Sigh. Probably better to just tell the story I want to tell, I guess.
So what's a hot genre these days? YA and middle grade, but especially middle grade. Romance and mysteries are always hot, but their respective subgenres go in and out of favor). Graphic novels are "in" right now. High-concept commercial fiction (this never goes out of favor). And we've heard a lot of murmurs about serious women's fiction; agents are on the lookout.
The market for traditional genre fiction has been saturated, especially for the type of fiction that was popular a decade ago. Also, genre fiction geared towards a male audience is a harder sell because women are the readers nowadays. That's why there's been an explosion of fantasy and science fiction with female "kick-butt" heroines, and thrillers and mysteries with female lead detectives.
So if you're writing traditional genre fiction geared towards men, then you're going to have a harder time.
Because I tend to write what I enjoy reading, I fall into the latter category. That kinda blows. Mysteries and commercial fiction aren't really my thing. I'd love to write a graphic novel, but I have very little experience in that area (and reading Civil War now is showing me just how different the writing style has to be). I'm not even gonna touch romance.
But here's the silver lining. The YA (young adult) genre is pretty danged freeform. Essentially, all a book needs to be YA is to have a teen protagonist, and beyond that whatever you do with genre doesn't matter. In fact, what with the tendency of my stories to mix sci-fi and fantasy, YA seems perfect.
So now I'm thinking of selling out, but not really. I mean, in order to sell out, I would have to hate YA but write it anyway. Thing is, I like YA. That's how, on the drive from Pattaya to Bangkok the other day, I found myself thinking about the next story - the one after Air Pirates that I've already planned a little - and wondering how it might change if the protagonist were one of the teenagers instead of an adult near one of the teenagers.
And what if that teenager were a female "kick-butt" heroine...
Focused. The most common mistake I see (and make myself) is to try to tell everything that happens. To the author, everything is important, but not to the agent. Your novel is like a five course meal, but in the query the agent only wants to know about the main dish. If the main dish is liver and onions, the agent's not going to care that they get their favorite soup, salad, and dessert with it.
A good guideline I discovered is to limit your query to two or three named characters. Any more than that and your characters tend to get distilled down to stereotypes, which is Bad. Also, focusing on two or three characters - what happens to them and what they do - helps to focus on what's really important in the story.
Logical. Every sentence should lead to the next, and every sentence should have a reason for being there. If there's a sentence that doesn't fit, try taking it out - sometimes you'll find that it didn't need to be there in the first place (even if that character or event was important in the novel, see above).
Terse. Likewise, look at each, individual word in the query and decide if it really needs to be there. A lot of words writers use in queries ("that", "when", "as", "just", etc.) can be cut easily and the sentence will still mean the same thing. Other sentences can be trimmed by moving things around or combining sentences. In either case, every word you can cut will make your query better.
But knowing what to do is not always enough. Like most things, it takes practice to get good at this stuff. For that, I recommend the following: (1) read critiques of others' queries, (2) critique queries for others, and (3) get your query critiqued by others.
I don't know if my query is good enough or not yet, but it's definitely better. I also learned this weekend that an effective query should be getting about a 30% request rate or better. Meaning 3 out of every 10 queries sent out should be getting a letter back asking for more.
So for I'm at 0%. I'll let you know how that changes. The third transport is on its way out, and I'm due to send a fourth one in the next week or two.
One feature that should never have been added, probably never even attempted, is the AutoSummarize feature. A few seconds after selecting this option, Word boldly states that it "has examined the document and picked the sentences most relevant to the main theme." It then offers to highlight the key points for you, create a new document of the summary, or "insert an executive summary or abstract at the top of the document."
Seriously, has anyone ever used this thing to write an abstract for them? They probably don't have a job anymore if they did. Now, I've been having trouble writing my own mini-synopsis, so for fun (and procrastination!) I thought I'd let Word have a shot. Here's what it came up with in 100 words or less:
Alex groaned. Tom replied. Tom. Tom nodded. Alex laughed. Alex froze. “Arad’s soldiers. Doce nodded. Alex nodded. “Doce! “Doce! Doce!”
Alex nodded. Tom nodded.
Tom’s dad shrugged. Tom nodded. “Dad! “Doce? Alex.”
“Alex. “Alex. Alex yelled.
Alex yelled. Alex nodded. Tom thought. Alex chuckled. Alex sighed. Alex responded. Tom’s dad asked.
Alex exclaimed. “Dad! Arad stopped. “Doce!” “Doce!” “Doce!” Alex hesitated. Doce waited. Doce stopped running. “Dad?”
* * * * *
“Dad,” Tom started.
Dad screamed, “Tom!” Alex blinked. “Dad?”
Alex thought. Alex shouted.
Alex pressed. Alex screamed. Doce!”
Alex thought aloud. Arad pointed.
It's sad that it couldn't even get basic punctuation right. Nested quoting should be a basic, especially for a company that also makes grammar checkers and compilers. For the heck of it, let's see what Word can do in 10 sentences:
Tom. “Doce! “Doce! Doce!”
“Alex.”“Alex. “Alex. “Doce!”
Thank you very much for your query, but unfortunately this doesn't sound right for our agency. We encourage you to keep submitting, however, as the right agent may be just around the corner. Thank you again for thinking of us.
Every Agency Out There