Happy Agent Monday, gang. I know I know. I’ve been noticeably absent for a week or so. Why? Well it could have something to do with traveling to a conference in NYC, followed the next day with teaching a special class, followed the next day with travel, day of catching up, three more days of travel, oh, and teaching another class. And all this time I’ve been reading requested full manuscripts while in a train or bus, tending to my clients, doing deep edits on a manuscript, and, above all, my inbox has been filling up with queries like cwazy! During the class I taught yesterday, I was sharing with folks info about querying and pitching, and how a query is not a hard sell, it’s an invitation to read more. So, today I’d like to talk about how it’s not only an invitation, it’s an invite for the busy.
Do it wrong and a busy person ain’t showing up, do it right and quick and make your book feel like “the place to be,” and even the most harried agent will pop in for a quick visit, perhaps even staying to the end of your manuscript. Look, everyone’s busy, right? Ever since I’ve become an agent, though, I’ve become beyond busy. Even when I’m sleeping, I’m dreaming up pitches for my client’s manuscripts, when I’m making dinner, I’m stewing over editors to submit to, when I’m on the phone in the evening with my mom, I’m writing up a to-do list for the morning (sorry, Mom), and at 6 a.m. I’m doing stuff like this column (with my jammies on and my first coffee of the day in my hand). And during the work day? Zowie, that’s when things get busy! Check out my typical day in this post.
So my point is that I am juggling things and trying to use my time very wisely. You, on the other hand, are trying to tempt me into reading your full query, and your sample pages, and especially your full manuscript (which will most likely take several hours to get through). Hm.
Here’s something to think about, then: Is your query a tantalizing invite to a smokin’ once in a lifetime happening that I’d be a fool to miss? Or even a delightful gathering of comforting and heartwarming characters that will become like a second home to me? Ooooo!
Or, as with most queries I see, does it feel more like I’m being asked to Uncle Wilbur’s house to eat stale pigs in a blanket and watch (yet again), his dreadfully dull slide presentation of his day at the supermarket? No thanks!
I, and many of my colleagues, look at queries in quick bursts. What’s it about? Is it something I care about? Is there something special about the writing, story, author? No? I’m outta there. Yes? I’ll give it another tiny bit of time to dip into the starting pages pasted below the query. Do those pages build on what’s in the query and pull me in? No? Then I’m not sticking around for the next course. Yes? Then I’m getting comfortable and eager to meet folks at the party and hang out all night if I can…okay, you know what I mean. I’ll want to see the rest of your book pronto!
What’s that mean to you, the writer? It means address your “party invite” correctly: put QUERY right in your email message line, along with your title and genre. It means you lead with your best quality in your query, so when I open that query and my eyes dash over the starting lines, I won’t glaze over. Are you an award-winning author with well-known books? Then why the heck would you put that at the bottom of your query? Is your book’s strongest quality a highly marketable hook? Then give me a one-line description of the book that includes it right at the top. Don’t make me read several paragraphs till I find that. Is your voice exceptionally strong? Then perhaps a line from the book in italics should start off your query.
Think of your query as an invitation. What’s the reason to attend your party and stick around? Lead with that and it’ll be as if you’re saying “open bar!” (or, in my case, “unlimited dark chocolate”). And even the busiest of us agents will show.
(By the way, pleeeeease don’t start sending me chocolates!)
*Marie is an Associate Agent at the Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in New York City. To keep up with all her posts, subscribe to her site by clicking on the “Subscribe to Marie’s site here” link located on her page on the upper left margin.