The boutique query

Too often I reject a query because the author didn’t give me enough information about their story – or the right information. I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again:

We need the plot:

  1. Your main character(s)
  2. Their dilemma – choices they face and the consequence of those choices
  3. The outcome of those choices

But it doesn’t necessarily stop there. The smart author goes the extra mile if they stumble across a house that specializes – they tailor their query. And most independent trade publishers specialize because we can’t do proper justice to all genres, but we can knock our particular slice of the pie clear out of the park. Additionally, we specialize because we know how to sell to that particular audience.

I received a query a while back that insisted their story was right up my alley – socially relevant personal journey. Their pitch, however, contained none of those elements and read like mainstream fiction. I wrote back and stated that since I couldn’t find any of the elements that define our guidelines, I had little choice but to reject.

The author wrote me back and gave me a bullet list of the socially relevant elements and closed by saying, “I have a four page synopsis I can send you.” This is wrong on a couple counts.

First off, the author has already received a no, so it does no good to come back with a “wait, wait! Do over!” If you’re gonna do it, do it right the first time. Asking for a do over tells me I’m working with a noob. These are people I avoid like an empty Twinkie box.

Besides, it’s plain illogical to offer up a synopsis as a means to redemption. If I said no to a query, what are the compelling reasons to read a four page synopsis? Right or wrong; we rely on the query letter to say yes I’d like to see more, or no thank you.

Yes, I think it’s dreadful that we have to do this here in the US, but it’s because of the sheer volume. Years ago, I used to ask for the query, one page synopsis, and first five pages, but I couldn’t keep up with demand so I had to cut back. Do good works slip through the cracks because of this? Undoubtedly. And that’s what I think this author was trying to convey – albeit clumsily.

Smart authors may have several different permutations of their query, depending upon whom they query. Remember, we don’t always have our tinfoil hats in our purses, so we depend on you to tailor your query so that it shows the elements we’re looking for.

3 Responses to The boutique query

  1. 1. Your main character(s)
    2. Their dilemma – choices they face and the consequence of those choices
    3. The outcome of those choices

    The above three points should be tattooed on every writer’s forehead. Backwards, so every time they look in the mirror they read it.

  2. danholloway says:

    Fascinating. So, if the US query system has evolved like this, and the UK agents are claiming overload more and more, do you think from the UK agents you know that they will soon follow suit and start asking for query letters rather than the current synopsis+ 3 chapters, or do you think the two different styles are now so ingrained that we’ll keep the status quo whatever?

  3. Dan, I’ve heard UK agents and publishing insiders say that they are slowly adopting US query letters only. But I believe it’s a very small percentage, so until you read differently on their submission guidelines, send those synops and chappies with abandon.

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