8.24.2006

911 Clue call

Many agents' listings in Literary Marketplace stipulate "Queries only." I've written a bang-up query letter, but I just know that the scintillating, witty prose of the actual novel is what will get it sold. Any harm in ignoring what the agent says she wants and sending one or even three gripping sample chapters?


No, none at all. You don't want an agent to think you can read do you?

16 comments:

Anonymous said...

When the 911 Clue Call sirens have died down, could I just murmur a dimwit question to check? Would it be okay to send, say, 3 pages (not chapters) with the query letter to a 'queries only' agent, just to prove you can write without suggesting that you can't read?

I hope it would be, because when it comes to fiction, the further it is towards the literary end of the spectrum, the more crucial the quality of the writing is, and however snappy the query letter, it can really only convey the concept, not the writing.

Kim said...

This might get me whapped with the clue gun, but I've heard several agents say that there isn't any harm if you include the first few pages of the work in question because you don't have anything to lose. Their general consensus was that it could only help, not hurt, since it gives a taste of your writing and not everyone (no matter how gifted at prose they might be) can write a slam-dunk letter.

I say that if an agent's going to reject you, it isn't because you added three pages - but then again, I could be wrong. Ergo, I duck as I hit the submit key.

Anonymous said...

I cannot believe this comment!!
As Miss Snark said (paraphrasing here), can't your read?
Why do you think you're special? Send what they ask for.

If I were an agent, and someone was a p.i.t.a. BEFORE they were a client, I would definitely consider that when considering their work!

Miss Snark said...

1 or 3 gripping CHAPTERS is what she wanted to send. That's the source of the ..um...snarkasm.

1-3 pages is quite ok.

Maria said...

It could just be me, but it seems to me that most of the agents that request Only a Query Cover, aren't looking that hard for new clients.

I base this on: You can't tell much about my writing from a query letter--but you can tell if I am a celebrity, even a minor one, because I will tell you that in a query;

and:

On those that I have queried that ask only for the cover--I get very quick responses, generally within two weeks or less. It is always a form letter saying "no."

Sure, it could just be that my query letter sux.

Kim said...

I guess I should have emphasized the pages - it was early and I'd not yet had a cup of coffee. I never said anything about being special, did I? No - what I said was you'd have nothing to lose by sending three pages. And since I am assuming that Anonymous #2's tirade was aimed at me, I think the real question is can't YOU read, because those words were not mine, but had come from agents themselves.

There - time for the second cup.

Anonymous said...

Call me crazy, call me nutsy, but I'd rather not submit any writing until an agent specifically asks for it.

If you submit a sample of writing and get a form rejection, how do you know the agent got past the query anyway?

My mission in life is to gather enough feedback from agents, editors, readers, etc. to know whether a given piece of writing is meeting with a favorable enough response to warrant indefinite submissions. One way is when an agent responds to a query with "Quick, send me the book." At least then I know my query is good. If they ask for a partial and then request the rest, then I know the partial has some merit.

Whereas, if I send a chapter and they don't comment, or, as is more often the case, never respond at all, how do I know what they read?

Crazy/Nutsy

Janny said...

I dunno...silly me, on the initial approach, I always try to accommodate what an agent wants. Blame it on my overprotective mother, my submissive upbringing, or whatever. But I usually operate on the premise that what an agent WANTS, an agent is going to TELL me...and I disregard that at my own peril.

If an agent is kind enough to say, "yeah, send a few pages along with the query," I will. Accent on FEW. As in 5 to no more than 10, usually.

One rule of thumb I always used when querying one specific major publisher, however, is including the synopsis with my query letter. (They didn't say NOT to, ergo...)
This has, more often than not, led to a request for at least a partial, and often a full manuscript...so it has cut at least one step out of the long submission/response process, IMHO, and hasn't hurt my chances at all.

As for form rejections coming for query letters...yeah, that happens. But it also--and more often--happens that I get a request for at least a partial from the query, sometimes in very short order. So it is possible that some agents who ask for queries only really ARE actually looking for new clients. (Wonder of wonders!)

That being said, no one's been on the phone or e-mail to me yet saying, "Wow! Send me the whole thing on this and anything else you've got like it!"

Notice I say YET. Hope springs eternal!

Janny

Ryan Field said...

This happens too often; agents know what they want. If there are unique guidelines, read them carefully. But it just seems more professional to send a good query first.

I read this today:

1. "The funniest, most entertaining, and probably most informative blogger on the internet today is Miss Snark, who can be found at http://misssnark.blogspot.com/. Miss Snark is the alter ego of a New York City literary agent, and if her insight into the publishing industry is any indication, a damn good one at that. Miss Snark takes on all comers, from innocent newbies with questions about query letters to nitwits looking to put percentages on agents' sales so that they can determine whether their book has an 18.7776% chance of being sold. To have your question answered on her blog, simply email her, and whether you're a nitwit or not, you'll probably find both question and answer there the next day. Miss Snark boasts over 3,000 hits a day. If you can't find what you're looking for on the Home Page, visit her Snarchives. We don't know who she really is, but here are some hints if you're looking for her on the streets of Manhattan. She has a poodle called Killer Yapp, who eats cats. She drinks moonshine and is obsessed with George Clooney. She dislikes nitwits and most recently the triple digit heat. Oh yeah, and she's very, very snarky."

It was in TOP TEN BLOGS ABOUT WRITING AND PUBLISHING. Didn't see it mentioned anywhere, or by anyone, so I thought I'd copy it. I write blog reviews, and though I always have to be "nice" I'm not always as honest as I should be with the self-indulgent blog slush pile. But this snarky blog is the way it should be. Congratulations.

Maya said...

When I was looking for an agent, I always sent up to five pages, depending on where a good break appeared in the mss. It usually fell around the third page.

Not one agent ever complained and I got lots of requests for the manuscript.

The whole send-a-query, wait, send-a-partial, wait, send-a-full drove me crazy. This small act speeded things up considerably.

Just my two cents.

Anonymous said...

Am I losing my memory, or didn't Miss Snark address this a while ago? I thought she said that a query consists of the query letter plus the first five pages, so the pages should always be included when 'queries only' is specified. Unless, of course, an agent gives more detailed instructions as to what they expect.

It's all very confusing to us newbies out here in flyover country. We know it's the writing that really counts, but we also know our manuscript has to be read in order for its fabulousness to be appreciated. We obsess about queries because we're afraid of committing a faux pas that will get us rejected before our writing is ever seen.

Diana Peterfreund said...

I odn't think there's anyhting wrong with sending 5 pages with your query to query-only agents.

But in response to Maria's comment, when I was looking for an agent the last time around, I sent three queries, no pages. Each requested the book, each offered representation. I'm not a celebrity.

So just sending queries DOES work.

Anonymous said...

It occurs to me that a query and a few pages is a fairly accurate equivalent of what anyone picking up the book in a bookshop will take in. No wonder agents like it.

"If you submit a sample of writing and get a form rejection, how do you know the agent got past the query anyway?"

Well, you don't. But, equally, perhaps they would have accepted it if you had sent pages. What's so terrible about sending a couple of pages along with your killer query? You only get one shot at each agent; if sending 2-3 pages to a 'query only' agent has the Snark of Approval, why give yourself less of a chance than that? Unless you know that your writing isn't good enough?

"My mission in life is to gather enough feedback from agents, editors, readers, etc. to know whether a given piece of writing is meeting with a favorable enough response to warrant indefinite submissions."

Contrary to some aspiring writers' impression, agents and editors are not a free reading service.

"At least then I know my query is good. If they ask for a partial and then request the rest, then I know the partial has some merit."

Every page of the work ought to be so good you can't make it any better. If it isn't, it won't be taken up anyway, and the money and effort spent on 'indefinite submissions' would be better spent on an editorial service.

Anonymous said...

Crazy and Nutsy replies:
"So good you can't make it any better" is a relative term.

If an agent or an editor makes cogent suggestions that would improve your book (as they are often known to do), a writer who wants to get published may come to the realization that the book wasn't absolutely as good as it could have been.

Nevertheless, there comes a point when you have to start sending the thing out. It is at this point that the responses of agents and editors have their role. If you get no response at all, you may be on the wrong track. If you get personal replies, you may be on the right track.

If, like Diana above, you get offers from three agents, maybe your train has arrived at the station.

Anonymous said...

"So good you can't make it any better" is a relative term.

If an agent or an editor makes cogent suggestions that would improve your book (as they are often known to do), a writer who wants to get published may come to the realization that the book wasn't absolutely as good as it could have been.


Sure, it could always be better, and sometimes only another eye can tell you how. But the binary box-ticking of 'rejected' or 'send partial, please', which may be all a deluged agent has time for, isn't cogent or constructive. Yes, in the end, you have to start sending work out, but it should be the end of the process of deciding if it's 'ready', not the beginning. That, as you say, is when you might start to get those encouraging, handwritten rejections.

The Hyperbolyst said...

Maria says: "You can't tell much about my writing from a query letter--but you can tell if I am a celebrity, even a minor one, because I will tell you that in a query..."

While it may be true that 'celebrity' is the only issue some agents are interested in; and while it's perhaps true, also, that one can't know, for sure, whether a writer has real talent based on a query letter, I humbly submit that, very often, one CAN tell from that same query if a writer has no talent whatsoever. Such 'qualities' tend to assert themselves so quickly & with such clarity that, often, one need read only a query SENTENCE to know that it's time to turn to the next entry in the Be-My-Agent Sweepstakes...

In such cases, less is more than enough.