There is a ton of advice out there about the basics of querying. Last week we learned How To Write A Query Letter. But what about the not-so-common concerns and problems that arise?
Pooja Menon has come to our rescue today! Pooja is the most amazing literary agent (and if you can’t tell from the intro, my agent) who works at Kimberley Cameron & Associates. Let’s hear what she has to say about writing query letters.
1. Is it important to tailor your letter to the specific agent you are sending it to with a personal note?
It’s not necessary to tailor a letter with a personal note. It is necessary to keep it short and professional and make it sound intriguing. It is also important to get the name and gender of the agent right (this is a faux pax I see often). Of course, if the author does put in a personal note – either because she/he has some connection to a client of mine, or if he/she’s read a book by an author I represent, then I’ll appreciate that and will go that extra mile to give him/her some feedback. Neither of the above reasons will sway my decision to represent an author or not. I go purely by how much the manuscript blows me away. But I would try and give some constructive advice. It’s impossible to give everyone feedback since time is such a restriction, but I would make an effort to write a line or two of why I loved the MS, and if I decided to pass, why I did so. If the author made an effort to reach out to me and research my background and what I represent, this is something I SHOULD definitely try and do.
2. Do you prefer queries that jump right into things, or do you like a short introduction first (ie. title, genre, word count, etc)
My personal preference would be to begin a query with the title, genre, word count, and a general line about the book in the first paragraph. The second paragraph will contain the pitch, and the last paragraph will contain some personal information about the client- education, writing background, publishing credentials, etc. This is how I’d prefer it. Jumping straight into a query with no prior information can be jarring.
3. Ahhh, oh no! What if I noticed a couple spelling/grammar mistakes after I pressed ‘send’? Is it the end of the world?
Again, I do think authors need to read their pitch-emails a few times before sending it to agents. I would not necessarily banish the query letter if there was a typo in there. But if the email was riddled with typos, then I would be wary. The query letter is the foot in the door, like I always say. It’s very important to polish this and re-check it a hundred times before you begin sending it out. It reflects your how thorough you are, and gives us a taste of what we can expect from the manuscript. If the letter isn’t well-executed, it’s easy to assume the manuscript probably won’t be either.
4. I have this super duper amazing novel but I have no publishing credits. Is that a problem?
No. Publishing credentials is not a necessity, but it is helpful. Mainly for us to see that you’ve been actively pursuing this path for some time, and it reflects on your writing and how strong it is if it has been published in so and so journal. It’s also something editors like to see in the bio page. Again, this isn’t a necessity, but in such a competitive field where everyone is trying to get published, I think writers should start planning and preparing before they decide to write the big novel. This means joining writers groups, getting constant critiques on stories and novels, publishing short stories or poetry in recognized journals. I for one do sit up and notice these things if they’re mentioned. However, at the end of the day, the final decision is made from the strength of the pitch and the manuscript.
5. Does an online presence affect your decision one way or another – the good, the bad, and the ugly? And should links to blogs or websites be included in the query letter?
This is a tricky question. My personal belief is that writers, in this day and age, should embrace social media. More for themselves than for anything else. Writing is a lonely profession, and connecting with other writers and building into that community will help him or her more than anything. It’s important to have a website and have weekly blogs or tumblr, to stay connected, to involves oneself in others posts and successes or difficulties, because this is networking and building contacts. I found three of my clients through YA blog-held pitch-fests that were hosted by bloggers (agented or unagented writers themselves). I probably would never have connected with them if not for these contests. As far as editors are concerned, they definitely would like their authors to have websites, etc too, but for them, the first and foremost thing is the manuscript itself. If the manuscript is mind-blowing, a social media platform can always be built and swinging away by the time the book comes out. But in the case of e-book publishers, they won’t be able to take on a project unless the person’s website is up and running. I usually like the links of the author’s website in the bio paragraph and if the blog, etc are linked to the website, I can generally just trawl around looking at everything. If I love a project, going through an author’s website will give me an idea about the kind of person she is, which is always helpful.
6. Does it help to write a little blurb about myself even if it has nothing to do with writing, or should I stick to the novel I’m querying?
I think in the first query letter, you should stick to the traditional bio information rules and only put in a line or two of your personal info (where you live, what you do, etc) and if the relationship progresses to the point of signing up, this is something you can exchange with the agent in a conversation. I always ask my clients (during the pre-signing conversation) to tell me about themselves, what they do outside of writing. It’s how I can connect with my clients. This is a business relationship to be sure, but I consider us to be partners, hence, to keep a long-term relationship going, it helps to take an interest in each other’s lives within the professional bounds.
7. Do you believe in the traditional query format, or are there some rules that can be broken?
It’s safer to follow the traditional query format. You want to be concise and precise and professional, while getting all the important information across.
8. What shouldn’t be included in the query? For example, lengthy salutations or expressions of gratitude, or credentials that don’t really apply.
Lengthy salutations, expressions of gratitude, someone explaining their personal crisis or loss of job and asking for representation as a solution (this has happened more times than I can remember!), a long bio that includes little about their writing and more about their personal information. None of this should be included. I understand how frustrating this profession can be, but anyone who thinks writing is going to solve all their financial troubles should do more research. Truly, it’s painful and lonely and hard and the process is lengthy and constantly challenging. When you do take off, these reasons are precisely why that success is so sweet, because of how much effort, time, and work the author has put in. It’s by no means an easy way to make bucks. The agent-author relationship starts off professional and always has to be professional and mutually respectful.
9. What is the strangest thing someone has sent you along with their query?
Nothing so far 🙂 Hopefully it’ll remain that way.
10. If there is a potential for a series, should this be mentioned in the query?
11. Can you give an example of a hook that really grabbed your attention lately?
A recent hook. It was a YA pitch I found at a contest. The plot basically had to do with a student involved in the shootout at a his high school. The story was told in time intervals leading up to the event and after. I never had a chance to read the submission, but the pitch was great!
12. Do you have any other tips or comments on what makes or breaks a query letter?
My tip is just to follow the format, send a pitch letter in the most professional manner, make sure your pitch is something that an agent has not seen before. Invest some time and get some critique feedback before submitting. Your pitch letter is THE most important thing, so make sure you spend some time crafting it. Also, make sure the agents you’re querying are looking for a project similar to yours. The fastest way to get rejections is if you’re sending it out randomly to people who, for example, don’t read Sci-fi and therefore would not be interested in reading your Sci-fi novel.
Thank you for spending time with us today, Pooja! Hopefully this clears things up a little and gives everyone some inspiration. The only way to learn is to simply start writing your query letter. For more help, check out Successful Query Letter Examples which actually landed agents.