My name is Manhattan Minx, and I’d like to share a few things that might make it easier when you send out your queries. First for the bad news.
After seeing authors rewrite queries time and again, only to receive no requests for work, I’ve realized that some manuscripts are doomed from word one. Books with bland story lines are difficult to sell, especially as debut fiction, and an author who does not carefully choose what to write about could be wasting years of her time.
Here’s a strategy I used several years back. I’d written a novel that received no agent interest and was determined to do better the next time around. First I listed every story line that came to mind, then, over the space of several weeks narrowed the list to five, then to two, then to one. I chose the idea I thought was most marketable and put all my energy into pulling off the story. It turns out that I made a good decision. My agent sold my manuscript, along with the second one on my list, to a Big 6 publisher.
I’m not advocating that you write to the market. Write what you want to write, what moves you, while also choosing the story that you think has the best chance to sell. It might not, most stories don’t, but at least you’re giving yourself a better shot at building a career.
Another problem I’ve seen in queries are manuscripts that are impossible to describe in a couple of sentences. (One is better.) If you need paragraphs and paragraphs to describe your novel, you can more than likely forget about finding representation. Slushpile readers average less than thirty seconds a query, and their eyes glaze over rather easily. They don’t want to work to figure out what your novel is about, and they will not waste their time on your query. Plus, and this is a BIG plus, they know the simpler and more abbreviated the hook the easier it is for an agent to interest an editor. This is done over lunch, with the agent pushing her books in soundbites. These soundbites are crisp, to the point, and often come directly out of the query.
Now for the good news.
Email queries make it easier than ever to sub. Here’s a strategy I used my last go around.
I wrote a query, sent it to ten agents, then waited for a response. After receiving zero requests for work, I rewrote the query and sent it out to ten more agents. I did this for ten flurries, or one hundred total queries, and received one request for work, a dismal result. Then, on the eleventh flurry, a drastically revised query got results, which is a bit of an understatement. A top agent responded five minutes after the flurry went out and requested a full. The requests kept coming and within three days I was fielding offers via phone calls. I had my choice of agents, a stunning turnaround.
Tips for querying by email.
- Develop a submission strategy.
- Keep the letter to three short paragraphs. Some of these agents receive between 30,000 and 40,000 queries a year, and their slushpile readers are not going to give you time to warm up to the good stuff. Hook them fast and efficiently in the first paragraph, put your top three credits in the second paragraph, then end with a thank you.
- Ignore guidelines that say an agent doesn’t accept an email query. If you have her address, give her your best shot. ( That agent who answered within five minutes of receiving my query? Yep, you guessed it. Her guidelines say she doesn’t consider emailed queries.)
- The more time that passes after a query is mailed the more likely a non-answer is a no. In my experience, up to 80% of agents will not respond if they are uninterested. This irritates a lot of writers, makes them think their queries aren’t considered, but if you ever write a hot query, you know better. When I sent out the letter that received so much positive attention, virtually every agent responded.
- Ignore guidelines that say no simul-subs. Life is too short to wait for an agent to respond. Simul submit! If you get a chomp, then contact the rest of the agents and tell them you have strong interest but will wait a few days before making a decision. More often than not they will thank you for the courtesy. After all, these agents know the majority of queries in their slush are simul-subbed.
I suspect you’re wondering what exactly was in that query. Well, that’s a bit of a story. I’d spent months rewriting and sending out queries and was fed up with the process. Despite the bleak outlook, I wasn’t ready to give up and decided to approach the problem as a literary fiction writer. Agents became characters and I realized if I ever figured out what characteristic they have in common, I had a better chance of my query succeeding. When I realized what that characteristic is, I laughed because it was so simple.
I’d always known that agents want to make money, that’s a well-known and logical characteristic. What I hadn’t understood was making enough money to sustain a living isn’t enough for an agent. She wants blockbuster sales and the accompanying paychecks. These are the paydays that enable her to spend weeks every year in exotic locations, to wear designer clothes, and to own a high-priced loft in Manhattan.
Now that I understood what truly drives agents, it was time to rewrite my query. Here’s what I came up with and please excuse the lack of precision. I write erotica under a pen name and to divulge my identity opens myself to a conflict of interest lawsuit with my Big 6 publisher.
My successful query:
Several years ago, Author X published a book about XXXXX and sold millions of copies. My literary novel, XXXXX, is poised to take up where he left off. (One sentence description went here.)
(Credits went here.)
Thanks for your time and I’m looking forward to conversing with you about this manuscript.
I feel compelled to point out that comparing your vampire novel to Twilight or your legal thriller to A Time to Kill will induce an eye roll from a slushpile reader. Comparing my book to a bestseller worked because the book that sold millions of copies was non-fiction and targeted subject matter that hadn’t carried over to the fictional world. In other words, there weren’t twenty thousand writers making the same comparison. There was only me. That made my query stand out in the slush.
Thanks for reading this long post. I’ll keep them shorter from now on, promise. Above all else, remember that there are many ways to write a query. If your queries aren’t succeeding, give these tips a try. If they don’t work for you, keep trying.
Never give up.
Please share this post!