Monday, July 2, 2012

The Query is Dead. Long Live the Query.

So, I had this super long post about queries and whether they're relevant anymore, but it got eaten by Word because I'm an idiot.

It's probably for the best anyway, since my post was all drawn out and wordy.  I'll paraphrase here and then let you chime in.

Recently, I went through the query process. I'm happy to say that I signed with an amazing freaking agent—Amy Boggs at Donald Maass Literary Agency. But having been through the ordeal a second time, I wondered whether queries have outlived their usefulness. 

Everyone knows that agents use queries to find books they might want to rep. Many agents are so overwhelmed with queries that they look for reasons to reject a query, much the same way a hiring manager looks for reasons to reject a resume.  It's not crass or pessimistic, it's just a fact of life.
With the magical Google machine, it's so easy to find information on writing a great query.  I honestly believe that there's so much info on the Internet that if you're not writing a great query, you're not trying hard enough. 

Which was the problem I saw.  Writing a great query is easy. But even a great query doesn't tell the whole story of the manuscript.  A great query is a writer's marketing tool. It's crafted to be enticing.  That's all.  Anyone with marketing savvy can make crap into gold.  But doesn't that defeat the purpose of the query?  If agents use queries to filter out books, but writers have learned how to write great queries, then aren't agents back where they started?

The other problem is that email has made querying agents so bloody easy, that I think it detracts from the process.  Before email, you had to research agents, write the query, and physically mail  it to them.  There was no instant gratification.  A person querying that way had to lay out a significant amount of time and cash to query, and therefore didn't do so lightly.  But with email, you can dash off a query in ten minutes and be done with it.

I'm not sure if there's a solution (or if it's even really a problem!). But I wondered if maybe more agents should require a synopsis in addition to a query (or instead of, since a query really tells you very little about the book anyway). A synopsis is difficult to write. It takes time, and has the ability to show a potential agent whether the writer REALLY understands their book.  Plot or pacing problems can be identified before they waste time reading the whole manuscript.  Writing a synopsis might force the writer to take the process of querying more seriously, or might help them identify problems before querying at all.  I know that writing a synopsis for my own book helped me understand a problem early on. 
What do you
 think? Are queries a waste of time? Do they still serve a valuable purpose? Should agents junk them and seek a different method of finding writers? Should I shut up before agents seriously start requiring synopses and writers everywhere hunt me down and hang me by my toes?

You tell me.


  1. Whoa, whoa, whoa. A synopsis instead of a query?? Bite your tongue, man!! I'd never get any queries out then! :-) And if agents take a while responding to queries, imagine how long it would be for them to respond to dozens of LOOOOONG synopses. BUT, I DO think you're onto something. Sometimes, even with a good query, one does not get the essence of the book. I've heard many agents say they request a sample 5-10 pages and just read those before reading the query because it's the writing they're after. Maybe that's the compromise. A short query and sample pages (not all agents request pages). I think if sample pages were included an agent could get the gist of the story and writing immediately and then bypass the step of asking for sample pages and just ask for the partial or full after the pages.

    1. But difficult is what I'm aiming for! Mwhahahahaha!

      Honestly, though, I think that the system of queries is so easy to game these days, that agents are requesting stuff that doesn't appeal to them because the query is so well written. A good synopsis can show whether the writer has a handle on her story, and can indicated any plot problems (like a bad ending) before the agent wastes time reading a 300 page novel.

      I think including 5-10 pages helps because the agent can see the writing style of the author, but I'm not sure it's enough.

      And my other point is that synopses are DIFFICULT to write. And to me, that would help weed out some people who are looking for instant gratification. People whose books aren't ready. I don't deny that in publishing, persistence is key, but being persistent via email is just too easy. And with all the querying help sites, I think it's overwhelming agents, who find it difficult to wade through the oncoming tide of queries.

      Luckily, I'm not an agent :)

  2. Your idea is very interesting, and I don't think it should be too upsetting to authors, because anyone serious about publishing will have to have at least one synopsis anyway, and often others of different lengths. Here's a question: Would a synopsis kill an agent's interest in a book because it gives away the whole plot right when the agent is introduced to it? Or would a good enough story/synopsis still have the power a query is supposed to have to entice the agent to read more? I'd be interested to hear what an agent thinks about this idea.

    1. That is a great question to which I haven't got an answer. I think that when reading for pleasure, having the story spoiled would be annoying. But if I was an agent, and my time was limited, I'd want to know if the manuscript I'm considering has all the right parts before I devote time to reading it. Reading a 10 page synopsis of a book and seeing that the last chapter pulls an "it was all just a dream" maneuver could save an agent for reading a 400 page manuscript that falls apart at the end.

      I think that, if I was an agent, I would't trust a query to do much. I would probably ask for a query and synopsis before getting to the manuscript. I mean, I know that synopses can work. Editors buy books on spec based on a sample chapter and a detailed synopsis.


Keep it clean, keep it classy, and jokes are always appreciated.