Using more than half a brain (or, hints for successful querying)

Nesting birds are testing our patience this week. A junco decided to build a nest in the middle of one of the twelve-inch flower baskets that hangs just inches from our family room window. (Yes, the same basket from which the finch eyed me last week. What’s with these birds?!)

It’s an impossible location for us to accommodate since there are patio tables and chairs beneath the planters (plus I need to keep watering the flowers), so, although we felt badly about it, we chased her away.

That same evening, before we had a chance to remove the nest, a robin took it over, and the basket swayed precariously as she flew in and out on a redecorating mission. We discouraged her, too, so she has moved on to the top of the spotlight above our driveway, where anyone with half a brain can see the angles make it impossible for any twigs or moss to balance. Not having half a brain, and undeterred, she keeps picking up the bits that land on the pavement below and returning them to the spotlight… from where, of course, they slip off. Again and again.

Wasn’t it Einstein who said the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results? Silly wild things!

Then again, the not-so-wild among us have been known to act in a similar manner.  Who hasn’t taken the same query letter, polished to make the best impression possible, and sent it out to agents time and time again – the same letter to every agent on a constantly expanding list?

We’re told to be persistent, to have patience, because some day that letter will connect with *the* right person. But I’m not so sure it will! How can the same letter avoid becoming generic? I can’t help wondering if agents feel the same about our impersonal queries as we do about their form rejections.

What can we do to improve our chances for a positive response? Here are my six common sense (but as yet unproven) suggestions:

  • Research agencies and their client list. Do they rep our style of book? If not, we’re wasting our time (and theirs).
  • Explore agent websites to stay up-to-date on any changes in genre preferences and to find out whether or not submissions are currently being accepted. They aren’t going to make an exception for us.
  • Spend time interacting with agents on social media. Discover them as real people. (But don’t stalk them. Respect professional boundaries.)
  • Leave photocopying for manuscript pages. Make every query an original, using the agent’s name, correctly spelled.
  • Think about the mood of our manuscript and the voice that took us through its writing. Put ourselves in the same headspace while we write the query letter.
  • Don’t try to cram an entire synopsis into the query. Get the story’s concept across, introduce only the main characters and the conflict they face.  The job of a query is to captivate the agent, not to bog her down with a litany of details. Send a separate synopsis if one is required.

It also wouldn’t hurt to keep in mind agent Kristin Nelson’s admonition:  “It’s more important for a query concept to be original than for a query to be perfect.” If we don’t have an intriguing story, the perfect query letter isn’t going to help get it published, no matter how often we send it out.

We have to take steps to ensure our querying efforts aren’t wasted, unless we enjoy being constantly turned away like silly birds!


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