April 10th, 2009


letters from the query wars

# of queries read this week: 216
# of partials/manuscripts requested: 0
genre of partials/manuscripts requested: N/A

Dear Authors:

Let me be really, really, really, exceptionally blunt: Many of the queries I receive are either (1) entirely wrong for me (e.g. despite posting on our website and agentquery.com and the like that I don't represent poetry, I get queries for poetry every week), (2) just aren't well-written enough, or (3) are sent before the author is really ready to begin querying. With respect to the 3rd reason, this is something I think is really tough for a writer, particularly if they don't have a critique group/partner or someone a little more objective than their dearly beloveds to give them feedback.

Over the years, talking to writers at conferences, online, etc., one of the things that I find most inspiring is the flush of the cheek, the gleam in the eye, the tremor of the voice as they excitedly announce they have finished their manuscript. It's a rush. Writing "the end" and knowing that feeling of accomplishment. And I often find myself just amazed at the determination and imagination that must fuel that. Any writer who has come that far deserves to feel proud.

However. (You knew that was coming, right?)

I have noticed more and more in the queries I get that writers are not pausing at that point to assess the next steps carefully. And while it's understandable to want to move forward and share your story with the world, and get caught up in the thrill and the passion, it seems like it's become all too easy to careen out of control with sending queries out before doing research or making sure a writer has the sharpest possible query and pages ready for submission. It seems to me that just about every week I get someone writing to ask if they can substitute a new query for the one they sent just a couple days ago. Or asking to resubmit because they've realized something important that needs to be revised in those opening pages.

Please consider this: There are thousands of writers a year sending out queries. Everyone talks on and on about how long the odds are. Doesn't every writer owe it to themselves to take every advantage that they can get? Remember that while writing can be full of emotion and inspiration that it's counterpart, publication, is a business. After a writer types "the end", it is time to realize that is only the beginning of the next part of the journey. Take some time, even if it feels like pins and needles. So much effort and so much of a writer's self goes into creating the story in the first place. Don't sell it short by not letting its first steps into the world be strong ones.

I do my best to be flexible on this count, but I'm sure mileage must vary from agent to agent. Sometimes I suspect that querying in haste may mean that the writer is wasting that all-important first-impression effect of (1) something I'm desperately looking for (whether I know it or not), (2) that's well-written and carefully proofed and sets a strong hook, and (3) reveals a writer that is ready to go to the next level. Queries like that really can make a person sit up and take notice. I love getting swept away too.