I have been fiddling with my query, with great help from the folks at Backspace just after Noah landed on Mount Ararat and I could power up my notebook. I've written about it before, linking to articles that I thought were useful, but after searching for new agents to harass yesterday, I came upon the blog for Wylie Merrick which also has some very useful information.
The problem, of course, is that getting agents to agree on the proper form of a query--or a bio or a synopsis--is harder than getting economists to agree on which direction the economy's going. This is a bad thing for writers.
It is not a bad thing for agents, and the fact that so many have gone to so much trouble to help us suggests that they really do care. It's just that they don't agree. I mean, It's not like building an airplane. Put the wing on upside down, you've got only a slim chance of getting off the ground. Queries are as much an art form as body piercing. Chaque a son gout, as the French would say (which means "Check your goat." I don't understand the relevance, but, hey, the French have a way with words.)
Is there a point here? Well, of couse. Research, resesarch, research. One size does not fit all. That's why if you can get two or three queries out a day, you're doing well.
Here's what the good folks at Wylie say about queries on their blog:
"Maybe we are fuddy-duddies, but we like our query letters patterned after the business letter—no hype, no gimmicks, just plain facts. We like the important information (at least what we consider important) right up front. Things like the title of the work, its category (fiction or nonfiction, literary fiction, if literary, genre type, if genre, mainstream, if mainstream), word count, etc.
"The vital information we need can be placed in that first paragraph and your hook can begin with a new paragraph that is still at the top of the letter. In other words, don’t mess around and stick the vitals stats of your novel somewhere in the depths of your query where we have to search for it.
"The general theory being put forth by board gurus is that if you begin with a hook, the agent or editor is forced to read about your work to find the information they need. This might work, but I think those who assume this are taking a great risk. Faced with hundreds of queries in her inbox (if she even takes queries via email), many agents will only read a sentence or two before hitting the delete key or giving a standard or form rejection in frustration."
Great, except that I can find other articles that say, "start with your hook." And how about writing credits for unpublished novelists?
"Just on a personal note, I have never really understood the idea that if a writer has been paid to write something, an article in this case, that his skills would command monetary compensation in another area of writing. Let's look at it this way: If you were a novelist, would that count if you were going to apply to write articles for Newsweek?"
If you're going to query these guys, kill the credits.
Again, I'm grateful that they've taken the time to tell me what they want so I can design my query to their needs. It's just such a royal pain to have to do this much research for something that gets maybe 5 or 10 seconds of an agent's time.
There's got to be a better way.
(By the way, read the rest of the stuff on their blog if you're interested in querying them.)
Good luck & never give up!