Monday, September 22, 2014

Agency Lessons: Query Services

I'm back open for queries, which means I've gotten a fresh batch of queries that make me cringe and grind my teeth.

And it's not for any of the reasons you might be thinking. This physical reaction has nothing to do with the quality of the work, following guidelines or any other newbie mistakes that are often the downfall of an otherwise okay query.

These queries make me hurt because all I can see are wasted dollar signs. What are they? Queries sent through a service. Cue huge eye roll and face palm.

Let me make myself clear: You do not need or want to hire a service to send queries for you!

End of story. But in case you like a little reasoning to go with your edicts here you go.

1. All the excess
When you use a service they add in all this introductory non-sense that has no business being in a query letter. It's usually a combination of third party praise and barely coherent statements on the market. Not only is this useless (I don't really care what someone else thinks about your book and I have a pretty good handle on the market already), but it slows me down from getting to your query and puts me in a bad mood when I do get to it. That's really not how you want an agent to feel when they read your query.

2. Bad aim
If I had a dollar for every time a service sent me a query for a manuscript in a genre I don't represent, I'd have a nice stack of dollar bills. That's right. The service who promised to handle the leg work of sorting through all the lists of agents to find the ones begging for just your type of story, basically sent out a mass of queries to everyone they have an email address for. Wanna bet they leave out that detail when you're told they sent out hundreds of queries?

3. Opposite outcome
Many services pull in new authors by claiming to add authority to your query. They feed you a line about how having your query sent from a professional "Author Service" will give your query the extra edge to get an agent's attention. Well, they are right in part. It will get my attention, but not in the way you want. I assume two things when I see a query from a service like this.
 1. The author is a complete newbie. Not that there is anything wrong with being new. You have to start somewhere. That said, I would expect someone new to an industry to dive into the readily available information plastered all over the internet where they would quickly learn this is not something they want to do. Using a service like this suggests that the author in question hasn't done any of this leg work, which makes me assume they didn't do other leg work, like work with CPs or beta readers, or check their work for the basic mistakes that catch a lot of new writers. None of that is positive.
 or
2. The author has been around a while and has decided that all of this querying non-sense is too much work. They would rather fork over some cash to someone else to do the grunt work so they can focus on pounding out more of their own brilliance. So what else does this author think a little cash money can fix? If they think money can buy an agent, will they also have unrealistic expectations of my responsibilities (since essentially, they will feel they bought me, which makes me feel all kinds of creepy)? How will they handle the potentially long wait to sell their book? What happens if the first one doesn't sell? Surviving the query trenches is a kind of merit badge that proves you have what it takes to survive the sometimes long hard road toward publication.
 4. Pre-query
The newest irritating trend I'm seeing is the pre-query. A query service sends over an introductory email that only has a line or two about your story and doesn't include your actual query or any of the other needed info such as details on your story, synopsis or pages. They ask the agent if they would like to see a query for the project. So basically, these services are giving agents the opportunity to say no right then and there based off only a sentence or two about your book. Knowing that this happens makes my blood boil (and not in the good way).

5. Authors are not made of money
Querying agents is free. There are a ton of free resources like querytracker.com and agentquery.com where you can look up agents by genre and preferences. You can also visit sites like mswl.com to see some agents' wish lists. Emails are also free. It's all free. Querying is FREE! So paying for a query service is like paying someone to go to the library and check out books for you that they picked out based on a limited knowledge of your reading preferences. I hope this sounds like a bad idea to you. It is.

I realize that querying can take a lot of time. You have to research the agents and figure out what each one wants you to send and then track all of your emails and their responses. It can be a time suck. Truly, I get it. 

But are you willing to take all the time to write a manuscript, get feedback on it, polish it up and then hammer out a stellar query only to cut corners and turn the last stage over to a stranger? You've seen your baby this far, hang in there and hammer out this last stage. You and your manuscript deserve it.

2 comments:

  1. And you can learn a lot of craft writing a query. Before people get up in arms and tell me writing a letter about a book is completely different from writing a book, I teach query classes. I tell students to break their novel down to seven plot points. And this is all that goes into your query. Seven sentences. I tell students to define their character with one word. If they are writing something like historical fiction or fantasy they are not allowed to dedicate a whole sentence to setting. It has to be worked into the plot. And if you can do all of this, you've come a long way. Because this is something most new writers and even some veterans struggle with.

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  2. I didn't even know there were agencies that sent off queries for you. It's interesting that someone would take this route because I enjoy personalizing the letter, providing tidbits unique to the agent and providing a more personalized tone in the writing.

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