STATUS: I’m finishing my review of this contract if it’s the last thing I do today.
What’s playing on the iPod right now? COME MONDAY by Jimmy Buffett
I have to say I found the discussion about this query very interesting. I have to remember that most of my blog readers don’t spend hundreds of hours reading thousands of query letters. (If you ever get the chance to intern at an agency, I think it would be a real eye-opening learning experience).
So let’s talk about this query and queries in general some more.
1. It’s more important for a query concept to be original than for a query to be perfect.
Sarah’s query for DL is far from perfect. I didn’t post in my blog as an example of that. I’ve read hundreds of “perfect” queries that didn’t have an original story to offer (at least as presented in the query).
Now, this isn’t to say that you shouldn’t spend your time getting a query letter critiqued and perfecting it to the best of your ability. I do think that helps the cause but for the most part, agents aren’t looking for perfection. We are looking for a story spark—something we haven’t seen before—and this is so hard to define because often we won’t know it until we see it. Then it’s compounded by the whole subjectivity issue. When I talk about Jamie’s query, I’ll go into a little more depth on that. His query worked for me but Jamie also sent that same query to an agent friend and it didn’t float his boat at all. Purely subjective.
But back to Sarah’s DL query. Do you know what in that letter caught my attention? It was her outline of the family dynamics unfolding (albeit set in a fantasy world). Seriously, that’s what snagged my interest. So often I get these really distant, lacking-in-emotion fantasy query letters about three folks who end up on a quest but there’s no sense (in the query) of any real, interpersonal relationship dynamics which forms the heart of any story—regardless of genre.
Nick’s mom had an affair with a dark magician and because of her, Nick and his brother have to spend their lives on the run, and Nick is embarrassed that his mother had the affair to begin with.
That strikes me as pretty accurate as to how a 16-year old would feel about it. That alone caught my attention. I actually didn’t care what the rest of the query letter said. Now I did keep reading to get more details (and the possible romantic triangle caught my eye as well) but ultimately I knew I was going to ask for sample pages because I had NEVER BEFORE SEEN this scenario in a fantasy query letter—despite the thousands I receive.
That’s it. Simple. No need to analyze whether the grammar was perfect. Heck, I make enough snafus on my own blog that I’m not one to judge. I’m pretty flexible because grammar errors can be easily fixed. Everything else about writing such as voice? Not so easy. In my mind, the author had captured that sense of teen angst about all relationships which feels authentic. If she manages to capture the same in the manuscript itself, then I know I’m in for a good read, which leads me to point two…
2. You can have the most perfect and original query letter in the world and if you can’t back that up with good sample pages, it doesn’t really matter how great the query letter is. Sarah’s query letter is just fine–not spectacular–but the sample pages were unputdownable from page one.
Don’t lose sight of that.
And here’s my last point of the day. I often think that writers want the holy grail of query letter writing. That if I do X (and just tell me exactly what X is) in the query letter, then I’ll get an agent and a book sale.
It doesn’t work that way. It’s an aligning of several factors and then having that all come together because the query caught the agent’s attention, the agent loved the sample pages, then the manuscript was strong, and then editors loved it and then once published, the readers loved it and then…