Saturday, July 17, 2010

Breaking All the Rules

This is going to be a reassuring, although perhaps confusing, post. I was reading queries tonight and someone mentioned that they were, as per my instructions from another post, querying me with a finished manuscript. And that reminded me that I had recently signed up a client who had queried me with only part of her manuscript complete. And that reminded me that I had within the last few years signed and sold two new writers based on queries that were not very strong, technically speaking, and didn't have the elements I like to see, like comp titles, but just had *something* about them that appealed to me; in one case a fun, confident voice, and in the other, good sample pages.

Now, don't misunderstand: I am not saying that you should deliberately set out to not follow instructions, as it were. But this is a confusing industry, and there's lots of conflicting information out there, and you probably have lots of on-line writer friends weighing in as well, and this is a really stressful experience anyway because you are following your dream, afterall, so I would say it's probably pretty near impossible to get everything right, for every agent, all of the time. I always compare the process to writing your college essay. When I was working on mine, far too many years ago to remember (except that I do), I had far too much input on mine, and I completely over thought the entire thing, with the result that I wrote a pretty flat, lack-luster little essay which didn't do much to tell college admissions counselors what kind of person I was. I played it safe and that hurt me in the end.

Better, I think, to be a little loosey-goosey with this stuff. If you be yourself, a little quirky, a little original, yes, you might turn somebody off. But you have a far better chance of attracting a kindred agent spirit I think, the one that loves your letter and then loves your work. Again, please don't take this as carte blanche to ignore all the advice you've ever heard when it comes to query letters. But do take it as permission to relax a little, have some fun, and yes, let your query freak flag fly.


  1. Thanks Jenny! It is quite comforting to know that in the end being yourself and being able to express it is the best way of getting ahead. Meanwhile, good luck with your coming deluge of "creative" attempts to get your attention.

  2. We will query! We are not afraid! (Daft maybe, but not afraid. Okay, a little afraid...)

  3. This made me smile. Not quite ready to fly my query freak flag yet, but when I do - promise (I'll make an attempt anyway) to try and relax. I figure eventually I'll hit the nail on the head.

  4. This is very reassuring and a much welcomed, unconventional attitude towards the query. I am not a very conventional writer. It makes me happy to know there are agents out there who will appreciate me, quirks and all. Now have you gotten to my query yet? lol..

    Sam Martino

  5. My freak flag is always flying. It's just not always visible. *wink*

  6. this rings so true to all of interactions; in a world where presentation is key to selling (and we are constantly selling) we tend to gather as much information on the "right sell" as we can to "increase" our success ratio. In doing that, we realize that the people we would actually like to work with are the ones not looking for the polished one color fits all type, but for the off color that ads the life to an otherwise dull collection of friends, furniture, characters in a book or sneakers. We all seem to paint a beige background, but then set out to search the purple, the golden, the shiny and the odd to bring our beige to life.

  7. I love the idea of finding and connecting with my kindred agent spirit. My query flag has been blowing in the wind and I have yet to "bring" my agent to me. Perhaps I need to add a little freak to my flag...

  8. What an interesting post. There's so much advice to follow guidelines and fit the mould, so it's nice to be reminded that creativity is about making things your own way. I'm tweeting this.

  9. As always, you are so right-on. I'm a rule-breaker all the way, so this post really resonated with me.

    I signed w/my agent with only a very loose first draft. She loved the idea and voice so much, that she was willing to take a chance on me. We also found each other on Twitter, which is also outside of "playing by the rules."

    The best advice is to trust your instincts. Believe in yourself and your talent and don't sell yourself short.

  10. Thanks, this is good advice for someone who way over thinks the query and the dreaded…synopsis. I guess it all comes down to our individual voice. Now, I have to go over think how to put that in a letter.

  11. I like this post because it pretty much sums up my belief that

    it just comes to show that these things are very arbitrary so it makes no sense TRYING to impress publishers and such because they are individuals and one day they may be feeling one style and the next they may be feeling another. There's not law or formula. So just be yourself, write how YOU want to write and just hope the person reading it is in the mood to accept your style and not some hokey pokey standard.

  12. Very, very interesting.

    So a little charisma or a captivating idea can go a long way with an agent compared to the vanilla, lack-luster, overly crafted, but true to form query letter.

    Good to know this can happen sometimes. ;)

  13. Funny that you should mention college admission essays, because I had an epiphany much like this one when I was in college. Towards the end of my undergraduate studies, I started to let more of my "voice" shine through in my essays and papers. I had been getting good grades on my writing assignments up until that point, but once I relaxed and let my "freak flag" fly, professors started pulling me aside after class and telling me that my paper was not only well written, but enjoyable, too.

    I'm so glad to know it can work for queries, too. Sometimes I feel that to get agent representation, we have to present ourselves in a serious, stuffy manner to appear professional and driven, but that's not always true.

    Thanks for the great post!

  14. I have not made it to this stage in the process yet, but this post made me feel a smidgen less afraid. Thank you.

  15. *Sighs with relief* LoL

    I'm pretty confidant in my query, but to each his own, every agent looks for something different. It's nice to know that an agent doesn't pass solely on an so-so query!

  16. Thank you for this post. I have been going a bit query crazy over the past week, so much so that I am not enjoying writing it - and I love writing. To borrow the phrase you used, I know I am over thinking it. I have also asked for guidance, and many very nice people have offered me sage advice, but I have been getting too much input (quoting you again).

    I don't want this to sound arrogant, but I did not ask for any input or advice when I was writing my novel. (I know this does sound arrogant, but I really don't mean it to be). Before I finished it, I didn't let my wife read one word. I did not want any outside influence on what I was trying to write.

    So I'm going back to my instincts for my query. I'll listen to the advice, but it has to be my words. Thanks for helping me to remember that.


  17. Thanks so much!

    I guess I can justify my compulsion to push the envelope now.


  18. Yes. And since I tend to think of you as a rule breaker (we all should be!), this is good advice for anyone. Except for the four year old who screams every night at bedtime, "I'm not tired!" Now, HE needs to follow all the rules, all the time!

    Good god, can anyone get this child to sleep in the summer before 10 p.m. We are exhausted!

  19. Thanks for writing this! It gives me hope that I will find "the one" agent for me someday, and it will be an ineffable "something" in my query that will spark his or her interest. I also don't have to worry that my rejected queries (which were, admittedly, form-perfect) had something wrong that I couldn't see. But I'll go obsessively read over them again anyway. ;)


  20. This is something I really need to work on. I've always approached queries as formal business letters and in doing so I think my true writing voice gets lost. Not good when most of my writing friends and teachers describe voice as my greatest strength.

    Soon I will being querying for a crazy quirky coming-of-age memoir based on my teen years working for the world's most morally ambiguous man. Voice will be everything I think in pitching it, so this is my rambling way of saying thank you for giving me the confidence to take a few chances.

  21. This post is refreshing; it's great news that I needed to hear. I have studied the submission process for so long a period that I feel I have overthought the query and the entire submission process.

    Along with my coauthor, I have written a concise, pithy query. That's good; we have followed all the rules but I've always felt something was missing and because of this post, I now know what was left out.

    It was our voice. It was one of the main highlights that separated our book from countless others in a busy genre.

    We wrote this book with a confident voice. Our book is written in a voice that greatly relates to the readers in our vast target audience. We left out the loosey-goosey, fun part of our personalities in the query. We didn't mention the millions of kindred spirits who could easily relate to our experience and advice.

    My gosh, all we need to do is let our query freak flag fly!

    Thanks a million!

  22. In light of this, I actually had one agent tell me,

    "I'm rejecting you not because of anything lacking in your proposal. On the contrary, I found it both engaging and entertaining - I might have even represented it. I simply to not represent this genre anymore."

    So yes, sometimes quirky works well.

  23. Lordy be, that's a nice rejection!

    My entire family unit is made up of quirks!