Friday, October 12, 2007

Why Query Letters Don't Work

Below, you will find a list of 103 Agents who would not read my work.

The list will never get longer. For fiction, I think cold querying was probably invented by Don Quixote.

That's an inflammatory statement, you’re thinking, “What proof does he have?”

How ‘bout more than seven years of trying? Look here, I’m not talking clumsy first draft trying although early on it might have been. My typical query envelope would include a cover letter on stationery with a strong sell line. Also included would be the first few chapters of the manuscript, double-spaced on good paper, and the obligatory SASE. Professional in appearance and style? Yes.

Never not ever did anyone ask for the entire manuscript.

Now, you’re thinking, “The guy's a chump. Can’t write a coherent sentence.”

Hmmm. I did sell the manuscript and it has earned critical praise from some pretty tough sources, Kirkus among them - but the sale didn't come through the query process.

The truth about fiction queries is, you could be Tom Clancy querying, “The Search for Red October”, and still not have a chance. Agents are overwhelmed by truckloads of well prepared queries and writing so polished it glows. But think of this – a hundred envelopes arriving EVERY DAY and less than an hour to evaluate them. Can you imagine how they smoosh together into an amorphous glob? The Moon will truly need to be in the Seventh House (and Jupiter aligned with Mars GWS) before the query YOU send will catch the eye of the one perfect agent out there waiting for you. In other words, me bucko, your chances of winning the pick twenty-six are better.

Here is a hard truth a lot of people don’t want you to know: 99% of all debut writer deals are made as a result of inside connections. The remaining silly millimeter % of query sales come to writers who’re smart enough to choose a subject there’s a severe shortage of, like Latino young adult romances, or Iranian Moslem girls whose brothers are suicide bombers. Not dissing those genres, just pointing out how if you wrote one your ms could be written on used Kleenex in ETL (English third language) and still pull offers.

Listen up! Everyone who reads this and has something to gain by perpetuating the myth is going to go nuts trying to convince you I’m full of it. The truth is, they’re visualizing the way things were thirty years ago, before word processors and the internet and when only a million people were trying to write. Now, it’s fifteen million in the US alone, and by the way, did I mention that number is ten years old?

Look, the query game is the American salesman at work; make a living peddling hope. Wake up, guppie. Think writers magazines, how-to books, and authoritative voices in general. YOU are their “end market” and their contents your Pablum.
Is it possible to actually win in this zero sum game? Unless you have real firepower credentials, like a novel that sold 50,000 copies, or you’ve just been released from Sing Sing and can implicate somebody in high office, you’re wasting time querying when you could be learning to write better. Right now, refocus on developing your craft. At the same time find out where published authors hang out and start talking to them. It will take time, and above all as in any friendship there must be genuine synergy. It only takes one! Find the person who thinks like you. They will willingly help! Rededicate yourself to the craft, cause when the time comes you’ll only get one chance.

It’ll happen like this: you will exchange genuine criticisms of each other’s work. Your friend will read your story and like it. He’ll introduce you to just the right editor, or agent. From there, getting read is a piece of cake. Make sure your ms kicks serious keister cause like I said before, one chance is all you get.

Good luck. Oh, you’re probably wondering where that list of agents is. Now that I’ve sold my ms, I decided not to reveal the names. I have another in the works, and besides, you never know who might be outside with a gun.


The novel Art is referring to is now named "The Secret Ever Keeps", and was released by Kunati Books in April 2007. Click the link to peek!

1 comment:

Lynn Hoffman said...

So Art, I guess you're one of those insiders now. Hey, I really like your work and I have this short story I'd like you to read. . . .