Thoughts on Queries

I have a lot of links to share today!

First, Justin Kramon, my former writing teacher who I’ve mentioned before, has come out with a book trailer! This is a new trend. A lot of authors are advertising their new books with commercials in the similar vein that movies get. Check Justin’s out at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jjPArc8xA_k. I can’t wait to get my copy!

Some agent has started a blog with particularly bad excerpts from query letters that he gets. Check it out at http://slushpilehell.tumblr.com/. (Slush pile is the term used in the biz to refer to unsolicited queries).

Speaking of the slush pile, I have some pieces of advice to throw out from what I’ve seen so far. First of all, it’s remarkable how many people don’t follow the guidelines that the agency sets forth. Just about every agency these days has a website, and each agent meticulously explains how they want queries to be formatted. Some want synopses or sample chapters included while others simply want the letter. Some even have electronic forms on their websites to replace emails. Andrea Hurst’s guidelines call for just the letter without anything else. More importantly, her website clearly says that she is no longer accepting unsolicited queries by unpublished writers. In other words, only send the query letter if she’s requested it from you at a conference, if you have a previously published book, or if you have been referred to her.

But guess what: we still have a slush pile of unpublished writers. And a lot of those queries have sample chapters attached.

It just doesn’t make sense to me. Getting the agent is the first path to getting published, and that query letter is your first opportunity to make a good impression. But a lot of queries don’t follow guidelines and are poorly proofread. In fact, today we got one addressed to someone at a different agency!

I once heard that some famous author recommends spending three months on your query letter before sending it out. I would take that advice seriously. Especially when all I look at is the query, I use it not only to judge the story but also the writing and how easy the writer will be to work with. If the query letter is filled with misspelled words, I’m going to wonder if the entire manuscript is misspelled (and how likely am I to be to request to read something that hasn’t even been proofread?). And if it doesn’t follow guidelines, I’m going to wonder how professional this writer could be if we signed him or her.

Those are some thoughts and insights as I embark on my second week of the internship!

First day with Andrea Hurst and Associates

Yesterday I had my first day as an intern at Andrea Hurst and Associates. She has two other interns this summer, so we all arrived and immediately were set to work opening the mail because there were piles and piles of manuscripts to read! I came home with a bag full of partials, book proposals, and fulls to read. Some people might be overwhelmed, but at this point I’m just really excited. What gems am I going to find? What horror stories will I garner?

I also started going through some query letters. For those of you who don’t know, a query letter is what the author sends with a short description of his or her book. Then hopefully the agent will request a partial (usually 20-50 pages), and if that goes well the full manuscript, and if that goes well they’ll consider signing the author. Query letters are given a LOT of attention on “how to get published” forums because everyone can send them. I am more apprehensive about doing query letters because my decision seems to have important consequences: if I reject the author, that’s like telling someone their baby is ugly and I don’t want to have anything to do with it; if I ask for a partial, I have to read that partial. And it’s already obvious that my reading time is going to be valuable because there are MOUNTAINS of things to read.

Obviously, I don’t have much advice to give out yet, but what I can say is that your query letter should be well-written. If not, I’m going to use that as a way to judge the partial I would have to read and say it’s not worth my time.

Now I’ve got some reading to do!

Last thing I read: A submission to Andrea 🙂