This Business of Writing

Why Query?

In Working with Agents on October 19, 2009 at 6:48 am

I liken the querying process to being beat up by a schoolyard bully. He keeps knocking you on your butt every time you run into him. He steals your milk money, too. Worst of all there is nothing you can do about it. Feel familiar, all you rejection-laden authors?

So, why must we query anyway? Surely there’s a reason to subject ourselves to this abuse time and again. Isn’t there? Yeah, there is.

Think of your query as little more than a filter. Yep, as tough as it sounds, a query is your introduction to the sifting process of publication.

In most cases, the first set of eyes to view your query does not belong to the agent, but rather a subaltern of some sort. These nameless and unheralded assistants toil behind the scenes to find the unadulterated garbage that constitutes ninety percent of all queries. You’ve heard about them; the ones adorned with perky ribbons, musky aromas or a thousand staples. These look-at-me schemes don’t work and are filtered first. Next, these tireless unnamed peruse their in boxes for those letters crafted by the uninitiated, the inane and the idiots. Finally, they whittle away those queries with no story to support them, poor characterizations and the many other writers who have yet to learn their craft.

Eventually, that elusive ten percent filter down and find their way to the agent. The agent now must cull anew. This one does fit the genres she represents, but she just sold that very same story last month. This one disquiets her emotions and that one she loves but it has no current market.

Finally ten, of a thousand, rise to the surface. The queries pass the initial harvests and are transferred to the agent’s Kindle for further consideration. As she reads them on her subway ride home, one identifies the author as someone who does not understand The Business of Writing. This person will require too much additional work for the agent and she decides to pass. The next tells her the author is dabbling in a hobby versus living in a profession. Pass. However, the rest show wonderful promise!

The remaining queries exhibit acumen with their storytelling, expertise in the craft, and prove the authors’ professional toward their profession and give her the information she needs to identify plot points, conflict and characters. That evening, four emails are sent out asking for further submissions. (Hallelujah!)

The moral of this story? Your query is your sales document and it must survive the filtering process if you are to succeed. Learn how to craft a well-written query before you send it in. Best of luck to you all.

Until we speak again, may all your books be best-sellers!

Patrick

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