April 24th, 2006

books

query letter services

Okay, I just got yet another one of these generic email queries. I'm joining the ranks of my compadres like Kristin Nelson, Dan Lazar, and Miss Snark and registering as officially against them. Kristin passed on an email from Dan the other day on her blog about these. Today, Miss Snark posted yet another comment (this isn't the first time she's mentioned it), and she included a generic outline for queries that is far better than what I am seeing in my inbox. (Note here that I have stated before that I prefer to receive queries by snailmail -- call me old-fashioned -- but some people just send you things anyway. I also prefer not to receive unsolicited full manuscripts, but occasionally someone will send me one regardless. For the record, I don't read them because I think such behavior is highly impolite, both to me and to all the other writers sending in their queries and waiting patiently for materials to be requested.)

I find the casual opening of these emails (as if the query writer and I are old friends) wearying. To some extent, a query represents a written version of the cold-call. I have this product -- are you interested in taking a look? The service writing these letters is not known to me. I'm not friends with anyone who works there. They haven't bought me a drink (gin for Miss Snark; single malt for me). We haven't chatted about what kinds of books I'm reading. In fact, they are in the exact same position as a writer from East Americana City, Your State, sending me their own query. Among other things, I think this means these letters should be written in a professional fashion. If one hasn't been invited to treat me as a casual aquaintance, one shouldn't take it upon themselves to employ said liberties. Of course, I've been saying all along that one of the reasons I find e-queries less appealing is that by and large they are sloppier and the email culture encourages people to act familiarly when they haven't any foundation on which to base such a relationship. My favorite part of these letters is always the ending when they ask about whether they should send it e-copy or hardcopy, and often include an address that they anticipate sending it to. In our case, they keep using the office's old snailmail address -- we moved last October.

Which brings me to another point -- these people aren't doing the writers any favors. They are obviously not doing their research or acquainted with our agency (or they would have used the correct address at the very least). They aren't even reading our guidelines or they'd know that we don't take submissions by email. Blanket submissions only show a lack of attention to detail and severe laziness concerning the approach to the business. These are not qualities one wants in a client (just in case you weren't sure). More to the point -- what good does a generic query letter do anyone? Oh yeah, I know that editors and agents have been heard to say that they all start to seem very much the same after you read the first hundred or so of the year, but it's not really true. It's just that one begins to notice that some stand out more than others.

The query letter is the writer's introduction to the editor or agent. It's their first impression. And in some cases it might be their only shot to snag the interest of their target. So, why leave that up to someone else? Particularly after you've spent who-knows-how-long writing the magnus opum in the first place. I want to hear from the author. Not from their wife (and, yes, I've gotten queries written by the spouse on behalf of the writer -- what, you could write an entire book, but not a one-page letter?). Nor their secretary (yeah, that happened too - from a lawyer's office, if I recall correctly). And most definitely not from a third-party whom they've hired to write the letters. The author's thoughts, the author's enthusiasm, and the author's quality of writing (yes, you can too tell such things from a query) are important in determining whether that story will be the one you ask for out of the hundred or more queries you read that week. The odds are long. The road is hard. Don't shoot yourself in the foot right from the start.
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    frustrated frustrated