Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Query Hell

I must have amnesia, because I don't remember how much pain it was to write a query letter. OK, I remember, but I guess time does heal most wounds, and now I'm opening a new vein. Beware of the puddle.

And the information you get from online sources and books is no help either. They're contradictory. On one hand, they say "you must be specific" and then they show you the successful query of a bestseller such as The Kite Runner, and it is anything but specific. They say "don't name the characters" and then show us letters that have names all over it.

And get this, they're ADAMANT about sticking to the three paragraphs, 12pt font, one page format. Fine. But then they proceed to show you examples of successful queries that include six or seven paragraphs that DETAIL every plot twist. As if I'm going to believe that's going to fit into a single page in a 12pt font.

I have to remind myself that writing a query is not an art form, but a business practice. The point is simple: make the agent ask for more within a minute or less. The concept is simple and straightforward, but in practice it's extremely difficult to do. Most of us, especially creative writers, are not salespeople and we're not trained to sell something with 150 words. We write long-form fiction for a reason. We're artists, not ad copy writers. Unfortunately, it's a necessary evil and we only hope we can write a decent enough letter that makes the agent think, "Hmmm, it sounds interesting."

Still, with all the conflicting information out there, and "successful" queries that range from vague to highly detailed, I must scratch my head and utter, WTF? How do you do something when there's absolutely no rule, when anything goes as long as "it works"?

If it's not difficult, it's not worthwhile, right?

1 comment:

Joe Iriarte said...

The absolute best advice I've seen on query letters is on agent Kristin Nelson's blog, pubrants.blogspot.com. Look on the right side, about halfway down, for a series of links on query letters 101 or some such. I found that it helped make writing my query far less dreadful than it seems to be for other people.