Saturday

Author Salon or The Agent Query? Comments and Observations On a Q Letter

While exploring the art of the agent query letter for the purpose of comparing and contrasting the Author Salon approach, we came across this piece. At first glance, the sample query might appear satisfactory to some, but upon close inspection flaws become apparent that must be addressed.

As follows, with comments from Author Salon appearing in brackets [ ... ]:
  1. The Hook: This is a 2-3 sentence description of your book. It needs to be catchy, so the agent will read on!   [ here is the place where even a professionally written query letter goes terribly wrong and sinks the writer. There is a real art to writing a suitable log or hook line that will communicate the "hook" or marketable story premise.  Here is an example taken from the Author Salon Profile Guide which covers hook lines in detail (from "The Hand of Fatima"): "In 1564 Grenada, a young half-Christian Moor termed "The Nazarine" faces a life of scorn and torment by Moors and Christians alike until the kidnapping and murder of the woman he loves sets him on a dangerous path to reconcile the two faiths by seeking the God they both share." ]
  2. Mini-Synopsis: This is one paragraph that describes the characters and action of the book. It’s supposed to be short and to the point.  [ If you've nailed the hook with your log or hook line, you don't need to include a mini-synopsis in the body of the query. The agent will be persuaded to read your first pages regardless, esp if the query demonstrates you have platform or credentials. Also, unless you are really adept at writing an excellent pitch-synopsis, the act of doing so might well sink your chances. Regardless, assuming you are adept, you would be advised to shorten the query by adding this mini-synopsis, or longer pitch, as an attachment to the query, not to exceed 150 words or so. See the "Hand of Fatima" pitch-synopsis using the link above.  ]
  3. Biography: Describe the writer(s) and their background.  [ That's fine, but do we have platform and/or credentials in this query that matter to an agent? ]
That’s it, simple and to the point. So, we have written and re-written ours a bunch of times already. We have sent out 30 queries in the last two days and have actually received one request for sample chapters already. [ Is this agent query ratio a good sign? ] I am going to share our query letter in it’s current form. Please share any feedback or suggestions you have, we really want to make this letter sing!

Dear Prospective Agent,

[ Big mistake: name the agent, Mr. or Ms. ____ ]

Set in the Detroit of the near future, several people have mysteriously died in their sleep while using a new gaming system that allows them to experience designer dreams. After the death of his godson, Harry Anderson discovers just how dangerous the combination of popular technology and corporate greed can really be.

[ A brief opening paragraph re how you found the agent might work better, and "Set in Detroit of the near future" will result a search for the backspace key. Best not attempt to hook an agent in this manner. ]

Set in the Detroit of the near future Harry Anderson, an aging psychology professor with a penchant for whiskey and a dry sense of humor, investigates the sudden and unexplained death of his godson Elliot. Harry soon discovers a series of unexplained deaths in his community all seemingly related to the DreamGate, a new video game device that allows the user to play custom dreams. We soon meet Detroit police detective Susan Boucher, a strong and intelligent woman who finds herself drawn to Harry, despite his age. The two, relying on each other’s strengths, have to navigate the world of cutting-edge technology, corporate greed and the very human need for security.

[ Okay, so we have two characters and a bad guy, but what happens from there is vague. Where is the real cliff-hanger?  Is DreamGate just covering up or something far more sinister?  Would much prefer a tighter hook line wrapping up with something like, " ... determined to expose the deadly truth of DreamGate, only to discover the trail leads to (wherever it leads--NSA? CIA?), and that their own lives are in jeopardy (at least!) ..." etc. ]

Complete at just over 80,000 words, The Sleep of Souls is a quick read that sets the stage for a series of novels based on the adventures of Harry Anderson.

[ Do publishers want a series in the first place that stars an aging psychology prof with a "penchant for whiskey"?  Uncertain.  The odds are not great, especially since the author is not established.  And where is a statement of genre and comparables? It sounds somewhat like a futuristic thriller. That should be stated up front. ]

Husband and wife writing team Jennifer and Kevin Lill bring you The Sleep of Souls. Kevin has been an avid writer since childhood. His boundless imagination and eye for life’s little details are what make The Sleep of Souls come to life on the page.

[ Get the agent out of the agent query letter asap and onto the page where they can judge for themselves whether or not it comes "to life on the page" and so on. Making this statement achieves nothing and might sound amateurish to many agents. An inconvenient and brutal truth! ]

The book’s main character, Harry Anderson, is based on Jennifer’s real-life father who, like Harry, is a genuine character. Working in the field of technology Jennifer’s in-depth research and ability to predict future technology trends are what give The Sleep of Souls its exciting and groundbreaking edge!

Market Analysis
The audience [ readership ] for The Sleep of Souls would be made up of fans of the murder mystery genre. Those who like Dan Brown, Douglas Preston or Patricia Cornwell will love this book. Because it deals with technology and the world of gaming the cross over audience would be gamers and fans of technology-based science fiction.

[ Well, best to go to http://themysteryreader.com and check on this. Murder mystery fans and thriller fans do overlap, but not always. If marketed as a futuristic thriller, SF readers won't really be interested for the most part. And who says "gamers" will want to read about an aging psych prof, i.e., assuming they read at all? But is this a futuristic thriller? Sounds like it. The technology does not exist in the present, and the body count is piling up, dark forces congealing, perhaps bigger stakes, etc. ]

Comparative Analysis
The Sleep of Souls is similar to Snow Crash in the respect that it deals with technology that is right on the cusp of being discovered. This book showcases animated movies whose plot changes in response to the viewer’s bio-electrical feedback, a video game system that allows users to purchase and experience customized dreams and the use of wide-range wireless coverage for spying.

[ "Snow Crash" is huge, and a comparable that is often used. Recommend a rethinking. But the tech concept is interesting. Would prefer it to be included in an attached synopsis/pitch. This doesn't substitute for a single line early on that notes the proper comparables (at least two of them). ]

Marketing Strategy
The Sleep of Souls deals with the very hot topic of technology and privacy. With the focus on issues of online privacy in the news currently, this book will be a perfect sell for those who are concerned with their own privacy!

[ Yes, well, publishers don't have access to figures that equate "the need for privacy" demographic with the purchasing of certain types of novels that touch on privacy issues, so pitching this concept as a marketing strategy has little or no chance of success. ]

Thank you for taking the time to review this letter and consider The Sleep of Souls. The full manuscript is available by request.

5 comments:

  1. Author Salon or the agent query? I've been mulling this over. If AS can get my MS in a decent shape to allow for a query, then sign me up.

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  2. I never wrote an agent query worth a darn because I couldn't wrap my head around the essence of the hook line. That's tough. But then I finally realized, after refusing good advice, that I didn't have a hook line because I didn't have a story.

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  3. From AgentModX on Author Connect:

    "As mentioned elsewhere on Author Salon, a perfectly structured agent query letter with a poor hook line will have a potentially negative impact, as much or greater than a poor title. Combine both and you have little to no chance of the agent venturing further. Perhaps if the platform or credentials are stunning, they might investigate regardless. Depends on the hair day and how many horrible queries they've received in the past hour."

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  4. Here is a good Author Salon dialogue on the agent query with lots of examples and a few links:

    authorconnect.authorsalon.com/index.php?/topic/1882-author-salon-talks-agent-query-process/

    Highly recommend.

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  5. I concur with Liz Brody. Same with me. Fruitless writing query letters to pitch a novel that wasn't any good in the first place.

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