what's right and you'll likely have to adapt based on who it is you're querying. When it comes down to it, the only view on querying that matters is the view of the agent you are sending the query to. If they aren't specific, then I suppose you gotta try to find a balance between all of the contradictory things you're going to find online, all from people who claim to know what they are talking about (and who will have swarms of people who swear the same backing them up). MOST agents will want you to keep your query quite brief (almost always under a page, and many tell you to go for less, ie the 3-paragraph model you mentioned). I doubt keeping it at about that length will be a bad idea, so yes, it's probably good to stay in that area. But when it comes to what to include in the bio, what the first line should be, exactly how many sentences each paragraph should be (you'd be surprised at what a lot of advice nitpicks), and a whole lot of others thing, there's a whole smorgasbord of conflicts. Wouldn't surprise me if each of these sources felt that they could discredit the others too, just to make sure nobody comes out of it looking more knowledgeable. lol Maybe they're trying to inspire us into writing books about the tedious process of getting published. lol
     
  5. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I'd agree that the publisher or agent guidelines trump any general recommendations. If they ask for comparative titles, give them what they want. However, I wouldn't volunteer that unless asked, because your novel is unique. It should not need to be viewed as similar to one or more other novels.

    Also keep in mind that the synopsis in the query letter should generally be the complete synopsis, not a teaser with the conclusion omitted. You won't entice the agent or publisher with suspense. He or she will decide based on all that is presented, and won't give the outcome a second thought if he or she isn't inclined to go forward to the next step. If your ending shines, by all means lay your cards on the table now. You won't get another chance.
     
  6. Show
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    ^^^^I've heard that if the agent asks for a full/extended synopsis.(Some do, others just want the basic letter) Most query letter advice from established agents I've seen won't give room in the actual letter for a synopsis that spoils the ending as it pretty much constricts the synopsis to a few sentences. And I don't care how skilled a writer you are, there's only so much you can squeeze into 3 or 4 sentences and still make it interesting. (Unless you go into overlong sentences, which I imagine will be quite a turnoff.)

    And I agree that comparable titles shouldn't be required, but they often are. There's a lot about this industry that shouldn't be, but is. The industry stands in it's own way sometimes. But there's no query letter that is going to meet all the qualifications that every expert on the subject lays out. Spoil the ending, don't spoil the ending. Start with this, start with that. Give this, don't gave this. I've heard it all, much of it from actual agents who supposedly know what they are talking about. (And even they don't agree much.) Querying agents seems to be a roll of the die as to which philosophies any individual subscribe to. Because if they don't lay it out, there's little way to know what they agree with. And I can almost guarantee they won't all agree with the entirety of any advice you get, be it here or anywhere else.

    Might as well just choose a model and stick to it. All this contradictory advice only serves to hinder you.

    As for me? I'm not attached to any particular way of writing a query letter. I've done it quite a few ways already. So I'm not opposed to this technique or that one, usually. Even if I am, it's no biggie to just go with it for the sake of the query. But who do you go with? That is the question.
     
  7. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I'm confused about a query - I read on P&E that a "query" is meant to be written like a blurb of the back of a book?

    Here's the link with the sample query for a novel:
    http://pred-ed.com/pubquery.htm

    It looks completely and utterly different from the sample given by the OP of this thread that everyone's agreeing pretty much meets the general industry standard.

    So which is it? You write a blurb as query and THEN send a synopsis (which as far as I understand, means the overview or summary of your novel from start to finish), or what? I'm confused.
     
  8. Show
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    ^^^^The way I understand it, the default is that you only send a query letter, unless they specifically ask for additional material. (Which isn't uncommon. They may ask for the first 10-50 pages or 1-3 chapters and a synopsis of varying length.) The most important rule to remember is to send them what they want and no more, no less. And all agents want different things, even though they likely will ask for one of only a few different things.

    I HAVE heard the back of the book blurb thing, but I've also heard that it should spoil the ending. Again, another of those conflicting ideas that you'll get different answers for. Heck, the fact that you have heard differently speaks to how many different models there are.
     
  9. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I don't buy the argument excuse that you can't fit the ending into a short synopsis.

    The legitimate argument you could present is that you are trying to sell the concept to the publisher or agent, much as you would a book to the public.

    But you can put the sales pits into your first paragraph, much as Mckk's example in P&E does. The full synopsis lets the publisher glimpse that your story closes well, doesn't just fizzle out - at least as much as you can represent any of the story as a synopsis.

    Many publishers or agents will be pre-judging your writing skills by how well you can condense the story to a bare minimum.

    You won't go wrong by showing you know the difference between a synopsis and a blurb, either. At every step, if what you present gives the impression of professionalism, the more the publisher or agent will look forward to working with you.
     
  10. Show
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    ^^^^Excuse? *sighs Judging by your post, you seem to have misread mine, so it'd be pointless to go back and forth on this. No use contesting a rebuttal to something somebody thinks I said but didn't. I agree that being able to condense what a story is about to a bare minimum is essential. But again, that was never the contested point. Since that query in the link is being held up as exemplary, everything I said seems to hold, and there's no disagreement, and no excuse for sale. Only a reality that nothing said really speaks against. So no more to say on this. :)

    As for that link, that letter already proves an earlier point about the contradictory examples available online. I already see several "violations" of other query "rules" I've read in that example. (Although I see they have a failsafe for one of them below it, but that isn't as useful as it looks.) Yet that link holds that letter up as strong, and who knows, maybe it is. Queries are fickle little things. Nobody seems to find one that's all-pleasing. So many viewpoints, so little time.
     
  11. cobaltblue
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    cobaltblue Member

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    There are a number of resources online which provide sample (and sometimes actual) query letters. (Agent and author blogs)
    I've been studying them with a magnifying glass desperately searching for the definitive answer to 'What is the perfect query letter?' for weeks and I have come to the conclusion that there are a few basic rules which must be followed but that each agent has their own take on what they like best.

    Check the agent's submission guidelines and follow them.

    I am having a hard time writing the query letter for my recently completed manuscript. I keep second guessing myself and starting over. Is it fair to have someone read and critique your query letter prior to submission to an agent? I mean, this letter will be the first thing that an agent has to judge me as a writer... if I get outside help, doesn't that change everything?

    The summary is a hard thing for me too, I don't want to give away the twist at the beginning of my story!

    Blue
     
  12. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    ...of course it is!... why wouldn't it be?...

    ...what would it change?... most new writers, no matter how well they may write their book, can't turn out a good query letter... they're not even apples and oranges, more like apples and alligators!... so getting help only makes sense, if you know you can't write an effective query on your own, since if it's not, the agents won't ever get to read your stellar prose, will they?...

    ...i'm constantly helping those i mentor with their queries, as well as many who come to me just for that... feel free to email me for same, if you want...

    ...as far as 'giving away the twist' goes, you're not trying to entice a reader to buy the book, you're trying to get an agent to represent it!... and if you don't include the ending, how the heck are agents going to know if they think the ms is worth taking a look at?... if it has what they think is a really clever ending, that can only help, not hurt...
     
  13. cobaltblue
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    The twist is at the end of the first chapter, which is often included in the query letter because the agents are asking for the first chapter or first however many pages. What I meant was, I didn't want to summarize the whole story and include that twist in the summary because the agent was about to read the first chapter and see the twist there.

    Well, it would change the style of the letter would it not? I was meaning, if an agent reads a query letter from an author are they not judging that author by the writing style, grammar and word choice in the letter? If you don't write your own query letter then it's not a representation of your ability to write. I have seen numerous sample query letters on agent blogs etc, where the agent points out what they liked and didn't like about the query letter and one of the things that stood out was the agent commenting on the author's voice being present in the letter, so they knew what the voice would be like in the actual book.

    Having said that, I love the rest of your response
    :D Having enjoyed writing my book so much, I was feeling very disappointed with myself for struggling so much with the query letter, this made me feel better.

    Thanks for all the replies, it's all appreciated.
    Blue
     
  14. The-Joker
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    The-Joker Contributing Member Contributor

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    I would very much like to see an example of a successful query which included the ending as well. I've read many queries on the internet. None have included the ending.

    Also the purpose for a query is not to show you have a well balanced story with a worthy conclusion. Trying to showcase that in a single paragraph is almost impossible. It's simply to present your concept and your style of writing. The agent wants to know if your premise and main character are interesting enough and if your writing is good enough to be marketable. Burdening a query with the end of your plot serves no purpose to me. Once the agent's interest is piqued she will ask for the synopsis which is usually a page or two, and then she'll decide whether your plot and the end is worth delving into.
     
  15. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    getting 'help' with your query is not the same thing as having someone else write it... i've helped many of my mentees with their queries and have never once written it for them... just guided them into writing it better... the results are always in each writer's own 'voice' and not mine...

    joker...
    agents need to decide on the strength of the query whether it's worth their time to request/read sample chapters or the entire ms, so if they don't know how the novel ends, they could be wasting valuable time/energy on something that's rendered totally unmarketable by a schlocky, or deus ex machina finish... as a professional editor, when i'm asked to take on a piece of fiction, i always insist on seeing a summary first, that includes the ending, so i can decide if it's something i want to work on, or not... and agents don't have any more time to waste than i do...

    while some agents may like to be teased, i seriously doubt the best/most busy ones would prefer that...
     
  16. Show
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    The-Joker's post seems to go more with all the query advice I've seen on the internet and in successful query letter examples. (By actual agents too. ;) ) It makes more sense too. I am sure both sides can argue on all day and likely find agents to agree with them about what should go IN the query letter itself. (As opposed to the slightly longer synopsis sometimes sent with the query or asked for later) Again, like The-Joker asked, how about we see some successful examples of query letters w/ spoiled endings to give a counter-view to all of the examples of what you should do that do not include it? If this is the right way to do it, surely there are examples that can be provided. :) After all, an example of it done right is more helpful than just another "agents always want this" statements that enjoy contradicting each other all around the net.

    Of course, I am beginning to think there's a lot of term confusion going on, and we probably all agree more than we think. ;)
     
  17. PatrickTurley
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    PatrickTurley New Member

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    Focus on the audience and market! Write your content like its an answering questions to why your book will be a success. Example: When mentioning comparable titles, talk about why yours is the superior product. When mentioning your audience, talk about why they'll specifically want your book. When talking about what qualifies you, talk about the platform you have to promote the book.

    Etc :)
     
  18. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    none of that really belongs in a query letter for a novel... it's standard advice for writing a non-fiction proposal, though...
     
  19. bsbvermont
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    Cobalt Blue...Not only is it fair to have someone else read it, but it's also a really good practice. Nicholas Sparks on his website talks about his query process and I wish I had read that before penning off several queries. Most agents won't look at a second go on a query (where as they might take a look at a second go on your manuscript) so your query is darned important. REALLY spend time on the query and check it, have someone else (or many people) check it and then check it again. I foolishly realized after querying some of my most desired agents, that I had used incorrect punctuation and left a word hanging despite reading it over more than a dozen times. You don't always see what others will see because you are so familiar with it.

    As another aside, a friend of mine who is a published writer suggested I "spice up" my query letter and those rejections flew back into my box. I "unspiced" my query and at least now I have had a partial request and have received very few rejections (although everyone could be on summer break).
     
  20. cabbage
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    Isn’t it obvious what is requested? Everybody asks for consideration of a manuscript for publication.
     
  21. cabbage
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    The best definition I’ve encountered of what a query letter basically is was given by an American agent, I can’t remember his name. He simply said that it is a business plan. When you see it like that, everything suddenly makes sense. After all, what the author of a query asks is somebody to finance his project. This someone has to be convinced that it’s worth it. He will not do it out of respect, because he likes the book, or whatever. Every query letter is addressed to a professional, in other words to a man or a woman that looks for ways to support him or herself through agenting or publishing. So, a query letter should give a very clear idea of what the product is. If quoting comparable titles helps, why not quote them?
     
  22. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    it's standard format... and what agents expect... most will also expect you to give some believable reason why you are querying that particular agent, so they'll know it's not a generic query being mass-mailed to every agent in the book... the reason being that there has to be some personal connection, or they won't be able to do what you need done...

    because some [probably most] agents want to make their own comparisons based on your summary, not have you bragging about your book by comparing it to some bestsellers,...

    if an agent's submission guidelines say to include comparables, then of course you need to do so... if not, it's best to avoid doing so... in all cases, always go by each one's guidelines, regardless of what the 'standard' may be...
     
  23. cabbage
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    Thank you mammamia.

    By ‘Isn’t it obvious what is requested? Everybody asks for consideration of a manuscript for publication.’ I did not mean this. Yes, a letter should be addressed to a specific agent for a specific reason, that’s what the first paragraph is all about according to the gurus I’ve read. What I meant was that perhaps there’s no need to say ‘I’m looking for an agent’. It seems to me that such a sentence serves no purpose. Am I right?
     
  24. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    of course that's a given... but it's only practical common sense to mention that you are seeking representation for your book, when explaining why each agent was chosen to query... every business letter starts out with a reason why it's being sent and a query is a business letter...
     
  25. cabbage
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    Thank you mammamaia.
     
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