Query confusion (again)

Submission protocol, query etiquette, and strategies that work
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Terry Towery
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Query confusion (again)

Post by Terry Towery » January 8th, 2010, 11:12 am

Color me confused. I wrote my query letter a few weeks ago and posted it on a very well-known writing group's website for critique. It got ripped, although they loved the idea and want to read the book. So I went back and again read everything I could find on agents' blogs (including Nathan's) and every writing site I could find on successful queries. I re-wrote it and posted it again on the critique website.

The reception is much better this time around, but I'm getting consistent criticism on two points that I honestly don't understand: I'm told I need to tell how the novel is resolved (or at least fully explain the mystery that's the heart of the story) and I have to avoid any personal remarks to agents at all costs (too syrupy, I'm told).

One other weird thing: The first query I posted was 340 words and I was told it was way too long. The current one is 280 words, and I'm told it's too "concise."

It's always been my understanding that we don't need to tell a prospective agent the ending of a book in a query, that the hook should merely entice the agent to want to read the manuscript. And I know that Nathan likes a personal touch in his queries, as do quite a few other agents (even Janet Reid admits she likes to be stroked in queries). I mean, if everyone who reads the query tells me they can't wait to read the book, isn't that a sign of a decent query?

So my question is this: How do you guys know when suggestions and/or critiques are good? When do you taket them? I hate to ignore any criticism, since I want the query to totally rock, but all of this contradicting advice is driving me nuts!

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Holly
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Re: Query confusion (again)

Post by Holly » January 8th, 2010, 11:46 am

Terry Towery wrote:Color me confused. I wrote my query letter a few weeks ago and posted it on a very well-known writing group's website for critique. It got ripped, although they loved the idea and want to read the book. So I went back and again read everything I could find on agents' blogs (including Nathan's) and every writing site I could find on successful queries. I re-wrote it and posted it again on the critique website.

The reception is much better this time around, but I'm getting consistent criticism on two points that I honestly don't understand: I'm told I need to tell how the novel is resolved (or at least fully explain the mystery that's the heart of the story) and I have to avoid any personal remarks to agents at all costs (too syrupy, I'm told).

One other weird thing: The first query I posted was 340 words and I was told it was way too long. The current one is 280 words, and I'm told it's too "concise."

It's always been my understanding that we don't need to tell a prospective agent the ending of a book in a query, that the hook should merely entice the agent to want to read the manuscript. And I know that Nathan likes a personal touch in his queries, as do quite a few other agents (even Janet Reid admits she likes to be stroked in queries). I mean, if everyone who reads the query tells me they can't wait to read the book, isn't that a sign of a decent query?

So my question is this: How do you guys know when suggestions and/or critiques are good? When do you taket them? I hate to ignore any criticism, since I want the query to totally rock, but all of this contradicting advice is driving me nuts!
I'm no expert, so take that into account.

It helps me to look at successful query letters. Nathan has posted several good ones on this site. The letters tend to strike a nice balance between details and summary.

As long as it fits on one page, you should be okay. That includes room for the contact info and signature.

I'm 99 percent finished with my novel, and like you, posted a query letter on a well-known critique site. They trashed my letter, too. I weighed all the criticism, whether I agreed with it or not, and created a much stronger letter. My novel (sci-fi/fantasy) has a unique storyline. Initially I left the unique surprise out of the query letter, but the person who ran the website told me it was a selling point, and above all else I should put it in the letter.

In the end, other than keeping to one page and giving the basics (title, genre, plot summary, word count, bio, etc.) I don't think there are any rules. When it works, it works.

Hope this helps. Good luck.

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Dankrubis
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Re: Query confusion (again)

Post by Dankrubis » January 8th, 2010, 11:50 am

To make sure I didn't bash my head in back in my creative writing classes in college, I came up with a couple rules. If you get one criticism about something, go ahead and ignore it, unless you agree with it.

If you get a criticism about something and it comes from two or more people, then you need to take it very seriously, cause there's a 99% chance that something's wrong, no matter how much you disagree.

As for what agents like to see in queries, are you really thinking of listening to the guys that think they know what agents want, rather than the agents themselves? Sounds like you need to drop some links over at that well-known writing group's website.

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Re: Query confusion (again)

Post by hartjohnson » January 8th, 2010, 12:05 pm

I'm no expert either, but I've read a number of agent blogs and think you DON'T want the ending in there--in the synopsis if they ask for one, yes, in the query letter, no--the query is to give enough that they want to read more.

And I completely agree with Dan--one critique is only an opinion and if you disagree, follow your gut. More than one, and you might need to rethink. (Careful of group think though, in a discussion, as someone may not have THOUGHT something until they saw someone else think it--so two provided separately have a lot more weight that ONLY two in a public setting).

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Bryan Russell/Ink
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Re: Query confusion (again)

Post by Bryan Russell/Ink » January 8th, 2010, 12:55 pm

Well, Nathan's delineated the query sweet spot as (typically) being between 250 and 350 words. So both of yours should be in the right area. 280 sounds pretty good if it gets the story across well. Mine usually head a little closer to 350. If they're under 350 I'd worry more about the writing itself... if people think it feels too long there might be extra words, redundant bits, etc. If too concise, maybe a bit of the voice and detail has been lost. Of course they simply might be wrong. :) And there's no real way to know that except to evaluate their critiques. What do you think works better? Is the query stronger doing this or this?

As for the ending... my thoughts on the story part of a query is that they are just that: a story. I try to think of it in just that way. Hook, character, conflict, rising action, climax. Now, since it's a query I'm not sure you have to show the climax completely, but I think it helps to at least hint at it, to give the agent the idea that, yes, this story does function properly and there will be a satisfying conclusion. I like to think of the query having its own little narrative arc, sort of the novel in miniature. And, it should also be said, don't worry about holding anything back. If you have a fantastically interesting ending don't be afraid to use it. Holding it in reserve won't help if the agents don't request the material. A great ending might be the hook that draws them in.

Hope that stirs a few helpful thoughts,

Bryan
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Terry Towery
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Re: Query confusion (again)

Post by Terry Towery » January 8th, 2010, 12:58 pm

Thanks guys. This helps. You know, I swear the query is harder work than the novel was! I didn't think that was possible.

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Nathan Bransford
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Re: Query confusion (again)

Post by Nathan Bransford » January 8th, 2010, 1:00 pm

Personalization: yes! Don't listen to them. I've never heard of an agent who doesn't appreciate knowing that the author took the time to personalize.

Ending: optional

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Re: Query confusion (again)

Post by saskia » January 8th, 2010, 1:02 pm

Hi Terry,

These are just my thoughts:

- You don’t have to tell the ending but you should kind of hint at what the final turning point or conflict is. So and so has to make this choice, or will this happen or that? That kind of thing.
- Long and short are really subjective perceptions. The query should be one page and no longer but a boring or confusing one page can seem really long and one page that doesn’t tell enough can seem short. I would forget about long and short and focus on does it do the job? Does the query do everything it needs to do and nothing more?
- The conflicting advice thing is an issue that has no clear answer. One thing I think that everyone has to come to terms with as a writer is that you will never get consistency of response to your work, any of your work, MS, query letter, synopsis, etc. Whatever query letter you finally settle on some agents will like it and some will not. When you publish a book you will find an audience that likes and many folks won’t. It’s not like being a plumber where it’s pretty clear if the work you do fixes the problem or not. Finally you have to be the ultimate judge of whatever you put out there and go with it knowing that you can’t please everyone. I think you might want to read some of the success stories on Query Tracker site if you have not already. That will give you some perspective on what people who have landed agents have gone through and how they have dealt with these issues.
- I agree with Dankrubis that is you get the same criticism several times you need to take note of it.

I hope that is a help to you and good luck.

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Ryan
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Re: Query confusion (again)

Post by Ryan » January 8th, 2010, 1:52 pm

I'll second Dan by saying look for the trends. I've gotten feedback on my writing and video where one person LOVES something and the next person wants me to take it out. When you get a few people saying the same thing then take it seriously.

There's so much stuff out there on Queries and proposals! If I had hair I'd pull it out. Nathan's post says one of the most important things is flow. If you think about it, fifty words are just a few sentences so if it flows then the difference between 350 words and 400 isn't really that big a deal. I sent out a couple Queries from an old format(more like a mini-proposal and almost 1000 words) back in November and was asked for a proposal(a true miracle) so go figure. We can drive ourselves crazy with formatting and lose the what matters most--the goods!

Also remember to let 'er rest and come back to it. I find that amazing things happen in that negative time when I'm not sitting in front of the screen.

Best of luck man!

Ryan
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Re: Query confusion (again)

Post by Yoshima » January 8th, 2010, 2:38 pm

Two (or three, technically) cents:

I definitely disagree that you need to give away the ending (especially in a mystery!!). I would be turned off as a reader by that, because then what reason do I have to read your book?

I think that maybe the reason they were critiquing your personal thing was...well, maybe the one you had really was too syrupy. Make it more professional and see if you get a different response.

As for the word count thing, here's what I think happened: your longer one explained a specific point better than your shorter one. So to them, who have read the longer one, it feels too concise because they know what's going on in more detail and when the detail is not there, they feel like something's missing. I say just take the advice that you feel best fits your query.

Best of luck to you!

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