Pardon me while I vent for a few moments. (assumes stance upon soapbox)
There is a part of the novel publishing process called the “query.” That’s where you send what amounts to an advertising packet to an agent or publisher with the intent of getting them to take on what you’ve created. It’s the most important thing you must do for your work (after the actual writing). You could have the next blockbuster #1 best seller on your desk, but if you don’t present it to agents or publishers in a way that catches their eye, then what good is it?
(Note that I am not going to discuss self-publishing. That’s an entirely different animal, and one that I haven’t studied.)
I’m learning rapidly that the query process is a seriously confusing business.
I’ve got a few books on how to craft queries. They’re not pamphlets, by any means. No, they contain a couple of hundred pages of info aimed at getting a query going for your article/poem/short story/novella/novel …
Hang on a minute. (approximates pages for each section)
They are a bit like pamphlets after all, when you break them down by type of writing. They get even smaller when you sort out the pages for each individual genre. One book’s section on “Speculative” novels (which includes the Science Fiction genre, my own area of writing) contains around a page and a half of direct genre information. They apparently want you to apply the other examples they offer for things like Romance, Cookbooks, and Children’s novels to your genre.
Good idea in theory. In practice, I’m not so sure.
You see, very little of the information I’ve found is consistent. There is no formula printed in a book or posted online that’s going to get you to the perfect query package. What works for a Romance doesn’t necessarily apply for Science Fiction. The same goes for the type of writing—a magazine article query differs from a novel query.
There are even disputes about what the query package should include. Most resources say you need a query letter, a synopsis of the content of your novel, and x number of pages from your novel. But, when you get out into the real world with the intent of sending out said packages, you’ll find that not all agents want all three elements. Some want just a query letter at first, while others might want a query letter, a “short” (again, a point of contention) synopsis, the first five pages of your novel, a biographical write-up, and so on.
The makeup of these elements is another point of contention. Take the synopsis, for instance—my own personal bugbear. I’ve been told that they should average around 650 words total. I’ve also seen that there should be x number of synopsis pages for every y number of pages in your novel. Other advice slaps a page limit on them, ranging from a single, double-spaced page up to ten or so double-spaced pages. Still other advice says single spacing is okay, as long as you don’t go beyond two pages.
Then, there’s the query letter itself. Some say you should start your query letter with a “hook” designed to grab the agent’s attention, while others say you should treat your query letter exactly like a business letter. I’ve even found disagreement about that: do you put a comma or a colon at the end of your salutation? Do you introduce your novel in a formal fashion that shows you’ve researched the dickens out of your intended market, or do you try and “WOW!” your intended recipient with a high-energy example of your writing style?
E-mail submissions are even more confusing. They’re almost treated as an afterthought in the books I have, but I’ve found that almost every agent wants (or at least prefers) e-mailed query packages now. How do you translate all of the above advice into an e-mail, especially when almost everyone wants everything pasted into the body of your e-mail and refuses to take PDF or other attachments? Do you double-space everything (I’ve seen this requested)? Do you send plain text, or a Rich Text Format e-mail that uses a 12-point Times New Roman font throughout?
In the end, it all boils down to one simple phrase—”Send what the agent requests.” Therein lies the rub. No two agents want the same thing, and most expect you to know exactly how to format your query package with scant advice from them. Not the easiest thing to do, especially when you’re new to the business.
If I stand on a soapbox for anything today, it’s for the cause of doing more to brace aspiring writers for what to expect when confronted by the chaos that is the Real Publishing World. Authors of “how to query” tomes, please update your next editions to include significantly more information about e-mail queries. Even concentrate solely on e-mail. It’d be better than what’s out there now. Expand your books to include information on more genres. If you aren’t an expert in, say, Speculative Fiction, consult a few publishers, or even invite an expert guest author to collaborate with you. Online forums, see if you can snag a mentor that will work with groups learning how to query, and make the process less like studying for a test. Nothing is more frustrating than studying and passing Spanish, only to learn that your dream job requires that you be fluent in Japanese, Russian, and French as well.
You may have your soapbox back now, good sir. Thank you for letting me use it.
Comments? Questions? Feel free to connect with me via the Contact page!