The Art of the Query
If you’re trying to sell a book to a publisher, or an article to a magazine, you’re familiar with The Art of the Query Letter. Many of you have asked me to write more about query letters, be more specific about what “a good one” looks like, maybe give examples of query letters that got the job done. In fact, there are several agents who’ve already done this very well on their blogs, and quite a few websites that cover query letters in detail.
I’ve bucked the tide and resisted going into too much detail on query letters, because I view them slightly differently than some of my colleagues in the business. Yes, they’re important, and yes, they’re the first sample of your writing I get to read, so they can make the difference between whether I want to see more—or not. But here’s the problem: a query letter is only an accurate indication of the writer’s ability about, maybe, 50% of the time. Some people will spend a ridiculous amount of time crafting the perfect query letter for a book I’d never represent. Others are clueless about queries but may have a book I’d kill for. So it doesn’t make sense to me to put too much time into telling you how to write that initial query.
I’m more interested in seeing what you come up with on your own. I have pretty specific guidelines on the blog and the website: basically, I want something about the book, something about you the author, and the first 10 pages of the manuscript. As long as you include those elements, I have enough to make a decision, either “no” or “I want to see more.” (You can also go to the sidebar to the right under “Find Posts on This Blog” and click “Query Letters” to find everything I’ve written about them.)
Now, it’s hard to write a synopsis of your book in a couple hundred words, so eventually I’ll be giving you more helpful hints on how to do that. But as for the query, I just don’t see the point in giving too much direction. This is your deal, it’s your shot at impressing me, and so I want it to be yours. Truthfully, I’ve taken on clients based on terrific queries, average queries, or no query at all.
I think it used to be true that a query letter would be a pretty good respresentation of the writer’s ability. But in a strange twist, I’ve noticed that some writers are getting way too good at crafting query letters, when the actual writing in their manuscript is nowhere near ready for prime time. I think the inordinate focus on The Art of the Query is responsible for this. So again, it doesn’t make sense to me to stress the query more than the manuscript itself.
Talk to me about queries. Are you confident when writing them? Do you hate them? Do you have specific questions about them?
Rachelle Gardner is a Christian literary agent affiliated with WordServe Literary Group in Colorado.