Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Areas of Specialization

Today we'll get back to what this blog is all about: Queries.

I'll post another early query here that garnered a rejection, but before I get to that I just want to thank everyone who participated in yesterday's discussion. It was informative, opinionated and even entertaining at times but what I really appreciate is everyone's honesty and willingness to share what they thought or felt about the issue.

I've decided (at least for now) not to continue with the "shameless self promotion" addenda to my comments on other blogs. I really do want to promote somehow when I have guest bloggers on Fridays so I'm not sure what I will do yet but I will probably try to find a way to make a more clever link in my comments a bit like Southern Princess's kingdom links (which I find cute AND clever, personally). Or perhaps I'll just stick to mentioning it only if that person's blog post is actually relevant (like when Elana Johnson posts about blogging). I may also ask some of you loyal followers to simply mention it on your blogs on Friday in return for links back, we'll see. Anyone have any other suggestions?

Anyway, on to the query:


May 11th, 2009

Dear Mr. REDACTED,

I'm not sure why I addressed this agent by his last name. I'm sure each agent has their own preference for this kind of thing but based on what I've read using first name only is usually better. That's what I normally do.

I am writing to you seeking representation for my young-adult fantasy-adventure novel which has the working title, Warrior-Monks, and is complete at approximately 475,000 words. The sequel, which is untitled, currently exists only in outline form. I am including a synopsis as well as the introduction/prologue of my book because your website does not advise against sample chapters and so that you may get a glimpse of my writing style.

There are no rules (well very few) to query writing but here are a couple of suggestions: Title, Word-Count and Genre ought to go at the end, unless somehow otherwise specified in the agent's submission guidelines. Query one project at a time, in other words don't mention sequels. If an agent is interested they will ask as we saw in Cole's guest post last Friday. Finally as I've pointed out several times before and wish I had realized for myself back then, don't tell the agent why you are or are not including a synopsis, sample pages, map, table of contents, cover art, gifts, whatever; just do it. They know their own guidelines and don't need their hands held while you prove that you followed them.

I love Eastern Cultures and the many art forms they incorporate such as – Martial Arts, Calligraphy, Japanese Swords, and the Tea Ceremony as well as all the traditions and high level of art that go into them. I also love Magic and Fantasy and Eastern Religions such as Buddhism, Hinduism, and Taoism. Warrior-Monks incorporates all of these themes in a fantastic way which has never been done in young adult fantasy to my knowledge.

I so want to delete this paragraph from each of these old queries before I share them with you. It's not terribly written. It doesn't cover lame or boring topics, but it also does not really serve the purpose of the query. The last sentence here is really the only one that matters but again, it's all tell and no show.

I have never been published but I am confident that many authors like Christopher Paolini and Brunonia Barry have proved that you do not have to be a highly experienced or best-selling author to write an incredibly entertaining book. I also do have some personal qualifications to write this story. For example my own mother died when I was eleven years old and I was then sent to live with a cruel aunt and uncle and eventually did end up at a reform school in Northern Idaho which although strange, was not nearly as fascinating as the place in which my characters find themselves within this book.

Blah, blah blah. This kind of lip service is embarrassing. It's okay to compare your project to other author's books IF you do it in a way which tastefully shows how your novel is similar (will appeal to fans of) but also unique. Using these other debut authors as evidence that debut authors can write good books is ... well probably kind of insulting to an agent's intelligence. As if they didn't already know that first time authors can write great books. Would they really accept unsolicited submissions if they didn't believe that?

Also the "personal qualifications" in this instance are entirely unnecessary. Rarely is such information pertinent to fiction. If you wrote a political military thriller in the vein of a Tom Clancy novel it might make sense to point out that you actually did serve in the navy. If you're trying to get representation for Harry Potter, it doesn't really matter whether you went to boarding school as a child.


Please feel free to reply to this email, or to call me on my mobile phone at any time at 206-555-1212, or even to write to me at home at:

I'm not sure why I always made sure to put my phone number in. It's fine, no big deal, but usually the ability to reply to your email will suffice. I guess maybe I was holding out hope that someone would love my novel so much they'd just have to call me then and there. Not sure how I figured that would happen since I rarely sent pages.

ADDRESS

Thank you for your consideration of this proposal.

Sincerely,
Matthew M. Rush

His reply:


Dear Mr. Rush,

I wonder if my addressing his last name prompted this? No idea of course, but it is curious.


Thank you for your recent query regarding representation, which we have now had an opportunity to consider. Unfortunately, I don't think our agency is going to be the right fit for your manuscript.

Tastes and areas of specialization vary widely from agent to agent. If you haven't already done so, you may wish to consult a directory such as Literary Marketplace (www.literarymarketplace.com) for the names of agents whose interests are more compatible with your work. We wish you the best of luck in finding representation.

Sincerely,

REDACTED

It was not even signed by the agent I wrote to, which is fine, but I'm not sure if it was an assistant or what.

So this is most likely a form rejection. No surprise based on the quality of the query, but there is one curious difference here compared to many of the other rejections I received back then. The assistant or whoever took the time to direct me to the literary marketplace to research the genres agent's represent.

I will admit that I was overzealous in my blanket querying back then but I'm pretty sure I didn't query agents who clearly stated that they did NOT represent YA. I may have written to some who did not state one way or the other but ...

No matter; it's still good advice. Make sure to research any agent that you query as much as possible before you write to them. Querying an agent who does not represent your genre is not going to hurt your chances with other agents (it's not like they have a newsletter where they tell each other "look at this idiot") but it will be a waste of your time.

News: I sent the first 30 (actually 25) pages of my MS to Marietta yesterday and I'm still waiting to hear back from her, but she did email the 3 winners to let us know that she is offering to give each of us a 30 minute consultation over the phone after she has returned her critiques to us. This is amazingly generous of her and although I am looking forward to it I have to admit I'm very nervous.

Oh well, this won't be the last time I have to push through some fears if I want to end up getting published.

21 comments:

Slamdunk said...

Educational exchange. Thanks for breaking the letter down.

Piedmont Writer said...

Mathew, I'm curious as to why you're querying with a novel that is 475,000 words. Especially YA. I don't understand why you just don't break it down into 6 novels of 80,000 words and query the snot out of it as a series of "boy" books. YA agents are always screaming they never get enough 'boy' books. I know you're still newish to this game but if you need some help I can direct you to the right people.

Jen said...

As usual I love how you break down the letter!!! I love visiting to see the latest query!

As for yesterdays post if you are interested in promoting your guest blogger ask people to post a sidebar (on a post of yours) or ask fellow bloggers to give a shout-out to visit your blog for guest bloggers! Just an idea! Good Luck!

MissV said...

As if we weren't envious enough...a critique AND a consultation. Wow!

JustineDell said...

Yeah, what Miss V said. I'm jealous too - but that's great news Matt!! Good for you!

~JD

Kris said...

Good luck w/ your critique! Thanks for sharing your query letters. It's nice to know I'm not the only one who made mistakes early on!

Sheri Larsenッ said...

Matt, I agree with most. One add-on: tell the agent what you have, not what you don't have. I had someone ask me the other day whether or not they should tell the agent their manuscript isn't about vampires. ";-)

Candyland said...

I love that you post online and note the mistakes you think you made. What a great learning tool. For you, and everyone else.

And about the 25 pages-I'm SO jealous! That is AMAZING (forgot to say it yesterday). And a consult? It doesn't get better than that!!! Congrats!

Shannon said...

Thanks for putting yourself out there again, Matt.

And congrats on the consult. So very cool. Keep us posted!

Tracy said...

Good luck with those 30 pages and the critique. It's bound to be scary (and you already said you know you have to do a lot of parring the story down) so this might help give you an even better idea of what stuff to shave away in your story & what's golden about it!

Courtney Barr - The Southern Princess said...

Well what a wonderful blog to discover... ;o)

I admire not only your structure but the heart you put behind it. Rejection is a topic we writers talk about endlessly. We share the horror stories with detail and advice, hoping to help the next person in line.

You take, however, a slightly different approach than the other query sites I visit. You not only post YOUR letter & the response but you really break it down. You move through the mistakes & strengths in a way that is helpful, personable and relevant. I love it.

Good luck on your latest submission - I am rooting for you ;o)

I am happy to place you on my blogroll and hope you don't mind if I click on that follow button over there... ;o)

Thank you for the shoutout & I am pleased you like my comment addenda.

Visit My Kingdom Anytime

Falen said...

i always love that you include the rejection letters. it's interesting how many of them sound the same

Creepy Query Girl said...

Congratulations on your 30 page critic! That's awesome. Writing a query letter still gives me cold sweats. Thanks for breaking your 'rejects' down for us. It shows how much you've learned and how far you've come and its great to share your knowledge with others.

Peidmont Writer has a great point btw. 'Boy books' are in high demand;)

Talli Roland said...

Matthew, you are so brave to share your queries with us - thank you! I think I'd rather, I don't know, eat a worm than do that.

Great breakdown; thanks for taking us through it!

Elana Johnson said...

Good luck with your submission. And you're right. Anything that doesn't kill you, just makes you more patient. Especially in publishing.

Roland D. Yeomans said...

Getting rejected is hard. You tell yourself it is your work not you. But in a very real sense, your work is you.

Anne has a point. YA publishers want something short. 80,000 words or thereabouts range. In fact, agents don't want to see adult novels over 100,000 words. If you're Stephen King, you can something like UNDER THE DOME published. Otherwise, you are trying to swim with lead Niki's on.

Think overworked, eye-hurting agent. You have ten seconds maybe less to interest them or you get that dreaded form rejection. That's in essence the first paragraph or just a part of it, depending how long it is. Think fresh twist of an universal angst or need or dream.

I wish you luck. You have talent. More important you are willing to grow, to put yourself out there.You will succeed. Your friend, Roland

Okie said...

Just stumbled across your blog and I've enjoyed what I've read so far. Thanks for sharing your experiences, insight and talent.

Best of luck in all you do. :)

Shelley Sly said...

Woo! A consultation too! Awesome!

Funny, I've always addressed agents by Mr./Ms. [Last Name]. I didn't know first name is considered more appropriate. Interesting.

Rachele Alpine said...

Congrats on the agent award...what a great thing to win!

Jaydee Morgan said...

You're very courageous to share your past queries - we all can learn a lot from them.

Good luck!

Matthew Rush said...

Shelley, please don't consider my advice scripture. I mostly have no idea what I'm talking about so please consider my direction with a grain of ... something or other.

I'm sure that first name vs. salutation and last name bit is just as subjective as everything else. Try to research that when possible. If it's not consider that you may one day be partners. I would like to think people in that situation would be on a first name basis.

Anyway thanks for stopping by everyone, please come back for Rachele's post this Friday!!!