Friday, July 31, 2009

Friday Fricassee

Wow. Aren't you just loving this query thing?

I'm not going to blabber today; I'd rather open the floor to my readers:

  • What new insights into the query-writing process has this week's contest revealed to you?
  • What new insights into the query-READING process, from the viewpoint of an agent, has this week's contest revealed to you?
  • How has this week's contest impacted your own querying process?
As for me, I'm hoping to get my act together and finish rewriting a chapter today. Those of you who follow me on Twitter know that my plotcards were lost for several days. I found them yesterday. In my purse.

Right. How I continually reached in for my wallet without FEELING my plotcard case is beyond me.

Well, not really. It's kind of in character.

Anyway, I'm happy now. I kissed my plotcard case when I found it. Yes, I did.

Looking forward to hearing your thoughts on the contest--and excited for the announcement of Jodi's winners on Monday!


  1. I am first!
    First off, to all entries---Good job to you all!

    Now for my "lay-lie-lying" snarky moment; I lost count when I ran out of toes and fingers, but why are so many of you writing or texting a comment stating you didn't like the hook or it didn't grab you, but this isn't your favorite genre or style of book? If it isn't, then do not comment, seriously.
    I seriously doubt someone on here, who busted their butt for two years to write a YA fiction will be sending it to a Non-fiction history agent right? I didn't enter this time so no I am not upset, but I as a writer, I love reading useful information or critiques from my fellow writers/authors but do not understand why so many of the entries were clouded with someone stating an opinion about a genre they did not like in the first place. Judge them on there content, not your view of the style you like. Was it just me reading this? Still love everyone!

  2. No, it wasn't just you seeing it. I had a few of those that offered no help but most of them did. Their questions and confusions matched Jodi's. I have a hard time critiquing a genre that isn't my fave so I didn't.

    I was humbled by the opinions on my piece and chewed my fingernails to the bone waiting for Jodi's. In the past, the opinions between the critiquers and secret agent had differed hugely.

    I enjoyed reading all the other entries too. It's amazing how amazing we all are. :) I loved every minute of this experience. I can't wait to see Jodi's responses to the others.

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  4. First off, thanks again to Authoress and to Jodi Meadows who was our fearless agent/slush reader for the contest. I found reading the various crits and responses, especially Jodi's of my own, to be very helpful. Once again, I find it so hard to condense a novel into a paragraph and get the right details in. I guess what I learned was that I have to make the agent care about my main character and his or her main conflict/stakes. That has to come through in the query so the agent will want to read the sample pages. If the agent doesn't care about the character and their story, the sample pages will be deleted with the query letter. Plain and simple. So, I have to really work on that aspect of the query.

    Just some self-promotion, but if anyone is interested in debut novels, I've summarized some data from Publisers Weekly over at my blog Miss Aspirant.

  5. I'm in the contest. And I think the comments by people who usually don't read the genre are especially helpful. For instance, if you have someone who doesn't like your genre and they are really grabbed by your awesome is that? The most successful books are those that can cross genres and win people over who normally wouldn't read that type of book.

    If your query is strong it will grab people who aren't into what you are writing, which means it will be even stronger for a person who is into your thing. Just getting feedback from people who already read what you write is kind of like preaching to the choir, yanno?

  6. I agree with teh awe-some sauce - if you can convince someone out of your genre to read your work, that's great. If someone in your genre hates your particular take on it, that's good to know as well. Maybe other people are also tired of it. Of course, tact is always called for, but one person's tact is another person's attack.

  7. I half agree with Bryan here.

    If "This isn't really my genre, so I hated it," is the ONLY thing you had to say, then you wasted your time and the time of the author. (Same with the people who knock all first-person or present-tense narratives just because of preference.)

    I don't think it's wrong to say, "Hey, this isn't my genre, so I could be missing something important, but..." and then give thoughtful comments on the content.

    But if you're so hung up on your own genre or narrative preferences to the exclusion of all others, that you feel the need to hate on any story that falls outside of your likes, it kind of negates any actual constructive feedback you might offer.

    Just my opinion. I don't have a query in this either. But it's cool to see some awesome stories here that are sure to be on the shelves in the coming years. Great job!

  8. There is nothing more instructive than actual examples. Good queries are obvious. You finish reading them and think Wow, I want to read that. An hour long seminar wouldn't impart as much knowledge as one well written query, especially when juxtaposed with queries that aren't working.

    From an agent's viewpoint, I would think they want to see four things come together in a query: voice, a hook, inherent conflict, and a fresh angle on a story- not a tired retread. A query is the first writing sample an agent receives. It should be as vibrant as anything in your manuscript.

    Thanks Authoress, your blog is a Godsend for writers.

  9. One thing I learned that was totally unexpected: the bio didn't matter that much to me.

    I don't have that much in my bio in my query--I don't have any awards or significant writing credits--but I found that after the first ten or so (I commented on them all in two big swoops), I ended up reading the pitch and skimming the rest. I've heard before that the bio isn't hugely important compared to the pitch, but I'd never really believed it.

    There were a few queries that I was doubtful about, then saw something really excellent in the bio, so I read the sample. But in general, if the pitch didn't grab me, I didn't care *at all* about the bio!

    That was really surprising to me, and I really appreciate this lesson!

    ...also, I do wish there was a way that everyone had equal comments. Some people have only 10 or so, some have more than 30. I know there's no way to change this, I just feel bad for the people who got less feedback. :(

    ...but! I also want to send an extra big thank you to Jodi--because her feedback as been very specific and lengthy and very helpful! I've gone back to some of them and read how my crit matched hers, and I have been really impressed with how much effort Jodi's putting into everyone's critique! THANK YOU JODI!!!

  10. New insights? Shorter is better, especially after I spent an hour reading through the first dozen queries.

    Other insight: I need things simple. If I have to think too much to follow your plot, I'm going to pass. Keep it at one or two characters and the Big Problem.

    Hmm. And I just had a revelation. I took a lot more time reading queries when I first sat down. After two or three, I started rejecting them quicker, I think. There's really nothing we, as writers, can do to change this. I think this is where luck really comes into play. You want to be that first query the agents read in the morning.

    Re: Commenting on queries that weren't my preferred genre. I tried to comment on every query, thinking people would want as many opinions as they can get. I pointed out when something wasn't my genre so the author would have context. Then I gave a reason why I liked or didn't like a query.

  11. First, thanks to Jodi and Authoress for putting this on. Second, congrats and good luck to all who entered.

    Now then. The thing that surprised me the most was the number of submissions that had a similar genre/theme/audience. It seemed to me that a large percentage of the queries were for YA, faery/urban fantasy, or paranormal romance.

    Nothing wrong with that of course, I was just surprised by it is all.

    Again, good luck all!

  12. Thanks Authoress and Jodi for putting this querathon on. :]

    @Jodi - I commented on all 58 queries on Wednesday, and absolutely understand now why agents do the form letter thing.

    I also feel a little confident about fixing my query. I know I can't control whether the agent I contact wants my type of project. But I can control how clearly my query presents and sells my plot. The other obstacle, of course, is making sure the partial isn't all background and telling. :P

    So yay!

  13. Re: reading queries outside of preferred genre...

    Although I prefer YA/MG and SFF, it's not like I've never read a women's fic book. I commented on all the queries, in part because while I might not be an expert or well read in some of the fields, I also know what I like and don't.

    That said, the least helpful comments of all time were along the lines of "I hate this genre/style/age-range. Pass." That *is* a waste of time--but if you add something about the writing itself, then it's fine,imo.

  14. Okay, okay, so after this contest, I'm going to apologize to any agent I've ever not believed when they said reading queries is hard work. I always thought, "Okay, yeah, it's time-consuming, but it can't be that difficult. I mean, it's just a few paragraphs."

    Yeah. Lies. All lies.

    After this contest, my eyes are so far open they may eat my face.

    What I learned: (1) Keep it short and uncomplicated, but not so basic that it's generic. (2) Highlight what's really important, and not every element of every subplot in your MS. (3) Break up large blocks of text. My eyes hate it, so I'm thinking an agents will as well. (4) Writing a query is really hard work. I broke the rules occasionally and skimmed the sample when I couldn't get in to the query. Some of the sample pages were really well written, but the query would've generated an instant reject (at least from me). It sucks to have that much pressure on less than 300 words, but that's life.

    new insights into the query-reading process = (1) if your query rocks, your bio isn't that important. No, really. Believe it or not, good writing is what's important. :) (2) Agents have A LOT of patience. Way more than I do. (3) I can't imagine how difficult it must be to, every week, sort through at least this many queries if not four times that amount. Rock on, agents. Rock on.

    You know who else rocks? YOU, Authoress, and Jodi Meadows for agreeing to participate in this contest. I didn't submit, but this was beyond helpful.

  15. First and foremost, hooray for Authoress and Jodi for taking on this awesome task.

    I found most of the comments on my post very helpful. Funny how you don't see gaffs and mistakes until others point them out.

    I did wonder why people who don't like -- and don't read -- my genre felt compelled to tell me they didn't like it. Well, duh.

    Personally, I didn't critique authors of genres that I was unfamiliar with. I don't know the genre. How could I possibly make a valid, helpful comment?

    The one thing I noticed was that often the query letter didn't strike the some tone as the first 250-words. That must be very frustrating to an agent. She reads a funny query letter and then the writing sample is intense and dark. Obviously, the query doesn't properly represent the manuscript. I am currently trying to improve mine on this score.

    I also used a popular author's name in my query. Several people weren't familiar with the author and decided I had used the wrong author. No, I actually used exactly the right author for my genre. Writers can't be responsible for what others don't know. And I was writing to an agent, who I'm sure is familiar with best-selling authors.

    My grousing aside, I am currently reworking my query letter, based on the many excellent suggestions I received.

    Thank you all!

  16. Bryan thanks for stepping up to the plate and posting your views. You're right there were far to many and some weren't very tactful. One persons garbage is anothers treasure. I did submit and got rightfully slammed. My first paragraph would only make sense if you had already read the book. duh....Of course the agent would have wondered what the heck I was talking about - valuable lesson. Still some sensitivity towards our fellow writers and humility would have added validity. The Internet presents a cover where in many cases sensitivity is disregarded. How I would voice a comment face to face is probably a good rule to follow when writing an opinion. Still it was a positive experience and I'm glad my mistake surfaced before I sent out submissions. Jodi and Authoress thank you - my book may never have had a chance without this contest.

  17. i went through all 50+ entries in one sitting, as i imagine lots of agents do, and i realized it's absolutely imperative to be clear and concise from the start. the rest of the query should be crisp, absent of extraneous wording, and have no spelling errors.

    only a handful of queries grabbed me from the first sentence, the rest took too long to get to the point. this is very helpful for me as i think of ways to make my work stand apart in the eyes of an exhausted reader at an agency.

  18. Taking a different angle on this because, of course, the opportunity is great, but...time for some constructive critism.

    I've noticed comments disappear which is disappointing, especially when people are putting time into reviewing this stuff.

    The other thing is noticing that many of the comments which remain on the entries are usually the same people, therefore not a good sampling.

    I am relunctant to continue commenting since this is the case and serves no purpose to invest the time.

    It also makes it even more curious when there are comments that remain on some posts that don't mention whether the query has hooked them or not, citing something inane instead.

    Perhaps you could provide some insight on the process?

    What would be nice is if the comments which are chosen to remain provide constructive critism.

    How likely, if the critic hates the genre, is it that they will be hooked?

    Like targeting agents who do specific genre's, it would be nice to have only the folks who like that genre spend time critiquing. Some may disagree saying they are more than qualified to determine a hook, I disagree.

    To see people critique negatively on entrants, then mention, well it's not my genre anyways, makes blood shoot out of my eyes.

    I don't like romance novels...never understood those who do. Therefore I am not qualified to determine whether the romance query hooks me for the very same reason.

    The only other thing is that 250 words is less than a page in terms of a typical book. I can understand why agents often ask for 2 or prehaps 5 pages, 1 chapter or 3. Obviously because there are very few who will have the availability to wow someone in 3/4 of a page. So I take that with a grain of salt in reading others work. Unfortunately many don't. Probably the most frustrating thing is knowing had the contest allowed 260 words, the MC would enter the scene, but it didn't.

    I saw one comment on an entrant who said they they had no idea who the subject was, that the only thing that kept them reading was they were 'curious' to find out who it was...but weren't hooked.

    Another entrant's critics commented on how this asian american was interesting and funny, but could they keep it up. Ask for the manuscript and find out.

    Lastly, it was asked that folks have their manuscript completed and ready to go, provide genre, query and 250 words. Many decided to omit the genre and make us guess, another didn't bother with a query (not ready) though the excerpt was great.

  19. Freestyle,

    Regarding your comment about "disappearing comments;" I don't know to what you are referring, unless people are choosing to delete their own comments or Blogger is eating them (which it occasionally does). If you're implying that the comments have been Authoress-deleted, you are mistaken. I rarely delete a comment, and only do so if it is uber-nasty.

    I don't even READ every single comment--you can imagine the hundreds I'd have to wade through.

  20. Ditto on thanks to Jodi and Authoress. This contest has been a great learning experience.

    I started to follow the rules when I first read the queries, but I soon found that the only thing I cared about was the writing sample. If the writing was unclear, badly written, or full of errors, I immediately discounted the entire submission.

    I do not have a probem with the fact that some people posted harsh criticism. Publishing is a harsh world and, from what I saw, these comments are nothing compared to what you would see from a good copyeditor or an opinionated reviewer.

  21. I certainly have gained a new understanding of "Not for me, but someone else might like it," lines.

    I've been going slowly and trying to be helpful rather than just shrugging and saying, "No sale." But sometimes it's really hard to figure out why something wasn't clicking. I can completely see why an agent wouldn't be willing to do it.

  22. Teh Awe-Some Sauce
    ; I do agree with you but that is the opposite of what I and others were saying. It is great to "hook" someone that had never read or cared for your genre. But I or maybe we are referring to the people that wrote comments stating they didn't get hooked, but then again it wasn't their genre. Why even right that? Critique the writing, not the genre or writer's preference, if you feel or , in this case, felt you just had to write something as a comment.

  23. I read through maybe about 10 or 15 queries yesterday, but didn't comment on all. I absolutely couldn't, so this gave me a deeper understanding of what agents go through and why they have their policies in place.

    I'm still waiting (patiently) for Jodi's feedback on my query, but all the feedback I received so far has made perfect sense.

    What's funny is how the response is vastly different from when I entered the same 250 words during the SA contest. People who didn't like the sample a few weeks ago had a reaction once the query was attached. I wonder if anyone else has experienced this?

  24. Dear Authoress:

    Please accept my apologies on the 'deletion' of comments. It was weird, they were there, then not.

    Sorry for assuming. It did seem like an extensive task to police the blog, but one never knows. Starbucks can allow superhuman powers.

    Regretfully humble,

  25. Starbucks? Bah. Once you've tried the coffee at Whole Foods, you will know what REAL super-human powers are. ;D


  26. Freestlye, I deleted one of my own comments at one point because I hit "save" prematurely. I rewrote my comment and posted it right after. SO, it's possible the other missing comments were people like me that had to repost something, but didn't want to leave a double post.

  27. I deleted a comment because I had a URL wrong and didn't want to double post.

  28. Many thanks to Authoress and Jodi Meadows for this opportunity!

    I've been editing my novel since January, and I'm to the point where I have large portions memorized. I see what I want to see. This contest really helped me look at my words with a new perspective. When a lot of people had the same complaint, I knew it needed fixing. Yes, a few of the remarks stung, but that's the way of things as a writer. Wince, grumble to myself that their question would be answered if they could read page 2, then move on. I know I was likely causing the same reaction with some of the comments I left on other entries, too.

    What insights did I gain on queries? That they are hard for most people to write. For many, the writing in their story was stronger than the query. Unfortunately, the comments on mine pointed to the opposite; I've already rewritten my opening paragraphs and changed the one line in my query that caused some confusion.

    I do feel very good about my query letter now, especially since Jodi responded favorably.

  29. I got the good writing in the excerpt but bad query, so this is a great help. Since the query is so important in getting an agent to even look at your work, it is really important to get this kind of feedback. In the real world, few if any agents would bother to tell me what wasn't working for them regarding my query letter. And so, one more time, many many thanks to Jodi Meadows and Authoress for this query contest. Even though I won't win or place, I know how my query was received and that is just indispensable.

  30. Hearty thanks to Jodi and Authoress for doing this. It was so helpful to get reactions and comments from readers who didn't hesitate to shoot from the hip. I've been freelancing with my non-fiction for years and have never had a single proposal turned down. But after writing three novels I have to admit to sending out less than a half dozen queries, and obviously that's my biggest weakness. I appreciate all the comments and suggestions. I intend to go back and reread them all, maybe even print them out, and get to work practising my query writing!

  31. In awaiting my critique I noticed one of Jodi's last posts was at 11:51 pm. This woman is incredibly hard-working and is to be commended for her dedication to a bunch of aspiring writers (as is Authoress, of course.)There is no way to pay thanks to that kind of commitment except to humbly heap praise and wish goodness on this dynamic duo!

  32. I'd been querying with a generic, but professional, style of query and had not received even a partial request. For this contest I tried to add a little more flavor and personality to the query. It worked for some, but not most. The comments were very helpful towards strengthening the query and not overly critical of the writing or style.

    In short, it was very professionally done and a very useful contest. (I found much more useful advice here than in some other contests I've entered!)

    Many thanks to Authoress, Jodi and everyone else who took the time to read and comment!

  33. This was a great contest! Seriously, I could have used this a year ago when I first started querying my first novel. The feedback has been phenomenal, both for me and for some of the other writers I know who entered. I feel I have a good query letter now and just need to work on my beginning.

    I'm kind of shocked at the number of people who write really long queries or send queries for things the agent doesn't represent. I'm starting to have the upmost sympathy for agents/query readers when they have to wade through these things in their inbox everyday. And even though Jodi was leaving comments into the wee hours of the morning, she remained very polite and respectful.

    I've posted information on this contest on various loops that I belong to so people who are writing queries can get an idea of what works and what doesn't. This is too much of a gold mine to leave hidden. :)

    Thanks again!