03 February 2010

Do Your Homework

Hey, Friends!

This week we're talking about some of the research we need to do while writing and pursuing a career in publication, using the analogy of a presentation I listened to last week. The presenter was trying to sell a product-- just as we are as writers. We're trying to get people to invest in us and in our stories, whether those people work in the biz or spend their mad money on books. And to get them to look at us, we need to know our audience, whether it's in our novels, a query, or a proposal.

We've all read agents who've talked about how important it is to follow the guidelines on their websites. They aren't suggestions. Those guidelines will guarantee our queries are read instead of tossed in the trash. I'm unagented so I've yet to write a successful query, but I'd imagine specificity (if possible) helps as well--as long as it's accurate--like comparing your novel to one that is already on a the shelves (that the agent represented) in a way that is fair, realistic, and compelling. I'm not saying we need to say "We're the next Karen Kingsbury" and we'll guarantee the same stage of success she has. But if our novel is comparable to a one she wrote, that's worth mentioning. For example, if I've written a book about a patient with a brain tumor, I might mention her novel Halfway to Forever as a comparable title.**By the way, this section is up for debate. I know this is a section in a proposal, but it's something I also read is a good idea in a query. Not as long or indepth, but a mention. What do you think?**

We need to do our homework, just as this guy did. Querying an agent who doesn't represent our genres won't get us very far. Not following guidelines will do the same, as will doing all the "wrong things" most of have read not to do by now. This blog is a result of my "homework". I started reading them a year ago and realized that I needed to build a viable, consistent presence--and that the information I'd learn would help me as a writer for the rest of my life. I didn't know about the community until I "came out" last July, but what a blessing!

Again, I learned the hard way how not to query a year ago and haven't tried again (took a year to edit the book). So I haven't done this successfully. But I know several agented authors read this blog, as well as a bunch of people like me--serious writers who are in the querying stage, have been studying it for a while, and have very necessary and accurate things to say. So please weigh in. What do you think? All comments are welcome, as always. And since my time to query is coming up, I'm taking the ensuing conversation under consideration as I create mine!

See y'all Friday!

28 comments:

  1. I agree, follow the guidelines. :-) But don't freak out if you make a typo or something. Yes, it's good to be polished but in the end the story is what garners a request.
    If you are going to do comparable titles, I've heard it's not good to compare to bestsellers, though I think comparing to a specific book is a good idea. :-) But I'm not even sure that needs to go in the query? Hmm. Still learning here too. :-)
    Hope you get lots of great comments!

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  2. Hey, Jessica! I know it goes in a proposal and I read somewhere that it might be a good idea for a query too. I did that last year, but am definitely wondering about that too.

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  3. Elana did a post today on queries- she even included her personal query. She did use the comparison to other novels, and I liked it.

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  4. It's funny how as humans we all have to learn things the hard way. Errrggh. I agree with you all that it's so important to follow the guidelines. No one would operate a chain saw the first time, "doing it their own way".

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  5. Oh dear. Everyone has differing ideas on how to write a hook for a query, but I think you've nailed it, Kristen: follow the guidelines for whatever house you query, and double-check that the agent is one who represents your genre. Some agencies, like Hartline(mine), have several agents representing various genres.

    I sometimes wonder how I landed an agent--it had to be God's amazing grace. But if I did one thing right, it was that I perused those guidelines with a teensy-weensy comb, to make sure I did what they wanted.

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  6. Sorry if the above post confused anyone: I mixed querying a publishing house and an agency.

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  7. What I've learned the hard way is that the query is not a mini synopsis. It should have much more tone and personality in hopes of showing off what your writing is like in the real story. And a hook to some of us is not a good hook for the agent. Start with the real danger. Throw in some character attitude and try and include the hook, set up, conflict, stakes. Geez. Sounds way too easy. Kind of like eating a melt in your mouth cheesecake and thinking 'oh I can do that.' Yeah. Right. :)

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  8. My best advice: write the best query you can. Then rewrite it. Let other people critique it. Start over, and write the new best query you can. Yes, read the guidelines and follow them, but it's the query that really gets their attention.

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  9. Mentioning a specific novel or author in reference to your style/similarities can't hurt in a query provided it's brief and clear how as to how you're making the comparison. JMO

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  10. Geez: what not to do in query. Insert an extra "how". ;(

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  11. Definitely follow the guidelines. Each agent has their own preferences. It doesn't pay to be lazy about researching this stuff.

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  12. I agree with everyone. Folow the guidelines. If you don't follow them specifically to that agency it sends a message that you might not be a good listener or might not be one they would want to work with.
    An online presence is good to have, too, but personally, I feel a great story and great writing will trump that.

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  13. As scary as it was, getting feedback on our query was the best thing we ever did. I can't even tell you how valuable it is to get additional sets of eyes. Who knows, after critiquing your query, other writers might have additional suggestions as to who you should submit it to. They may also suggest ways to personalize it!

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  14. If you hop over to Elana's blog today she gives an excellent query example! I'm at the same stage. Godspeed to both of us. =)

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  15. Queries are such a scary thing. One of the best steps is what you mentioned, following the guidelines. Then I'd say research some more. I read through just about all the queries on Query Shark and the free downloadable query book on Noah Lukeman's site to get started. I agree that it helps to write the query more than once and then have someone take a look at it if you can.

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  16. Elana does have an AWESOME post today about queries. I say, follow the guidelines, but like Jessica said, if you make a small error, oh well. We're human. Don't beat yourself up. And if you REALLY want to get serious about making connections, go to a conference. But only if you've queries, can't get any responses, and are convinced (after many revisions) that you've got a great novel on your hands.

    Just my humble two cents...all based on my experience, of course. :)

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  17. So true, Kristen. I agree with everyone else on here. My first response was to refer you to Elana's blog. Great minds think alike! :-)

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  18. I so agree about following the guidelines. I queried an agent last year and really messed it all up. He was kind but I didn't send the package exactly the way it should have been, I thought I had, but hadn't.
    SInce then, I am really really careful.

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  19. I was careful to study the guidelines..although I always simultaneously submitted, whether they wanted me to or not. :) Have to look out for ourselves, you know!

    Honestly, it took me forever to get an agent. I had publishing contracts with 2 publishers before I got agented. I got rejected from my current agent before she signed me on. :) But I found that if I signed on with small and medium sized publishers, it was easier to get an agent. By the time Penguin Books came into the picture, thank GOODNESS I finally had someone to help me out. Negotiating isn't my strong suit! I'm with Signature Lit Agency and have been very happy.

    Elizabeth
    Mystery Writing is Murder

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  20. Wow, thanks for sharing your story, Elizabeth! I'm glad everything worked out for you!

    Wow, I'm glad that agent had grace for you!

    Elana's blog was so helpful! I added it to my favorites.

    Great two cents, Katie! Thank you! That's great advice--definitely what I was thinking.

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  21. I definitely have to check those sites out, Cindy!

    Amen, T. Anne!

    That's great advice, Lila! Thanks!

    That's comforting, Jennifer! Thanks!

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  22. I always follow the guidelines, but with all the queries I've sent out in the past, I'm sure I've made my share of mistakes. Funny, for loving to write, I sure loathe putting together a query and proposal!

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  23. I'm not a huge fan of it either, Georgiana!

    Thanks so much for sharing your journey, Jeanette!

    I loved her post too, Tamika!

    So true, Linda!

    You're right, Laura. It's harder than it looks!

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  24. I used to try to cram in as much info as possible in a query, but now I have a formula that's shorter and more to the point. These people are busy!

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  25. Something I'm learning (and hearing more and more) is to not freak out over the query. Follow the guidelines presented and do your best to present a good picture of the book. That's it. I know, easier said than done. I'm looking to submit my query soon. I'm happy with it. Very happy with it and I never thought I would be.

    Good luck, friend!
    Jen

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  26. Hey Kristen..I don't know much about this but it sounds like you hit it right on...follow the guidelines and know what the agent wants. In university..I learned if I wanted a high grade give the prof what he wants...even if I didn't agree.

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  27. Hi Kristen -

    Great advice. I remember submitting an article to Discipleship Journal awhile back. One of the first comments the editor made was, "Oh, you followed the guidelines!" It was ultimately rejected, but that incident stuck in my head.

    Blessings,
    Susan :)

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  28. That would make me feel good, Susan!

    That's how I made it through college, Sarah!

    WOOHOOO, Jack! I can't wait to see what happens!

    Yes, they are, Jill! I'm going to try to make mine even shorter this time around.

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