Bad Query or Bad Story - How to Tell?

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commando8
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Bad Query or Bad Story - How to Tell?

Post by commando8 » February 13th, 2010, 10:19 pm

I've queried around a dozen agents over the past year with four different query versions. So far, I've gotten nothing but standard rejections (join the club, right?), and lately, I've been wondering if I'm being rejected simply on the basis of my story. On that note, I thought it might be a good idea to pose the bad query/bad story question here for others to give their comments. How do you tell? Can you? Can a superb query get requests for partials/fulls even if the story content seems dull, not original, not interesting, etc. to the agent?

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Holly
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Re: Bad Query or Bad Story - How to Tell?

Post by Holly » February 13th, 2010, 10:56 pm

commando8 wrote:I've queried around a dozen agents over the past year with four different query versions. So far, I've gotten nothing but standard rejections (join the club, right?), and lately, I've been wondering if I'm being rejected simply on the basis of my story. On that note, I thought it might be a good idea to pose the bad query/bad story question here for others to give their comments. How do you tell? Can you? Can a superb query get requests for partials/fulls even if the story content seems dull, not original, not interesting, etc. to the agent?
It could be anything. And a dozen agents is not that many. Thousands of people are competing with you.

Have you asked/begged/bribed/forced/paid other people to read your manuscript and your query letter? If yes, what kind of readers? Friends and family, or professional writers? What did they say? Do you know an editor who can look at the letter and manuscript? Plus (I am adding this), you can post your query and some of the manuscript on critique websites.

I have a friend who is a great believer in contests. She won first place in a national writing contest and got her agent and her first book that way. It's something to consider.

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Holly
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Re: Bad Query or Bad Story - How to Tell?

Post by Holly » February 15th, 2010, 1:37 am

commando8 wrote:I've queried around a dozen agents over the past year with four different query versions. So far, I've gotten nothing but standard rejections (join the club, right?), and lately, I've been wondering if I'm being rejected simply on the basis of my story. On that note, I thought it might be a good idea to pose the bad query/bad story question here for others to give their comments. How do you tell? Can you? Can a superb query get requests for partials/fulls even if the story content seems dull, not original, not interesting, etc. to the agent?
One more comment. What do you write? If you write science fiction, fantasy, or horror, the Science Fiction/Fantasy Online Writing Workshop is a great review site. There is a $49 yearly fee, plus a one month free trial membership, plus the site is password protected. You can post excerpts up to 7,500 words (for each post). The site gives you 1 or 2 points for each review you make, and when you have 4 points you can post your own work. You receive 4 points when you join, so you can start off posting an excerpt.

http://sff.onlinewritingworkshop.com/

commando8
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Re: Bad Query or Bad Story - How to Tell?

Post by commando8 » February 16th, 2010, 4:05 pm

Thanks for the response, Holly!

I've done a few of those things, but not all, especially on the query side. Without going into too much detail, all "enthusiasts" that have read it liked the story, but one felt the query didn't live up to the book itself. The book itself is clean high fantasy, which doesn't seem to be what the already-small fantasy market is going for these days...

I do write both SF and F, so thanks for the advice.

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danielsmi
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Re: Bad Query or Bad Story - How to Tell?

Post by danielsmi » February 16th, 2010, 4:28 pm

That is an excellent question, and one that has been so forward in my mind that I my new project is genre rather than mainstream. With the rejections and competition I can not help but think that story ideas need to look like the next media blockbuster so that prospective agents can see the possibility of movies and merchandizing. In theory, if all of the agents are giving you the benefit of the doubt that you are an amazing writer, at least in craft, my conclusion is that they do not see dollar signs in the query letter. It does not mean it is a bad story, just not a blockbuster. In retrospect, that would have been a good consideration before I spent (like so many others) hundreds of hours on the novel I am currently querying.

bcomet
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Re: Bad Query or Bad Story - How to Tell?

Post by bcomet » February 16th, 2010, 5:08 pm

commando8 wrote:I've queried around a dozen agents over the past year with four different query versions. So far, I've gotten nothing but standard rejections (join the club, right?), and lately, I've been wondering if I'm being rejected simply on the basis of my story. On that note, I thought it might be a good idea to pose the bad query/bad story question here for others to give their comments. How do you tell? Can you? Can a superb query get requests for partials/fulls even if the story content seems dull, not original, not interesting, etc. to the agent?

I think your question is very important –and a confusing question that many writers end up grappling with.

From much of the feedback I have heard from very experienced writers, the query letter is key to getting an agent and it is just plain HARD work writing one that really represents the voice and story of something as complex as a novel.
Where one may not be an indication of the other, it appears, they need to work together; one must support the other.

There is a lot of room in a novel to give life to its characters and to its plot and subplots, to express your uniqueness and your voice.
Summarizing something as complex as a novel in a one page query letter is challenging and frustrating.

I have been reading and studying query letters for two years now and I am still mystified. On the one hand, if it is too brief, the novel is portrayed flat. If it is too wordy or complex, it may appear to reflect an unorganized novel.

I think it is helpful and essential for a lot of writers to share their work and their query letters with other dedicated writers in a critique group that is supportive and keeps its eye on getting the best work forward for all its members. It's just hard to know how well you've communicated, or told your story, or sold your novel in a query letter until you have some feedback. But make sure it's the right feedback.

cjtrapp
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Re: Bad Query or Bad Story - How to Tell?

Post by cjtrapp » February 16th, 2010, 5:45 pm

High fantasy narrows your list of willing agents, which definately makes your job harder. So many say from the beginning, "no fantasy". Genre-specific contests and forumns would be a good place to focus in order to set yourself apart. The problem with fantasy is that, on the surface, much of it sounds the same.

Perhaps your query doesn't highlight what's unique about your story well enough. Without seeing the query or the story, it's tough to tell.

So lay it out here for all of us to see! We've all taken the plunge and bared it all. Show, don't tell!

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