Tuesday, February 19, 2008

More things to consider when sending me a query...

As I wade through query letters here (and try to keep the cats from sitting on the keyboard and accidentally erasing them), I've been thinking about some of the things that might help you get my attention when you send your query. These are suggestions, not hard and fast rules, and bear in mind that every agent is different, and as such will prefer different types of queries. That being said, here goes:
If you've attended one of the Clarion workshops, say so. If you've attended the Odyssey workshop, say so. Both of these intensive six-week long workshops do an incredible job of not only teaching writers how to hone their writing skills, but they also provide you with the practical tools you will need to learn in order to work within the established publishing community to get published. By far the best and most tightly-written queries I've seen this week are those from writers who identify as former Clarion or Odyssey students. And if you haven't taken one of these workshops and really want to write genre fiction professionally, I highly recommend that you look into one or both of them.

If you are a member of amazing and under-appreciated Online Writing Workshop for SF, Fantasy & Horror, say so! This Web-based writing workshop has been going steady for (I believe) more than ten years now. I have a real soft spot for this workshop. Created by former Del Rey editor Ellen Harris (now Harris-Braun) way back when, this was originally a free service offered by Del Rey on their fledgling website, back when the Web was a wild and scary place and BBS was pretty much still de rigeur for online communication. This workshop is an inexpensive alternative to Clarion and Odyssey and has spawned some fabulous writers such as Elizabeth Bear, Kelly Link, Sarah Prineas, Melissa Marr, Karin Lowachee, Karen Miller, Charles Coleman Finlay and Josh Palmatier. Seriously, I cannot recommend this online workshop highly enough. It is the best $49 you will ever spend to further your writing career. [Edit to add: Jennifer Jackson just reminded me that Jim Butcher also came out of this workshop! And I thought of a few more last night but then my aging baby boomer brain promptly forgot them again. Oy!]

If you are a regular contributor to a fan-fic writing community online, say so! Oh, sure, you thought I was gonna say I hate the stuff, right? Wrong. A regular writing hobby is a regular writing hobby, no matter what you write, as long as you are consistent and working to improve your craft. And many fan-fic writers are already used to being critiqued, so they don't bleed all over the keyboard when someone tells them how they could make something better. Fan-fic has also spawned a number of talented writers, such as Rachel Caine, Naomi Novik, and Sarah Rees Brennan.

Lastly - and most importantly - the pitch and the synopsis:
  • Your Pitch: Okay, let me break this to you gently: your pitch, your hook, whatever you choose to call it? It needs to be two paragraphs or less. I've said this before and will say it again. In that two paragraphs you need to be able to convey the entirety of the book as though you had ten seconds in an elevator with me and wanted to sell me your idea. It should also convey why your book is so special, so different from everything else out there.
  • Your Synopsis: Ideally you should have a concise (one or two paragraph) synopsis in the body of your query. But you're welcome to include a longer separate synopsis with the pages you paste into the body of the query. Your synopsis should be no longer than one page. This is the standard length that most editors are looking for. If you can't collapse your story into one page, one of two things is evident: either there is something very wrong with your story or there is something very wrong with your writing. And that just means you still have some work to do. Being a writer means being able to control words, after all. The best way to start is by editing your synopsis.
Okay, them is my two cents for the night. Tawk amongst yerselves!

23 comments:

need-to-read said...

Okay...I have two comments. Questions, really, and don't worry, they're not the "but that doesn't apply to me because variety". When an agent says include a synopsis, should we assume it's the six paragraph one they want? I mean, I have a one pager, a two pager, a ten pager...I have single spaced and double spaced, with fries, without and...well, you get the idea, all because different people seem to want different things. I think I sent you the two pager, am I fired already? Which brings me to my second question, if I queried you last Wednesday morning (the 13th), and haven't heard, does this mean I was eaten by the server? I swear, I didn't include any attachments! Thanks for the tips.

Susan said...

I never thought of putting OWW on my query. That's a wonderful idea. I've always thought OWW is a great place to learn, not only the craft but certainly about rejection. I'll remember next time.

Joya said...

If it isn't too much trouble, could you let us know up to what date you've read queries? I sent one in on February 16th (for a novel called BLOOD MOON), but that was when you were having e-mail issues so I'm kind of waiting on a date update so I know whether or not I need to send you another query. Plus, now I want to link you to my Supernatural fan fiction. *_* I'm positively giddy you view fan fiction in a positive light!

Colleen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Colleen said...

First, these are the things that I like to see. As I mentioned, every single agent is different. Most, however, will want the shortest possible synopsis.

Second, remember that weekends and holidays don't count for me for response time. Monday was a holiday. Today was my first business day of the week.

And if people keep asking me where I am, I may stop posting updates at all. I'll post when I can. Time is money for me, so the less time I am online here, the more time I'm reading queries.

need-to-read said...

-And if people keep asking me where I am, I may stop posting updates at all.-

Makes sense. I think that everyone is just a little excited about you (okay a lot!) and also we've all had queries disappear so the whole crashy computer thingie is making people panic a bit. I mean, I just asked you where you were and I wouldn't have dreamed of doing that in an agent/writer situation before, so I'm not sure why I did now. I know of at least one agent who stopped blogging when she realized that everyone thought of her as a friend that they could ask anything of and not even bother to call her Ms. XXX when they queried. People were commenting on the way she raised her children! Sometimes the internet lets us forget we're doing business because it's so casual. My apologies for bringing it up at all. Oh, and thanks for the synopsis clarification.

Joya said...

I'd like to echo need-to-read's sentiments. So sorry for bugging you about your status on queries.

Since you posted before with dates, I figured it was okay to ask, but now that I think about it, if one person asks, several others will only keep asking and I understand how that can become a massive bother--especially since your job keeps you on your toes all the time.

Again, my deepest apologies.

Colleen said...

No need to apologize. Just understand where I'm coming from. I'll probably end up posting an update about once a week or so until I work through all the queries that I received. I doubt very much that the volume will continue at this level.

Er, well...

Plus, I am cranky from not enough sleep and not enough caffeine and lack of exercise. Sorry to be snappish!

S. E. Ward said...

Plus, I am cranky from not enough sleep and not enough caffeine and lack of exercise.

Urgh. Are you within walking distance of a coffee shop? Might be a good way to kill two birds with one stone, and possibly help alleviate some of the side-effects of too little sleep.

My cats would offer to keep Stinkyboy and Buddy off your keyboard for a while, but the two possible outcomes are "mutually assured destruction" and "Feline World Empire." Neither, alas, sounds very appealing. It's hard enough to keep their fur out of the carpet when they're not our Benevolent Overlords.

La Gringa said...

I think I just need to sleep more. I still have 216 queries left to read in the next few days. Whee!

Rachel said...

I think it's awesome (and slightly daunting) that Colleen gets more queries in her first week and a half than most agents do in a month! That's what happens when you come out with much fanfare, open yourself up with a funny blog, and say you like fantasy... Instant slush deluge!

Maria Zannini said...

Thanks for acknowledging OWW and all the phenomenal writers that sprang from her well!

arcaedia said...

Another writer to add to your OWW list - Jim Butcher was a member back when it was administered by Del Rey and I've had more than one client come out of there.

Colleen -- I cannot *believe* how many queries you are getting. It sounds stunning....

La Gringa said...

Hi Jennifer!

Ooooh! I'd forgotten about Jim Butcher! I'll add him up therer to my list!

Yeah, I can't believe the number either of queries either, but it's slowing down gradually. I honestly think it's just because both John Scalzi and Janet Reid posted about my interest in skiffy on their blogs on the second day of my job. (John's blog gets something like 30,000 readers a day on a bad day!) I'm pretty sure the volume will decrease. At least, I think it will.

Otherwise, do send out the rescue dogs with brandy and dark chocolate, will ya????

La Gringa said...

Oh, and - no, you guys aren't crazy - I am answering comments with two different Blogger usernames. I'm just too lazy to sign out of one and into the other when I add comments. Didn't mean to confuse anyone!

jjdebenedictis said...

I am heartily stunned that you consider fan-fiction a good thing to mention! I've always considered fan-fic not just great fun to write and post, but great practice for an aspiring writer.

However, it's also very firmly in the category of things I would nevereverEVER mention to an agent! I would have assumed the lack of money-making possibilities in such writing would be off-putting. I'm glad to hear you put value on anything that helps the writer improve their craft!

S. E. Ward said...

JJ, I used to be heartily in the "Don't mention the fanfic!" camp because I'd heard too many horror stories (most of them hypothetical situations, like being forced to write tie-in novels instead of original work). Naomi Novik was the one that really turned me around. I'm still semi-quiet about my actual fannish pen name and the overall volume of my fannish work (though it's in the neighbourhood of 1.5 million words), but in the last few months, I've started mentioning it, and I've received an overall very positive response.

If your fanfic has a large following, definitely say so. BNF status carries over well. I'm a BNF in one particular, exceedingly large fandom. That status and my fellow fans' willingness to provide feedback are what helped me polish my writing skills. Thanks to fanfic, I can write a professional-level original story.

I also come into the game with a loyal following of several thousand readers, which hopefully translates to several thousand book sales worldwide. You can't buy that kind of support when starting out, no matter how good your marketing campaign is. Agents and editors know this. Fanfic isn't just good practise; it's good business.

Susan said...

Not to be a bore but other OWW published authors, and this isn't all:

Dena Ladon, Ian Tregillis, Joseph Rhea, Carlos Cortes, Sandra McDonald and Ilona Andrews

Joya said...

I've been keeping up with the comments and all the OWW updates have finally convinced me to fork over the cash to join.

Thanks so much for bringing it up in the first place, Ms. Lindsay. :)

Aidan Moher said...

A good set of advivce, Colleen. I'll be sure to bookmark it for later when I'm ready to query my novel!

~Aidan
Mightier than the Sword

Colleen said...

Oh, GAWD! Don't call me "Ms."

It's the most ridiculous thing ever.

You can call me Empress. Or Your Majesty.

Joya said...

Am begging your forgiveness, Your Majesty!

Shannon said...

Hey, thanks for the feedback on writing a synopsis. I've been struggling with mine lately and felt like I was writing an essay. Six paragraphs it is then!

Thanks again,
Shannon