Whither U

Miss Snark,

Whenever I read up on query letters online, I only feel trepidation. The letters I've seen referenced to say things like, "I have an MA/PhD/highest degree EVER in writing, I've gone to a prestigious writing program, I've published in magazines," etc. etc. etc.

As for myself, I haven't even graduated high school yet, let alone grabbed a Masters in English at Harvard.

So my question is this: how much of an influence do the credentials, experience, age, etc. play as opposed to the actual writing? Is the fact that I am not even legal yet going to act detrimentally in any way for me?

None. I look at your writing.

If you've got good publication credits (not a fancy degree, not a fancy job, not a fancy name) I will read things that sound really stupid in a query letter figuring that you just can't write a good query letter.

If you have a degree from Fancypants U, and a stupid query letter, the degree isn't going to make much difference. If you studied at a small cow college near Bumblee, Arkansas, I'm more interested than if you skated into Yale cause your greatgrandpop gave them a building and your dad's president of the fundraising society.


Mindy Tarquini said...

So you don't really need to know about my prison record?

Anonymous said...

Dear Miss Snark,
If you will read things in a query letter that might not sound quite right, then WHY DO WE HAVE TO WRITE SUCH DETAILED AND CONDESCENDING QUERY LETTERS TO AGENTS? I am wondering just why we all have to jump through hoops and spell everything just right and make certain the agent's names are correct and on an on. Why can't we just cut to the chase and use annonymous numbers so no one knows if we are famous or if we are previously published or if we new to this arena?
I say let's do away with the query letter and use a form like the government might use. Name, date, title, if any. How many pages? Fiction, non? What is your serial number.? -A fill in the blanks. It might eliminate eye strain on your part. It could be a win-win situation. But,it might put you out of a job...but then again so will self publishing...don't you think?
Anonymous #2 MS,MS,BS,AA.

meleah rebeccah said...

In lieu of it being "DELURKING" week (or so I've heard, over in blog land) You are supposed to comment on blogs you read all the time but never say anything.

Fear of Stiletto!!

I have never commented, so, I wanted to take the time and let you know even though I don't comment, I READ you all the time, and LOVE THIS BLOG! so, um, thanks.

Heidi the Hick said...

Hmm...good to know.

Anonymous said...

Completely off subject but my hair just burst into flames

Miss Snark needs to weigh in on this contest:


Rules look spooky, but sponsors look legit.


Anonymous said...

To the questioner:

Young can be very marketable. (Think: Christopher Paolini's ERAGON.)

Degrees don't mean much. A lot of great writers didn't finish school. (But by no means quit. Mark Twain could get a job without a degree. Not so today.)

Your question reveals grammatical problems ("As for myself" vs. "As for me") and awkward phrasing, ("act detrimentally in any way for").

Don't think about BEING an author. Start by doing what they do: write what you know and revise continually. And read, a lot.

Good luck.

PJD said...

Why can't we just cut to the chase and use annonymous numbers so no one knows if we are famous or if we are previously published or if we new to this arena?

Now, you wouldn't be asking that question if you were famous or previously published, would you? If you can take an advantage from a fact, you are likely to want to use that fact when you introduce yourself.

Of course, the other reason we have to pay homage to the gods of Query is so the agent can, at a single glance, see whether we have the capability to write well. By "write well" I mean properly and without misspelling common words or misusing apostrophes. Unfortunately, some really good storytellers may be discarded, but from the agent's perspective there are lots of good storytellers... why bother investing extra time in someone who has a lot of mistakes when the next query letter might bring that nugget of gold for which they've been panning?

To the original questioner, I say this: Don't give up. If you are still under 18, look at it this way: Many people don't even get serious about their writing until they're in their 40s or later. It usually takes them several years to get to success (whatever that means). If you are taking the time and putting in the work to learn the industry and improve your writing, you have a terrific opportunity.

Don't worry about your credentials. Get into a critique group, rely on your teachers, take feedback, be critical about your own writing. If you do that, credentials will take care of themselves.

Niteowl said...

To the anonymous poster talking about query letters. Apparently in the UK they don't even have query letters. It's actually just like the utopia you described.

As for the emailer, I would be incredibly interested if they studied at a cow, full stop. How could anyone not find that intriguing? Except for the Bovine Defamation Faction. They are everywhere. And it's not like they only hate Jersey cows (how deserving of our malice are they?!), but even the innocent and sometimes naughty holstein!

And from what I've read, some agents really pay attention to the query letter, some fella said you should spend 20 hours on your query letter. And some, like Miss Snark apparently, don't giving a flying Tanqueray as long as the writing is good.

FYI digging through my browser history, this is the link I was reading with the pertinent information:
interview with a former editor who wrote a book on writing books

Anonymous said...

"Name, date, title, if any. How many pages? Fiction, non? What is your serial number.? (1) -A fill in the blanks. (2) It might eliminate eye strain on your part. It could be a win-win situation. But,it might put you out of a job...(3) but then again so will self publishing...(4) don't you think?
Anonymous #2

1) Title, if any? As if titles are optional? And who in publishing wants to know the number of pages? They want the word count. And serial number? WTF? I'm one of a kind, but I don't have a serial number.
2) Books are not widgets; a fill-in-the-blanks query would not work for the same reason that a vaguely-worded query doesn't work.
3) Reading query letters is NOT WHAT AGENTS DO FOR A LIVING! They sell books and make sure their authors don't get ripped off. So how would streamlining the query process put them out of a job? You'd be giving them more time to work on the things that actually MAKE MONEY.
4) You are a fine example of the sort of person who should self-publish. You have little respect for grammar and punctuation. As for the point you were trying to make, self-publishing is only a threat to agents if all the non-crappy writers in the world suddenly lose their minds and decide they'd rather lose money instead of make money on their writing.
5) Uh...you mean anonymous #1? And congratulations on spelling the word right on the second attempt.
5) That "AA" at the end is the only part of this that actually gives me hope. Maybe this letter is all a joke. Maybe I'm the nitwit for not seeing it. Gosh, I hope so.

word veri: airpoz - what that commenter was?

Anonymous said...

how much of an influence do the credentials, experience, age, etc. play as opposed to the actual writing? Is the fact that I am not even legal yet going to act detrimentally in any way for me?
Please, oh please don't mention your age in your query letter. You only have to mention it when there's actually an offer on the table. You are actually quite legal, but you're probably not of a legal age to do business without a parent's consent.

Kit Whitfield said...

Don't worry about qualifications. Many a literature grad can't write - and in fact, mentioning that you have a lit degree as if it proves your writing is good can look as if you don't know the difference between studying and creating.

In the UK, there are a couple of Creative Writing degrees that will get a flicker of interest, but that's because there are very few of them, hence they're highly selective. A previous publishing credit will also get a bit of interest. But neither of these things are guarantees; they just provoke the thought, 'Hm, possibly this person isn't a complete muppet. Possibly.' - which can change if the writing isn't good.

Just write something good. Qualifications won't get bad writing accepted, and the lack of them won't put an agent off good.

Kit Whitfield said...

Anon: query letters are an indication of the writer's diligence, personality and common sense. If someone can't be bothered to put effort into getting a query letter right, they're usually either lazy or silly. Lazy people write sloppy books, silly people write bad books.

Fame is relevant; it'll make the book easier to sell.

And getting the agent's name wrong is just rude. You're asking them to spend a huge amount of their time on you, possibly for decades. If you can't be bothered to spend ten minutes checking how to spell their name, they're not going to feel like spending all that effort on you. A successful query is the beginning of a professional relationship, and mutual respect is key.

A great deal of it is about attitude. If someone approaching you has a bad attitude, it's as well to know it now, rather than after you've taken them on.

Anonymous said...

Having, in fact, a Master's Degree from Harvard (having earned it by applying, working hard and *gasp* going into major debt for it), I STILL wouldn't put it in my cover letter.


none said...

True, in the UK agents aren't much into query letters. They want a cover letter. Guess what goes in the cover letter. Yes, much the same as what goes into a query letter. The real advantage we have is that we get to send them pages under the cover letter, ie we get to the partial stage without having to go through the query stage.

Anonymous said...

I couldn't have said it better than Kit Whitfield.

Unknown said...

I was also told not to mention my age, mainly because I want my writing to stand out, not my age, height, weight, etc.

Let your writing sell your book, and good luck to you!

Anonymous said...

I'm doing an MA in creative writing... halfway through the third and final year atm, thank god. It's been pretty much useless and definately painful at times. The tutors are, alas, too human, the teachings are too widespread for my tastes (yet narrow according to tutor) and not wide enough to encompass novel writing, the feedback is too late and minimal. It seems impossible to get a first for anything except realism/experimental stuff. I've only stuck around because my parents insist how important a degree is in life, and it's less work than a "real" degree.

uh... yeah, sorry for the rant there. Anyways, just saying that a degree in creative writing means absolutely nothing, so don't worry about any lack.