How many times can I query you?

After reading the question regarding the service that connects writers with agents, and your answer that more or less poo-poos the idea, I’m wondering: if someone queries you with an unimpressive letter and you ‘pass,’ and they write again and their letter is better (but not great) – and you pass again - what if they wrote a rather spectacular letter the third time, and it impressed you? I guess what I’m asking really, is 1. would you hold the first two ‘bland’ attempts against them? 2. or, could perseverance pay off?

You can write the world's worst query letter and if you have good writing attached to it, I'm not going to pass. It's not the query letter that keeps you from "yes": it's the writing. I've said it before, here it is again: most query letters suck. Good writing trumps all.

That's why query letter services for novels are ...ahem... foolish and a waste of time. Non-fiction is a much different kettle of fish, but mostly the folks who read this blog are writing novels.

To specifically answer your question: I don't remember any of the stuff I pass over at that query stage. I barely remember the full novels I've passed on. I keep notes on the novels and the partials but not the queries.



Kimber Li said...

I haven't drank all my coffee this morning, but I'm wondering if the original poster is confused by the difference between a publisher and an agent? I've read that editers will automatically reject a second attempt by a rejected author. Maybe this poster is wondering if that's true for agents as well?

Anonymous said...

Editors don't always reject the second go-round of a project--I've rejected writers but asked them to resubmit with changes a number of times. It's true that I think many editors (myself included) would prefer to be re-queried if an author thinks s/he's significantly revised a project enough to resubmit.

Anonymous said...

While the estimable Miss Snark will apparently move on from an uninteresting query to examine the writing, not all agents are so inclined.

Plus, there are a great many agents who inform prospective clients that they want a query letter only, and that if other materials are submitted that the entire package will be tossed.

This strikes me as a little weird--like deciding what car to buy based on the advertisements, but refusing to look at the car. But it is a very common policy to look at queries only before requesting a partial.

What is up with these agents? Perhaps Kristin Nelson, who passes through here occasionally and has a query-only policy, would like to comment?

(I note that virtually all agents in the UK seem to ask for the first three chapters as part of any query package, so this aversion to seeing fiction itself seems to be American.)

Kimber Li said...

Thanks, crinklish, for settling that confusion.

anonymous, although it's painful for us writers, I can understand why agents would have a 'query only' policy. I've read a lot of books and websites and they all say one thing - agents are incredibly busy people! I try to look at the bright side. The less partials an agent has to look at, the more queries she can read. The more queries she can read the more likely she'll eventually get around to mine.

Anonymous said...

Anon who wonders why some agents will only read a query letter, but no actual pages:

Evil Editor once said something about query letters that made an impression on me. Basically, he pointed out that the query letter is also a sample of your writing.

You want to prove to an agent/editor that your writing is skillful and you can string together a logical progression of plot ideas. You can do this with a query letter also.

litagent said...

I differ from Miss Snark in this regard. First, if the query letter is written poorly, I'm very unlikely to even get to the pages. Perhaps if it's a really intriguing premise, but first impressions are important to me. Also, although I have a reputation for being absentminded, I nearly always remember if I have read a query before, and since most of my queries are email, I can quickly check. (I am even an electronic pack rat. I save everything.) If you have significantly rewritten and are now querying again, better to tell me. Otherwise I'm likely to remember and be really irritated.

Cynthia Bronco said...

Make me the Nitwit of the Day: I requeried an agent who rejected me because I forgot I'd already sent one to him. I hope I won't be placed on an idiot list to be circulated throughout Manhattan.

Anonymous said...

"Evil Editor once said something about query letters that made an impression on me. Basically, he pointed out that the query letter is also a sample of your writing."

In the same sense that having Yo-Yo Ma play the harmonica is a sample of his musicianship. In the same sense that having Lance Armstrong play ping-pong is a sample of his athletic abilities. In the same sense that having van Gogh paint a Chevy ad is a sample of his artistry.

Or, more to the point: F. Scott Fitzgerald was a lousy screenwriter. But isn't that a sample of his writing? Gee. Guess he must have been a lousy novel writer, too.

A query letter is advertising copy, and I would bet you that the most respected writers of the 20th would have written terrible query letters. Though I would like to have seen query letters from, say, Nabokov, Heller, and William S. Burroughs.

Isn't looking at the actual pages the most relevant thing to do? I completely understand why Miss Snark does this. What I can't understand is why so many people would decide NOT to do so as a policy.