Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Stop Perfecting Your Query Letter

Literary agent Stephen Barbara at Foundry Literary would appreciate it if you'd all stop perfecting your query letters.

It's making for a great deal of confusion in the agent world.

He's been receiving some very polished sales pitches, which you might think is a good thing. Haven't agents complained in the past about the dreadful letters that show up in their in-box?

Back in those days, an agent could judge the quality of the author's manuscript by the quality of the query. Those who couldn't write well didn't produce a good query letter, and it was easy to figure out who would get a request for pages and who would get the form rejection.

Times have changed. Aspiring authors can find all kinds of information available all over the Internet on how to write the dreaded query. There's forums to workshop the things, agent blogs to submit to for editing and websites that provide formatting tips.

Poor Mr. Barbara has been led down the garden path with these well-crafted letters, to the point that he's been reading more manuscript pages than ever before, and it's wasting his time.

The query letters don't reflect the author's talent. He's running across some dreadful prose that he once avoided based on the query.

Agents are busy and the more time they waste on writing not worth reading, the less time they have to read the brilliant manuscripts. Yours and mine.

Don't dwell on the query. Dwell on the writing, on the manuscript itself. That's where most of the hard work lies, in the most subjective element of finding an agent to represent you. Of course there's showers of shite coming out of the big publishing houses, but someone thought it was good. You have to read it, like it or not, to see what makes it these days.

Until then, don't bother the folks at Foundry Literary with great queries unless you can back up the promise with stellar writing.


Aeneas said...

That WAS funny. I have no problems with sending imperfect, mis-spelled, all in caps, no commas or periods letters.

As for rejects--I got 2 this weeks, and I wasn't even trying! And I had forgotten all about those two submittals. ***rolls eyes*** One was for a short story. Bloody hell, can't even write a short story. Snort.

O hAnnrachainn said...

You've developed a hard shell that makes you impervious (nearly) to rejections. When you don't even remember submitting, that's a sure sign that you've stopped obsessing over each and every little thing sent out.

Short stories are a very tough sell. The market's far too small. You have a better chance of getting a novel published than a short story.

Aeneas said...

Interesting... I haven't thought of it as a 'hard shell'. If it's a hard shell indeed, it's the result of a noxious chemical reaction between disgust, cynicism and revolt. It also means that in my heart of hearts I've given up. I have truly given up. I still like to write--can't get away from that. But I refuse to deal with the species that populate the agent and publishing world. I have resorted to black humor.

I do admire you for your incredible persistance.

I guess I should sit down and do an analysis, disection and vivisection of the how and why of all this. I hope it doesn't cover for a feeling of failure.

AS for short stories--yeah, I have no real inclination for them. However, this short story received some interesting and useful critique that has become the seed for making it a novel. Just because I would like to write it... I know I can finish it (that's not the point); but the thought of sending it to a publisher or agent, fills me with revulsion.

Does this make sense?

O hAnnrachainn said...

Why stop writing if you enjoy it? No reason not to take a submittal hiatus either.

I'm working on another manuscript and not querying agents for now because I need a break from all the rejection.

And it's not persistence but pure stubbornness. The Irish fought for 800 years to be free from England, so maybe it's in the blood.