Monday, November 26, 2012

Agency Lessons

The agency I intern for closed for queries this week until the new year (pending the end of the world in December). As anticipated, we were flooded with queries this week. The downside of this is that I have a lot of work to do. The upside is that reading that many queries in a short amount of time leads to the awareness of several trends. Here are a few I've noticed lately to help you in your querying efforts.

Query Tips

1. Don't forget the hook.
I've seen tons of queries lately that focus on the premise or the characters only. And while this is interesting, it doesn't really tell me what the story is about. So the woman who was raised by her aunt has just discovered the mother she thought was dead is still alive. Great. This is the premise. Now what? What is the central conflict of the story? Maybe the main character needs to track down her mother to see if she knows the cause of the strange dreams she's been having. Maybe the mother wants to reconcile and the daughter has to figure out how she feels about this. A description of your characters and their world is not enough. Your query, just like your novel, needs good conflict.

2. Don't trash other stuff.
This should go without saying, but apparently it doesn't. Don't talk bad about types of stories, genres, character tropes or anything else in the world of books. This doesn't just mean outright meanness. Lately, I've seen lots of queries that go out of their way to lay out all the things the novel being queried doesn't have. Things like, "this novel doesn't include vampires, werewolves, faeries or any other more common creatures." On the surface, this doesn't sound negative. But what if the agent you are querying loves faeries? What if they are writing their own fairy novel? You've just completely alienated them and probably turned them off from your story. As a rule, don't talk about the elements of a story that aren't in your novel.

3. Know your genre.
Here's a safe rule of thumb: if you can't find the genre on Amazon, don't put it in your query. YA is not a genre; it's a category. Your YA could be a mystery, a fantasy, a contemporary romance. Anything. Don't make agents guess. Don't assume your query makes the genre clear in the description. Spell out your genre and make sure it's a real one.

4. You're not first; You're not unique.
Yes, your story is the only one just like it. Or, at least, it better be. But it is not the first book of it's kind or the only book on the market to (fill in the blank). It's not. No, I promise. It's not. Saying that it is only makes you look conceited or at the minimum as if you don't read enough.

5. You're in a critique group. Bully for you.
Agents are going to assume you belong to a critique group of some kind. Please don't send a query before at least one other pair of eyes has seen your manuscript. Please don't include a list of all the good folks who think your book is amazing. This is not impressive and makes you look like an amateur. Now, if you have great feedback from a professional (an acquisitions editor or a well-published author) please include this. 

6. Words matter.
I've been most surprised by a recent wave of writers who mention their book is 'recently completed' or 'lightly edited'. This is not good. When I see this I immediately think you've said 'I just finished writing the first draft and after running a quick spell check I've sent this query to you'. If this is what recently completed and lightly edited mean, don't query. You're not ready yet. Be aware that with so few words in a query, each one has meaning. Make sure your words really say what you want them to.

Do you have any great query tips? Feel free to share in the comments. Next week, I'll be sharing things I've picked up in the sample pages.

6 comments:

  1. I didn't know it's good to include great feedback from an industry professional. I actually have that, but didn't include it!

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    Replies
    1. Of course, each agency is different but I've seen so-so queries get extra attention because the author mentioned specific feedback from an editor.

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  2. Writing a query is hard. These are great tips. #2 surprised me. It seems like common sense, but apparently enough people have made this mistake to warrant a place on the list.

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    Replies
    1. You'd think so, but sadly it happens more than you think. Most people aren't blatantly rude, but obviously have no idea that their comment is derogatory toward certain genres.

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