Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Quality Queries. Sadly, There's No Magic Wand.

By Laura Mahal

I’m imagining what a query letter would look like if we could really stroll down to number ninety-three Diagon Alley and make a purchase from Weasley’s Wizarding Wheezes. Of course, the days of snail-mail querying are mostly gone, and literary agencies tend to frown on owl deliveries.

Flashy neon paper that burns up if an agent fails to read the whole thing are so yesterday. If you did hire a magician to help you with your query letter, here are a few things you might expect.

1. Your query would fall on exactly one page. "Quoth the raven, ‘Nevermore.’”

2. You could not possibly misspell the name of an agent. If you query “Roonil Wazlib” by accident, don’t blame us. The fine print on the package clearly states that spell-checking quills are for purposes of joking, only. You’re planning to have a lifelong relationship with this agency, right? You wouldn’t marry someone if you didn’t know how to spell their name. Do your research, you lazy muggle, you.

3. You would always identify your genre, audience, and word count. Remember, young adult or new adult is your audience, not your genre. Is your work contemporary, fantasy, science fiction, horror? And if it’s fantasy, by chance, we forbid you to compare yourself to the one and only JK Rowling. You might be very good. But you aren’t that good. Get a grip. She’s one of us.

For an extraordinarily comprehensive review of the querying process, check out: Kat Cho's brilliant guide

4. Speaking of word count: we will charge you a galleon for each word you are under, or over, the range of your genre. You may not pay us in leprechaun gold. Unless you are JK Rowling, follow these guidelines, or else. 

Here are not just one, but three, excellent articles on appropriate word count ranges: 
Average Word Counts for Books Similar to Yours

5. The bulk of your query will read like the back of a bestselling book’s jacket. Not a letterman’s jacket, and not a packet of dill and sweet potato chips. Seven to eleven sentences is the gold standard, and remember, that’s about your book—not about you and your amazing feats. The sweet spot is where you’ve given enough information to hook the reader, but not assaulted their brain with data much like that flung by Peeves at innocent first year’s. 

6. No magically disappearing ink. Times New Roman is quite good, you know, preferably in twelve-point. Those Romans gave us a special contract for all of our queries. In return, we rebuild their coliseums long enough to air a one-time Quidditch match. Sorry. It was last week.

7. Your bio would be streamlined and truthful. You should know that we supply agents with truth serum at warehouse pricing. They will find you out if you brag about the self-published book that swept the magical world by storm. Umm, by muggle dust broom, maybe. Be honest and brief. On that note, don’t brag, or we’ll run your briefs up the flagpole in front of Hagrid’s cabin. (Don’t think we won’t do it, Percy Weasley.)

8. Your first pages would be polished. You’ll have paid a proper copy and content editor, or else you’ll have hired Hermione Granger, who not only corrects homework for her friends, but does a damn spiffy job on query letters. (Oh, wait. We forgot. Hermione has retired from that job, as she’s quite busy at the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. She’s partnering up with some muggles at the FBI or something to do with you lot.) Here are some other ideas:

a.)    Consider supporting a good cause and earning a review of your query in return. For example, both Fat Kitty City (Pens for Paws) and RAINN (Writers for Hope) recently benefited from donations made by writers in return for reviews of their queries by notable authors and literary agencies. All proceeds went to charity. Hurray for human kindness!!

b.)   You might consider hiring a professional to have a look-see at your one-page (nevermore) QL and get their feedback. For example, Stacey Graham of Red Sofa has a query review service for a flat rate. (Plus, we like her. She’s a frequent customer.) She can work on your manuscript or your query letter, as long as you understand that she cannot then offer you representation. Freckled Spectacles Editing

c.)    Are you brave enough to throw your query into the Ravage and Review pile? Try Query Shark or Manuscript Wishlist -- Queries. Remember to bring along a flute, in case you need to put Fluffy back to sleep. "I should not have said that."

If you don’t remember the right order of bricks to tap to access Diagon Alley, or you’ve been banned from the Leaky Cauldron for excessive butterbeer consumption, then here’s a final suggestion:

Get critique group mates, beta readers, and strangers off of the street to read your query before you submit it to agents. Make sure it makes sense, doesn’t bore one to tears, or cause an agency to block you on social media. Be kind. Be professional. Your query should give a reader a feel for your book. That ought to be a magical experience.

For more query guidance, look to some of the industry's best minds. Here is a sampling:


shenke said...

Delightful message here and encrypted with all my favorite flavors of Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans for every kind of writer! Giant or short, muggle or magic sort. Thank you for the resources to boot!

Kristin Owens said...

Great post. If Snape hadn't confiscated my Marauders Map I might be having better luck with my queries.

Laura Mahal said...

Thanks, Sheala and Kristin! Well, I'm glad you didn't get bogie-flavored beans, Sheala, or that dreaded ear wax. Kristin, I do think that Professor Snape is simply ensuring that your wonderful manuscript ends up with the very agent that is perfect for you. He is the world's best secret agent man.

I'm taking a little time off from full-time novelist to focus on a few nonfiction articles of importance to an elderly neighbor who is beginning to lose his memory. We take trips into the pensieve together, and then I conduct research to flesh out the backstory. So far, I've learned a great deal about railroading between the Great Depression and the end of World War II.

So perhaps I am "overhauling my magic wand" after all . . . Finding the reasons why writing is my true and abiding passion. Glad to be in this marvelous business with the two of you!!

Yat-Yee said...

Brilliant and witty as usual!

Louise Frager said...

That was very cleverly done, but that's to be expected from you. I love your creativeness.

Laura Mahal said...

Yat-Yee and Louise, you've brown-sugared my butter beans and bought me a second glass of butterbeer to boot. (I guess I'm in the mood for alliteration.)

Let's give credit where credit is due. I'm surrounded by intelligent, witty, and creative friends. You are kind enough to share a fraction of your brilliance with me, and I quickly run away with it, tucked under my arm like Harry might affectionately carry Hedwig.

I've rediscovered the joys of writing, along with a newfound predilection to experiment with potions and spices. My family seems to be enjoying the summer marinades. Little do they know, heh heh heh, that I've been following a book of secret recipes of the transporting variety. (Do NOT read into that, Coloradoans. I'm talking metaphorical transformations. The only green in my recipes would be fresh herbs such as cilantro or basil.) The point is, we're having fun again.

May your writing endeavors be spellbinding!

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