Query odds: Flip a Coin

Sorry for not posting yesterday.

I sadly just needed a bit of a break from the writing world and by the time I was okay to post, I had to leave my house.

What got to me?

Queries. More specifically, query crits.

You see, when I let some of my work be critiqued, I learnt so much. I adore that process. Probably will until my dying day.

So I sort of assumed queries would be the same.

Except it isn’t.

Not even remotely. Because NO ONE knows how to write a good query letter. Shit. I doubt one agent can write a query letter that’s so good that it could entice all other agents in their genre.

Why do I say this? One word. Consensus.

I wrote a query. And I sent it to Matt from the QQQE. Let me say, that was an incredibly helpful experience. But after that, things pretty much went down-hill.

I took the focused query (as per Matt’s advice) and posted it for WriteOnCon. Where about 30 people including an agent told me to explain more. So I ended up with a 350 word pitch.

Too long, people said for GUTGAA. Focus it more. What’s this? Why this? *scratching head* So I need to focus the query AND detail it at the same time?!

Yeah. That’s a problem. Because I’m a firm believer in “If half says one thing and the other nothing, don’t change anything”. But I broke that rule, because heck, someone  ought to know what’s going on, right?

With that in mind, I rewrote the entire thing keeping everything I learnt in mind. And guess what? It’s being apart for having too much information because it doesn’t have enough information.

Am I the only one thinking that this sounds a *tiny* bit warped?

So… I took time away from my dear computer and then came to a lovely realization. If my current experience is to be believed, I can write absolutely anything about my book. If it’s not stupid, completely incoherent or anything else along those lines, I have 50% chance of pleasing someone. No matter how focused or detailed the query.

Don’t get me wrong. I feel I learnt a lot from the crits. But there’s no consistency. No way of measuring the validity of the comment. And that frustrates the crap out of me. Because how am I supposed to fix something when I’m not 100% sure it’s wrong in the first place?

But yeah. Trying to use my annoyance positively, I rewrote the entire query yet again. And you know what? I think I’m just not making it public again unless I get a 110 agent rejections. Because I came to the point in my learning experience where anything else will just confuse me more and I just need to trust my gut.

And right now it’s saying the newest query is the one.

What about you? Have you ever been frustrated by the sheer variety of critique you received on a query/short/synopsis/whatever? How do you deal with it? When do you start going with your gut?

54 thoughts on “Query odds: Flip a Coin

  1. Writing queries…I hate them. They're so hard to write–pitch, hook and give a sense of your novel's voice in 100 words. Sure. Is there anything more impossible?

    For what it's worth, here's my advice. Write a query you like and then send it to a couple of betas who read your novel and liked it. Since the query pitch has to be written in the same voice, it helps to have people who know and like the story and its voice help craft the query. (People who might not like the voice or the story are never going to like the query.) After that, I usually show mine to one person I trust who hasn't read the book, just to make sure there's nothing in the query that reads odd to someone who hasn't read the book. Then start querying in small batches. If you don't get any request from the first ten or fifteen, you can always revisit the query then.

    Good luck!! I'm cheering for you!!

  2. Query letters are hard to write. I've seen query letters get agent's attention that were not in the format of the typical query letter. The key is that the letter must make the agent want to see more, which is easier said than done. I think the best way is for the letter to contain an emotional hook. The query letter needs to grab the reader emotionally. If you can do that, you've got a heck of a query letter.

  3. So stressful. I've read a ton of QLs, and there isn't a lot of consistency, that's for sure. My basic thought is this: Write something that would energize YOU for the story. Dream about what the most glowing/awesome/outstanding jacket copy someone could pen about your story, and write that. If your favorite Hollywood director loved your story, how would she sell it to the studios? Harness your excitement for the story and put it on paper. Be grandiose. Be bold. Even if it's a story about puppies, make it sound as though the world hinges on reading that book.

    Yes, you can take a tried and true approach, but also don't be afraid to get creative. (You are a writer, it's what we do.) Write it from the mc's POV and see if it works. But number one, write it for you.

    Don't worry about striking a chord with a particular agent. As you said, it's highly subjective anyway. Also, something I think might be helpful would be to go to YouTube and look for popular commercials (or think of your favorites). Watch some, and take note about how they present their product. Note if they're using charm, humor, etc. Think about what they're appealing to, demographic they're trying to reach, etc. and why they might be effective. Especially if YOU felt something watching them. Apply it to your query.

    Commercials are still around for a reason: They sell product, and they do it well. It's bang of your buck, short and sweet. Which is what you need your query to do.

    Best of luck on this Misha, you'll nail it, just keep fiddling with it until you do.

  4. Yes. To everything you said. Been there. Done that. Decided rewriting the manuscript would help me focus my query…. Good luck to you! Just send the one you like out there and like you said, some agents won't and it only takes one who does like your query…or your book idea! Christy

  5. You're the only one who will know when your query letter is done. There is no such thing as being finished with the editing process on anything, whether it be a blurb on a cereal box or a full-length novel. Edit it until it feels done to you. Perhaps you could post it here and see what kind of feedback you get. There are a lot of talented writers who follow your blog who could give you a few pointers, but it's ultimately your call.

  6. Yes, Misha, critiques from too many people can confuse the issue. Read them all, reject those that sound weird, and toss with a tsp of salt. Pick out those that survive.

    I'm in the same boat. I'm mailing a fresh query letter tomorrow, so I'll see how it does. It's been revised 'ad infinitum'. I know how to write a good letter, it's the talking about our writing that's hard. (And condensing the tale into a concise nugget to thrill the reader.)

    I agree with your idea of seeing how it floats in the publishing waters first. Good luck.

  7. Oh, yes, I know what you mean. Even though I'm getting requests on my query, people still find things to tweak. Sometimes they're right on, and other times you wonder if it's really that important, or if they just wanted crit something, anything.

    During WOC, one person told me I focused on the wrong thing in my query. I should focus on x and y. WTF! My book wasn't about x and y. It was about a and b. Naturally, I ignored her. 😀

  8. Sounds like you and me had similar days yesterday. I too had to leave the house. I absolutely loathe queries, because they are so subjective. I really like Connie's advice.

  9. I have over 7k words from queries. Truly, that's how many times I've tweaked and rewritten, though will say a good bit of it was before I got feedback.

    I do believe there is a point where you have to trust your gut. My latest query felt different. I could tell it was a good query by the way I felt when reading and writing it. I'm testing it out on a few agents and we'll see if they think the same. Sometimes we just have to run with something, if we never send it out we'll never know if we would have got requests.

  10. I thought writing a query letter was one of the hardest things I've ever done. 1000 times harder than writing the actual book! I totally hate them. I appreciate Connie's advice and am going to keep that in mind when it's time for me to try again.

  11. Oh how I feel your pain! I went through the same thing and you're right, because there is no right way to write a query. I absolutely suck at writing the query. I sent mine off to Matt as well, then let a couple other people take a bash at it. In the end, I found myself over on Absolute Write's Water Cooler and looking through the forums there. I learned a lot there and posted my query. But then I suddenly felt like I had it right and just didn't show it to anyone. I figure, it's either going to work or it's not, so might as well just go for it. Yeah, learn what you can and do what you can, then trust yourself to know that you got it right. Like you said, if you get a certain amount of rejections, revisit it. But don't stress over it. Do the best you can.

  12. Queries are maddening. I feel your frustration. I love what you wrote, “Shit. I doubt one agent can write a query letter that's so good that it could entice all other agents in their genre.” You nailed it.

    Best of luck with this query letter.

  13. Hey,

    I may sound sick and twisted, but I think queries are a challenge (think 250-word flash fiction on your story.)

    The folks over at Unicorn Bell held a recent help-month 🙂 for queries and I got a *lot* of great advice… check them out (my post on the subject came out Aug. 29, if you want to see what I mean.)

    PS… don't get frustrated – get Flash Fiction 🙂

  14. Flip over current fantasies that are selling well. That blurb on the back, that's the query. Copy the hot sellers. Why not?

    For fantasy & sci-fi, we need to throw in some world-building, unlike other genres. A query should be no more than 12 sentences. Dedicate the first 2-4 to the world, the rest to the story.

    I have a thing on that somewhere … if I find it, I'll send it to you. I'll go look.

  15. Oh I'm so with you! I've had it torn up so much (and I pride myself on handling critique) that I don't even do it anymore. If I send out ten and get no responses, then I change it. It's the only way to go. I've also run into people being downright cruel (I'll leave the notoriously mean site unnamed) about my query, and I'm not into that.

    I'm also a big believer that if the novel is good and written well, then the query will be too (forget all the rules – well MOST of them), and you'll get bites. So often I've gotten none only to realize it's not the query…it's the novel that needs help.

  16. Yes, I completely agree with you. Writing the manuscript is one thing, but a query letter is on a whole different level! I do not understand why it is so difficult to write a simple query letter that sounds enticing. You would think it would be easy to condense your entire concept into a short paragraph or so, but it's harder than it seems. I've submitted my query letter to be critique on Agent Query.

    What I would do is continue to get critiques on my own queries. I even look at samples to help me. Everyone's methods for writing one probably differ, but that is mine.

    I'm sure eventually you will have the right query and when you do, you'll know it! Good luck on it!


  17. Hang in there – queries are definitely tough. I rewrote mine at least seven times. The main goal is to entice…if you only nail 7 out of 10 details, but you pull people in and make them want to read more, then it's done its job. 🙂

  18. Hahaha if I have to rewrite my WiP again, I'll pull out every single one of my hair.

    Luckily, I managed to get over the stupidity of the comments and search for some value. Now I cut out the bits that confused them and built a query around the rest.

    And I think it's pretty good.

  19. I know! I started querying today and I have to admit that I developed a soft spot for those agents that request pages with the query.

    Just makes me feel like they're giving everyone a fighting chance, even if it's still subjective.

  20. That's so true. That's actually the approach I took in my final draft: I focused on fewer points, but gave them more attention so they could tell more of a story and drag the reader in, even if it's kicking and screaming. 😉

  21. Queries are hard for me too, since most of my books are historical sagas covering many years, not short, plot-centric books. Even my shorter YA historicals tend towards being quieter and more character-driven, and intended as interlocking series books that might as well end with “Tune in next time to see what happens next!”

    I can only imagine how hard it would be for the authors of classic YA and children's books to write query letters for their books that were more episodic and didn't really have high stakes and weren't plot-heavy. It would've been even harder to write queries for the kinds of massive historical epics I'm used to reading, from authors like Herman Wouk, Leon Uris, and James Michener.

    The right query for any given book or writer is the length it needs to be, within reason. I've heard of one writer getting representation with a 2-page query, and I don't think most agents are counting to make sure every query is exactly 250-300 words. So long as it doesn't give everything away and boils the book down to its essence.

  22. Oh, yeah. Queries are more painful than root canals. From what I've gathered, a well-written query that captures your voice and makes an agent want to know more is better than a well-written query that accurately tells the details of your story, without showing your voice and raising intrigue.

    If that helps at all. Which it probably doesn't. Because in addition to that, Agent #1 wants you to start with action from your story to hook her. Agent #2 wants you to start with a bio. If you're lucky, you know which is which. (Hint: we are rarely that lucky.)

  23. Queries suck!! haha

    But, for me, the whole experience of getting it out there and re-working, re-working, re-working finally worked. I started out on Write On. Same experience as you. So many questions that people said I had to answer that I ended up with a 350 word query before people on my thread were consistently saying it was good.

    So great. I was going up on QQQ anyway, but I didn't even feel like I needed more opinions because I'd just had it on Write On. The people on QQQ said to cut it down. I cut it down a bit, but not too much since everyone on Write On seemed to think it was great.

    Put it on CAGI. The agent who was assigned to me tore it up. Hated it. Like, her first words about it were “just looking at this made me cringe because it was too long” She literally didn't seem to like anything about it.

    So, I entered the Pitch Polish Blog Hop. Out of everything that's the one that finally worked. I got great advice and ended up with a query I love. I even made it through the first round on GUTGAA agent pitch with the new one.

    But, guess what? Even then one of the agents who didn't vote for me had a bunch of problems with my query.

    So,it's like you said. SO crazy subjective. What one person loves, someone else hates. In the end, you just have to follow your gut. Exactly like you are, so good job on figuring that out. haha. Oh, btw, sorry for violating your comments section by leaving you a book. 😉 Good luck with the new query!!!

  24. Misha,

    I so understand. And I almost didn't move forward. My books are self-published and on Amazon Kindle, but I want the whole experience, maybe I won't get it with this series, but somewhere down the road — I have to believe I will.
    But your frustration is so shared!
    Good luck!

  25. I also have a very character-centered story, although there's a plot too.

    Crap I just realized something important. One crit I thought was right wasn't. Which is probably why I got two no's.

  26. Misha, I think it's really a matter of finding the right fit with you and an agent/publisher. You can re-write a query as many times as stars in the sky and there will always be one person who will find something to criticize about it. Use your best judgement. You've received plenty of input, but you'll have to dig through it all and find the advice that rings true to you and act on it. Then let it fly. Best of luck! 🙂

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