Happy Agent Monday, everyone! Sitting here sipping tea with one of my interns who has also seen the bulk of the queries that have come through my inbox over the past year. Since she’s about to move on to bigger and better horizons, we thought this would be a good point to reflect on what is and isn’t a quality query.
First, before anyone jumps to conclusions, I want to add in that I actually personally look at every query that comes in, so… Onward.
In the spirit of the letter Q, let’s do this in a Q and A format, where I’ll ask my intern the Q’s, and she’s got the scoop for you all… Here goes.
Q: Ready intern?
A: Ready, Santa!
Q: Why do some queries get deleted without a response?
A: They are not addressed properly. Like Dear Sir/Madam. Or addressed to a different agent (!) Or they say dear literary agent and are mass mailed. It’s just disrespectful.
Q: What are some of the worst things you see in queries?
A: When the writer goes on about themselves and it has nothing to do with their writing career or has any point to it. Like when they tell you about their cat Fluffy. Attaching things to the query, like newspaper clippings or the entire query letter. It’s annoying and a no-no. It’s also really awkward when writers do their bio in the third person – we realize it’s you writing it… Another icky thing: when the writer does the entire query in the character’s voice. Major cheese. And let’s not forget massive typos and just plain old bad writing peppered with grammatical errors.
There’s not much to a query. How can you screw it up so much? It should just have a brief intro, a synopsis and a bio. Three parts!
Q: Okay, sassy intern. What are some of the best things you see in queries?
A: If they have something really interesting about themselves that they put into the novel and then that shines in the bio giving authority to their writing. Like your client Yvette Ward-Horner – her novel involves a woman who does adventure ice climbing, and she happens to be an experienced ice climber.
Also, the best queries are the ones that stick to the format – those three parts. Honestly, we don’t see as many good queries as we do bad ones, so the ones that are professional and stick to the format really rise to the top.
A query also stands out when it’s clear the writer did their research. They know something about the agent and they can point out how their work fits what the agent’s looking for.
I also like when the author’s personality comes through in a positive way.
Of course an interesting subject is top priority.
Q: So what are the subjects that you see far too much of, and how does that affect the queries chance?
A: If you send us anything with vampires and supernatural elements, and you’re not spoofing it, you’ve targeted the wrong agent. We see far too many of these. Also, we really don’t want to see YA novels where the main character is all – oh, I’m so popular, I have everything, including the hot guy… No sympathy building there. Memoirs have been the hardest. We get a number of really sad stories, but there is no light at the end of it or resolution, and in the end it doesn’t read as a memoir.
Q: Alright, what are some things you don’t see enough of in queries?
A: Characters being smart. Teens are dumbed down. The teen voice seems hard for writers to get. Either they are written too young and naive for their age, or they are too adult to be believed. We don’t see enough contemporary novels with realistic settings… Or books with some romantic interest in it, but that’s not the main focus of it. We’d also like to see some humor!
Q: Any advice for people sending queries to me in the future?
A: Just proofread your query. Make sure you’re proud of each part of it. This is the thing that is representing your work. You want it to represent you well.
Thanks, Faithful Intern, for your wise and witty insights! We wish you well on your future pursuits (and she’ll be back to help us more next year – yeah!).
*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.