I’ve read a lot of queries. When you’ve spent as many years in the query trenches as I have, that’s just what happens. I’ve written probably two dozen drafts of queries for my own manuscripts, and I’ve done my time at sites like Absolute Write and Nathan Bransford’s forums, reading, learning, critiquing. Hosting “An Agent’s Inbox” has also exposed me to mountains of queries, and I can assure you I’ve read every single one of them. (You can thank Gmail and Blogger’s inability to preserve each other’s formatting for that.)
All of this is the roundabout way of saying I’ve had a little time to figure out what works and what doesn’t, and as I read through the “Gearing Up to Get an Agent” entries last
week, one thought kept running through my head:
I don’t think these
entries are as good as some of the other judges seem to think.
Now I only read the entries on my assigned blog (and as you
read on, it’s going to become pretty apparent which blog that was if you
followed the contest), and I really, really, REALLY don’t want to hurt anyone’s
feelings. I only want to point out a few of the overarching problems I noticed
in the hopes that, someday, somewhere, this might help someone make it through the
hair-pulling, teeth-gnashing experience that is writing a query.
queries, perhaps more than any others, have to showcase compelling, unique hooks.
So many of the contemporary entries I read relied too heavily on a
hot-button topic to draw the reader in. If you’re hoping your current, edgy
subject matter will carry your query (“SUICIDE!” “ADDICTION!” “SEXUAL
ORIENTATION!”), you’re probably going to be disappointed. The vast majority of
the contemporary entries in this contest addressed one of these issues, so the
issue in and of itself isn’t a strong enough hook. You need to do something
more with it.
2. Historical queries
must entrench us in their time periods and, at the same time, introduce us to timeless characters and/or problems. Historicals are tough, no doubt about
it. You have around two hundred words to introduce us to a world and character we
won’t immediately relate to, and yet you have to do it in such a way that we’ll
see the parallels to our own lives. Most of the historical queries in this
contest didn’t quite rise to this standard, at least in my opinion. I either
didn’t buy the voice (because I thought it sounded too modern), or I didn’t buy
3. When everything is
said and done, tastes really are subjective. After I finished my first
read-through, I had exactly ten entries on my short list but only felt strongly
about three. I ended up crossing a few of those off and adding a few others,
but one that I kept coming back to was also one that didn’t have the strongest
hook. Still, I had a personal weakness for that type of story, so even though I
knew it had some problems, I voted for it, anyway, and I stand by that vote. An
agent may very well do the same.
Last but not least, I’ll add that there’s no one right way
to write a query--and that there’s certainly no one person who has all of this
figured out. So take this with a grain of salt, and keep plugging away. All the
blog posts in the world won’t teach you what you’ll learn simply by giving it a