Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Query Querulousness

I've read it time and again on agent blogs hither and yon; most recently, Nathan Bransford has emoted upon the subject.

In short, there seems to be a continual influx of inappropriately, unprofessionally written queries from hopeful but short-on-savvy writers.

Ladies and gentlemen. I am sure that none of my esteemed readers are among the offenders!

I think what befuddles me the most is the fact that there is so much readily available information out there, right at our literal fingertips. Agents are blogging, whipping up web sites, and submitting their information to the snazzy folks at AgentQuery. Want to double check the spelling of an agent's name? Click. Want to make sure your Most Favorite Agent accepts your genre? Click. Want to find out exactly how to write a concise, professional, attention-grabbing query letter? Clickety click click click.

And amazingly enough, everybody (at least every reputable body) appears to be saying the same things.

Things like, don't write a vanilla "Dear Sir/Madam" query and send it en masse to five hundred hapless, overworked agents at once.

Would receiving a letter like that make you want to sit up and take notice?

And things like, don't try to impress an agent by the use of rampant name-dropping (check out this post by Kristin Nelson) in your query. And you might want to refrain from pompously proclaiming that your novel is Sure To Be The Next Best Seller, so Ms. Agent had better Scoop It Up Right Now before she Misses The Opportunity Forever!

This is not an Alex Mandossian teleseminar, folks.

But, truly. Truly none of you actually do these things.

What ever so slightly miffs me about all this is that there are those of us who really do take this query thing seriously. We read up on it. We carefully research agents. We write intelligently. And we wouldn't dream of sending a nasty email to an agent who sends us a form rejection email.

Perish the thought!

Seriously. I would like to think of myself as a professional. I am sure you would like to think of yourself that way, too. And it's frustrating to think of all the yuckity-yuck clogging the inboxes and mailboxes of agents -- yuckity-yuck that detracts from the carefully written, thoughtfully mailed letters from the rest of us.

Not that we're going to automatically float to the top. We're not. In the end, it's always about the writing. But wouldn't it be nice if every query was a quality one? No "junk mail" queries, no crayon-and-watercolor queries, no mass mail queries, no queries rife with typos and completely lacking in emotional intelligence.


So. The best we can do is to offer our best. Always. And the more of us who make this commitment, the nicer the "writing world" will be. It's not just about making agents' lives easier, either. That's a nice side effect, to be sure. But what I'm really talking about is self-respect. Honor. Integrity. Giving our all because it's important to do so. Aiming high. Checking our spelling.

You get my drift.

Will you make the pledge along with me? My queries will be a reflection of who I am: An intelligent, thoughtful, professional writer who has taken the time to write an excellent letter and send it to precisely the right person, one letter at a time.



  1. Frustratingly, I don't think it's just queries, either. In short story markets I'm sure there is a lot of the same percentage of professionalism.

    But I'm with you on the pledge--personalized, researched, professional and well-written queries all the time. B-)


  2. I agree with most of your post, but I don't agree that in the end, it's always about the writing. If your query is awful -- riddled with errors, impersonal (or too personal), or downright offensive -- why would the agent ever read your MS? A bad query letter gets you a form rejection, not a request for a partial or a full.

    Presentation matters. Not just because it's nicer, and I agree, it is, but because if your presentation stinks, no one will bother to seek out the substance.

    -- Unfocused Me

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  4. You're absolutely right, but I think you misunderstood me. When I said that, in the end, it's always about the writing, I meant that in the context of having already snagged the agent's attention with a good query. I was saying that, even if we've written a really good query, we're only going to float to the top if the writing is good. So you and I are in complete agreement. :)