It's time to talk about queries.
This blog is all about the writing, to be sure--and, ultimately, so is the industry. But it's the query letter that gets the ball rolling, and it's the query letter that often makes aspiring authors break out in hives.
So. I'm not going to talk about my approach to queries. It's outlined in AGENT: DEMYSTIFIED, so if you've read it, you already know this. (Short version: It's a business letter.)
What I AM going to talk about is my aversion to the over-shopped, uber-critiqued query letter that seems to be gaining popularity as more as more online resources become available to authors.
An "over-shopped" query letter is one that's been through dozens--perhaps scores--of online critique rounds. Here's the basic scenario: The aspiring author writes a query and posts it on his favorite online community or critique group. The masses have at it, offering advice, ripping it to shreds, reconstructing sentences, honing in on hooks.
At first glance, this seems like a good thing, right? Getting feedback is always good. Always.
But. Often, as the process goes on and the author keeps posting the latest iteration of said query, the essence of the query and THE VOICE OF THE AUTHOR is lost. By the time the final product exists, it bears little resemblance to anything the author may have written on his own.
Sure, the hook might feel stronger, or the overall composition of the letter might be tighter. But who, exactly, wrote the letter?
And, too, there are certain "query formulas" out there to which many subscribe. Which means that most (if not all) over-shopped query letters are going to end up as "formula letters."
Do you really want a "formula letter" to represent your work? Yourself as a professional?
Now, it might be argued that any type of business letter is a type of "formula." I agree. The difference is that when you write a query--or any type of professional communique--without outside interference, the end result is a reflection of YOU. Not your critique group.
Things work differently when you have your WORK critiqued. Somehow, if you've learned how to take the good advice and make it work for you, you'll end up with stronger writing. But how much "work" can you do to a one-page query letter without ultimately sacrificing your individuality?
You can literally "work" your query letter into something it never would have been if you had simply written it yourself.
Think about the impression this will have on a literary agent. A query comes across the desk and reflects a certain "something" about the author and the story. It's actually a compelling hook and a genre the agent represents, so he asks for sample chapters and a synopsis.
When they arrive, they are completely at odds with the query letter.
And, too, I believe many agents have developed an eye for the "over-shopped" query, to the point where, unless the sample pages (you DO include sample pages in your queries, don't you?) blow him away, he's going to yawn his way through the "cookie cutter query" and move on to the next one.
Naturally I've got an anecdote to go along with all this.
When I thought (foolishly) that my first novel was ready to be queried, I posted my I-sweat-blood-over-this-thing query letter on a writer's community and asked for critique. Hoo, baby, I got it. Rip, tear, rip, tear, and I rolled with it and changed things around and editing my fingers off, until I had the perfectly over-shopped query letter.
And I began the querying process.
The good news is that I soon realized the novel wasn't good enough to publish (it was a mess, actually). But before I halted the querying process, I garnered two requests for partials. Two! Naturally, both of them turned quickly into rejections. But that over-shopped query had worked its magic, making me feel, for a little while, that I actually had something good to offer.
Of course, none of the critters had read my novel, or knew the least thing about it (except for what was in my original query). Had they read it, they would have deleted me from the community on grounds of ineptitude.
Now, I'm not telling you to go write your query letter in a dark hole somewhere. Getting an opinion or two is wise. But I strongly advise you against over-shopping it.
Know what else I advise against? Fretting over it. It's really not the big, scary monster it's been made out to be.
And all those "THIS is the way to write a super-fantabuloso query letter!" blog posts and articles and pages on agent web sites? Read them. BUT TAKE THEM WITH A GRAIN OF PROVERBIAL SALT.
Now you know why I don't want to do query critiques on the blog as part of our "crit venue." My personal query philosophy just doesn't line up with that.
Still wishing we'd do something with queries here on the blog? You're in luck! In July, we're going to have a Very Special Query Contest.
That's all I'm going to say.
Write your novel, edit your novel, edit your novel some more. When it's time to write your query letter, buy my e-book, pour yourself a cup of coffee, and write it. No sweating, no fretting.
It's just another stepping stone across the pond. If you slip once or twice, you're not going to drown.