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Have query letters changed?

Posted: July 18th, 2011, 6:59 pm
by markimedes
Hi folks. Hopefully the title has done its job and garnered interest.

To be as blunt as I can be... I'm confused. As we all know, query letters are hard work and it takes time to get anyway near anything approaching good. Knowing this, I threw myself into researching how to write a query letter, and after some time I got to the point where I posted my creation here, in the "Queries" forum.

It took no time at all to learn that my golden letter wasn't even gold-plated, and many people gave me similar feedback. As such, I went away and came back with something completely different, and which attracted a far more positive response.

The thing is this. My first posting adhered to the "rules" that seemed to be most common from all of my research. The basics being that the query letter should be 3 paragraphs long; one should be a synopsis of the book, a second should be about the book (such as word count, genre, target audience, etc.), and the last should be a bit about you as the author. This format was by far the most common I found on my journey through the many electronic mounds of data there is available on the subject.

But following this format led me to create what I now assume to be a terrible letter. My replacement, my "improvement", follows none of these rules. Instead, it is (as one friend pointed out) more like a one-page synopsis with a word count and genre stuck on the end. But the feedback was much better.

So I return now to my title question; has the query letter changed? Is the old 3 paragraph format (as I detailed above) now a thing of the past, and replaced with this new hybrid of Q-letter and synopsis? If so, for the agents who require both a query letter and a 1-page synopsis, will I not be sending said agent two versions of the same thing?

Your thoughts and opinions would be so very welcome to try and un-muddle my muddle.

P.S. I'm in the UK, could the differences be purely based on country?

Re: Have query letters changed?

Posted: July 18th, 2011, 9:57 pm
by Kreann

I'm very curious to see the responses on this too. I have been admittedly "lurking", trying to absorb the advice of this forum for several months now. I haven't posted much, because I'm trying to learn before I attempt to start doling out any advice of my own. But I did the same as you: researched, put together the 3-piece query, and got a lot of feedback about how it was lacking. I didn't take any of it personally, and I certainly appreciated all the feedback I received, but like you the responses I got left me a bit confused. I would really like to start sending letters out, and the "rogue newbie" in me wants to send a few of each format, to see which the agents truly prefer. But I hate to waste any query letter opportunities because I somehow "didn't get the memo" on the query letter evolution. I am curious to see the responses to this subject...

And by the way, best of luck with your letter. ;)

Re: Have query letters changed?

Posted: July 18th, 2011, 11:50 pm
by Collectonian
From my readings here, at Query Shark, Evil Editor, agent chat sessions etc etc, I'm inclined to say mostly yes. Today what I see heavily emphasized is a query that is basically a salutation (personalized always), then straight into a 250 or so word "pitch", followed by a single paragraph with title, word count, and any noteworthy bio/credits. The reasoning consistently given is agents are busy and have a lot of queries to go through, so your query needs to get straight into the story and try to catch their attention.

I say mostly, however, because I think the three paragraph structure might still used if you are directly querying publishers, as it sounds similar to what many agents say they write when they do such queries on your behalf :-)

Re: Have query letters changed?

Posted: July 19th, 2011, 5:39 pm
by markimedes
Collectonian wrote:I'm inclined to say mostly yes.
See, now that's what I like, a mostly straightforward answer :-)

It does sound logical that given the time agents don't have, that these synopsis-queries are more popular.

A good bit of query advice I was given here (for a synopsis-query) was to make it clear in the synopsis part what kind of book it is and who is most likely to read it, making the need to be specific with genre and target audience redundant in that last little paragraph. Effectively killing two birds with one stone, and that kinda makes sense; same info in less words (and hopefully more artful words at that).

Re: Have query letters changed?

Posted: July 19th, 2011, 6:30 pm
by Margo
Yes, they have changed. When I was querying years ago, the rules were completely different. The query that got me an agent back then would never get me one now.

I suggest finding some agents you'd like to work with and seeing if they have a blog where they share their preferred format.