What Doesn't Have To Go in a Query

On Monday, we talked about what must go in a query. Really only 3 things need to be clear: character, plot, and basic statistics. These are a couple of optional query items, commonly confused as required:

This doesn't mean using the agent's correct name (you should always do that!). I'm talking about the little sentence at the beginning that says "I'm querying you because..." or "I've been stalking you and think you'd be a great agent."

Basically, only personalize it if you mean it. "I enjoy your blog." "I'm a big fan of [client's name whose novels you've actually read]." Don't lie or even stretch the truth. It won't tip the scales in your favor, and it's a lot more obvious than you think (meaning it's more likely to tip the scales against you). If you don't know anything about an agent other than that they represent your genre, it's okay to say nothing.

I know a lot of agents say they like it when writers compare their novel to others; it shows they know their novel and the market. But not every novel lends itself to easy comparison, and a bad comparison can make it look like you don't know your novel or the market.

So like, if you set out to write "Twilight meets Survivor," and the finished story essentially matches what you envisioned, then it's probably okay to say so. But if you believe your story combines the writing style of Neil Gaiman with the characters of George Martin and a plot device you saw on Stargate...that's not really a good comparison.

If you're not sure, don't say anything. Comparisons aren't necessary, and if you described the story well, the agent will make their own connections.

Most aspiring writers have no credentials, but we feel we need to prove ourselves. So we mention our Christmas letters, our corporate status reports, or the fact that we've been writing since we were five.

Writers higher up the tier want to believe that no-pay or very-low-pay gigs count because there was a submissions process, but the bottom line is if the agent hasn't heard of the publication, it probably doesn't count. And sometimes dropping the name of that 0.5-cent-per-word e-zine can look like you're trying too hard. Just like with personalization, stretching your credentials won't tip the scales in any good direction.

That's just what I think. Your thoughts are most welcome in the comments.


Unknown said...

I'm not to the querying stage but this is excellent advice! It's nice to know whats optional vs. what's required!

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

I struggled with all of these! Especially whether to list my small-press YA novel as a pub credit. I've had requests from crits that had personalization and not, and sometimes I think that really depends on the agent - some will explicitly say "personalize" or "don't." The comparison thing worked for the novel I'm currently querying, but this next one probably not. My approach with that was to go with comparisons that gave tone ... "it has the feel of X, but the humor of Y."

These are great tips - I wish I had them before I queried! :)

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

Erg, I have crits on the brain. That should have read, "I've had requests from queries ..."

Adam Heine said...

Jen, always glad when these help :-)

Susan, I'm not sure, but I would think your small press novel does count. Then again I once used our missionary newsletters as a credit :-/

In any case, I think if you're not sure, don't do it. It's the story that sells in the end. All that other stuff is usually frill.

Myrna Foster said...

I don't think it would be a good idea to compare yourself to Neil Gaiman anymore than it's a good idea to say you've written the next Harry Potter or Twilight. Comparisons are kind of tricky that way.

Adam Heine said...

Agreed, Myrna. I prefer to just not do them.