Friday, April 9, 2010

Pop Quiz! (Oh, Stop Bawling and Just Answer)

Okay, so I had something totally different planned for today. Wrote the post way last week and all that.

But I've been reading a lot of queries over the past four days (conference coming up -- yikes!) and I just have one question for you.

Question: What's the purpose of a query letter?

You tell me.

I know what I think it is. I want to repeat it over and over like one of those never-ending hashtags you see on twitter that no one can figure out.

But I won't. I want you to tell me. What's the purpose of the query letter?

If you don't know, maybe that's why writing the darn thing is so freaking hard. I mean, srsly.

Oh, and I may or may not use what you say in my presentation. Just so you know. *wink*

And yes, I'll tell you what I think later.

One more thing: If you have a second, head over to Lisa and Laura's blog. They have this amazing (anonymous) editor who's starting a blog (The Book Sniper) and WANTS your QUESTIONS! So YOU can be the POP QUIZZER over there! Go, go, go!

82 comments:

Matthew Delman said...

The purpose of a query letter is twofold:

1) To engage the agent's interest in the story and lead them to read sample pages.
2) To showcase your ability to write a succinct, engaging summary of your work.

How'd I do?

lbdiamond said...

To get an agent frothing at the mouth for more!

Stina Lindenblatt said...

What's the purpose of a query? To make writers miserable and to drive our crit partners insane.

Matthew Rush said...

Here is a direct quote from the guest post on my blog today:

Remember, the query has only one purpose: to get the agent to read pages. Sure you ultimately want to be offered representation but that decision is based on the pages, not the query. Less is more.

Please stop by and read it. It's a great post by Cole Gibsen in which she shares the ACTUAL query that landed her an agent and the correspondence that ensued.

Tara said...

I've always felt the same as Matthew Delman(comment 1).

However, *I*'d reverse the order, and shorten #2 to read: To showcase your ability to write.

Sheri Larsenッ said...

To make me lose hair prematurely???? Nah *waving palm in the air* Just kidding. Purpose: to super glue an agent/editors eyes to your words so that removing their gaze would be painful. (Did I scare any of them away??)

Give them a taste of what you wrote, who you are, and what you have to offer. Concise. That was my serious answer.

Solvang Sherrie said...

The query letter is supposed to hook the reader (an agent or editor) and make them want to read more. But it's also a business letter and needs to be treated like one. I don't know if that's your answer, but it's what I've figured out after a year of blogging :)

Lindsay (a.k.a Isabella) said...

Other than an instrument of torture? Hmmmm.
The query letter should show voice, be concise and well written. It should tempt the agent to read your first pages. What happens from there is down to your writing :)

Amie McCracken said...

an inquiry from a writer to an editor of a magazine, newspaper, etc., regarding the acceptability of or interest in an idea for an article, news story, or the like: usually presented in the form of a letter that outlines or describes the projected piece

from dictionary.com

But the purpose? To create interest and persuade the agent that they want to see more.

Talli Roland said...

I'm gonna say... to hook the agent enough that they want to see more.

Easy, right? ha!

Amie B said...

the purpose of a query letter?
aside from making me legally insane?

to sum it up in a sentence, a query letter is a brief summary of your book, matching the tone and voice of your manuscript.

easier said than done.

Candyland said...

Talli said mine:(

So I'll defer to answer #2:
The query letter's purpose is my foot in the door. To get a second interview.

Christi Goddard said...

The query letter was designed with two basic principles in mind.

1. Um... I forgot what they were. Damn my ADHD.

Off the cuff, they're to present the author's idea in a concise, professional manner and be interesting enough to pique the interest of an agent to read pages.

Krista said...

These all seem to be right, but I guess I'll add my own ideas: To introduce your writing, your voice, and entice further investigation.

The Alliterative Allomorph said...

Seriously, Elana. I thought you would have learnt this by now? :)

Theresa Milstein said...

A quiz?! Groan.

If I had the query licked, maybe I'd have a contract. ... Maybe not.

I've heard to make it sound like the back of a book cover. An agent once told me that sometimes that's what they use for the back of the cover. The first paragraph should be a one-sentence summary to pique interest.

And I loved your post about write it as the character and then to change it to the 3rd-person.

Recently, I read to mention readership. Even if we want it to appeal to a wider # of readers, who would the core readers be?

And if your book has a unique angle - especially in a popular subject (vampires anyone?), play up that angle.

Karen Amanda Hooper said...

To make them wanna read more. Muwhahahaha!

Karen Lange said...

To show them what you can do, to dazzle them with your brilliance...

Carolina Valdez Miller said...

It's a bit like approaching someone to ask them on a date. They're going to look at you and the way you present yourself, listen to your voice, absorb your mannerisms, and find out just enough about you to form an opinion. If they like the whole package, they'll say yes--to a first date, anyway. Or maybe just coffee, if they're not quite as hooked yet (maybe the way you dress is kind of boring, but they thought that story you told about your mum was really quirky and fun).

Good luck with your conference ;)

Portia said...

Oh, pop quizzes make me all anxious and stuff. I think I'm getting hives!

Hmmm, I'd have to say the purpose is to make an agent want to read more.

Where's the Benadryl?

Mary Lindsey said...

The purpose of a query letter is to pique an agent's interest in a project enough he/she want to read a sample.

Zoe C. Courtman said...

To show off them thar writin' chops, hook 'em with that varmint of a premise, ride and point out YER book's particklar space on them pesky store bookshelves - and lasso that agent so's they want to go ahead and rope more of yer pages:D

Sara McClung ♥ said...

To hook an agent, baby! To use your Voice and your style and your creativity in ways that leave them wanting more!

Georgiana said...

A letter to entice the agent/editor to read the proposal, which in turn will make them read the chapters, which will make them request a full, which will cause them to say, "Where has she been all our lives?", which will lead to fame and stardom!

A-hem. Perhaps I've gotten carried away. That happens from time to time ;)

laurapauling said...

My purpose it to show the hook, my characters's goals, the complications and the stakes - all through well written sentences in the voice/tone of my writing. To show that I'm professional and I've done my research.

Cynthia Reese said...

The query letter's sole job:

Get an agent to request a partial.

The rest? The pages you send take care of that.

Sounds easy, huh? Most complicated things do.

Lola Sharp said...

What the first Matthew said.


I'd like to add that it also saves the agent (assistant) time. If a query is poorly written and/or the story premise is played-out...next!

Abby Annis said...

It's a way to showcase your crappiest writing. Oh, wait. That's a synopsis. ;)

A query letter is simply a sales letter, designed to hook an agent into wanting more.

Natalie Aguirre said...

To hook the agent to want to request a partial or full. It's so hard because it's hard to summarize a book in a few paragraphs that decides your fate with the agent.

JEM said...

I'm leaving my comment without looking at the others so I can't be accused of cheating :).

The query letter is the resume of the writing world. Only instead of work experience, you're teasing book content. It's also the personal ad: I need to say something in one page or less that gets you to hit reply and ask for more. Except it's more professional (don't worry, I'm not putting SWF ready to mingle in my query...maybe).

Falen said...

Ooh ooh ooh!

It's a business letter. Like the resume of the writing world. It should showcase your writing in such a way as to tempt an agent (or whomever) to take a further look at your stuff

Lydia Kang said...

The agent is a fish. Your query is the hook and the bait. It's very specific for that species of fish (read: don't sent YA fiction query to nonfiction agent). If the query is yummy, the agent bites. If it's fabulous, then the hook sinks in and you've got yourself a fine lookin' agent!

Southpaw said...

I’ll write this before I read what everyone else wrote. ;)

My understanding is that a query letter should peak an agents interest in your novel to ask for a partial or a full.

Tere Kirkland said...

To intrigue the agent, getting them to request pages.

Knowing the purpose is easy enough, but actually putting that into practice is much more challenging.

Alyssa Kirk @ Teens Read and Write said...

To pique the agents interest for more with the hook, problem and the MC's goal. It should also give them a sense of your writing style and voice.

VR Barkowski said...

To introduce the writer and writer's work to an agent.

To spark enough interest in the above mentioned work, the agent can't help but want to read more more, more!

Stephanie Thornton said...

A query should make an agent want to ask for sample pages. You have to hook them!

Shannon O'Donnell said...

Lisa and Laura - check! Follow Booksniper - check! Answer Elana's question - check! Oh, wait. I forgot to do that one.

Query letters...hmmm. The purpose of a query letter is to entice an agent/editor into wanting to read your book - to make them zip off an email immediately, requesting to see the full, sure they will die of anticipation as they wait for it. *sigh* A girl can dream, right?! :-)

Laura Marcella said...

Purpose of a query? To make writers' lives even more frustrating with something else to revise over and over and over.

Nah (well, yea), but I suppose it's to give the agent a good indication of your writing voice and style so they know what to expect in your MS- and request more!

Christina Lee said...

Hmm... to give them a succinct summary of your work (with a hook), an inside peak at how you write and to have them beg you for more. ;-)

Alison Eckel said...

It's to get someone - whether that be an agent, editor, reader - to want to read your book. Ideas from the query are often used for the book blurb too.

Elana Johnson said...

Excellent, guys! I know what I'm going to tell the conference attendees, I was just hoping I could have like 100 back-ups...

So far, so good...

You guys are amazing!

giddymomof6 said...

To sell your book.

Or,
To convince an agent or editor you and your work will bring them more money than they could ever imagine, and you'd seriously make the best team ever! Lol!

Jenni

Creative A said...

La la la, not listening to anyone else, don't want their answers to influence mine...

So I think a query has three jobs. First and foremost, it acts as a hook. It needs to have a bit of the dazzle factor.

Second, a query needs to portray that there's substance behind the flash. You need to show that not only do you have a great premise, but you really followed it through into an awesome story.

And third, a query needs to show off your abilities and maturity as a writer.


-Mandy

Janet Johnson said...

To get an agent or editor interested in your MS---so interested they request to see it.

I think the other stuff is all part and parcel to that reason. It won't happen if you don't write it well and follow instructions (as per how the editor/agent wants it submitted). But maybe that's just me. ;)

Shannon Whitney Messenger said...

Oh boy, why am I afraid I'm going to get this wrong and be the "and somehow this girl got an agent" example in your presentation. (Or OMG, you'll tell Laura when you see her! Ahhhh!!!! Hehe...paranoid much?)

Um, I would say a query is supposed to tell the agent about your project and tell them a little about you, but the MAIN purpose is to get them interested enough in both to request some pages. I also think it's important to show that you're professional, and that you can follow simple instructions (since each agent has slightly different querying preferences) And of course if you can reflect your writing "voice" into it a little, all the better.

Okay, that's my guess. I hope I'm not wrong. If I am...well...HIDES!

Shari said...

Its purpose is to make the editor/agent so intrigued with you and your story that they must have more.

Nisa said...

I'm going to quote someone who knows way more about queries than me.

"1. Tell about your project (novel, short story, article, etc.)
2. Tell about you
3. Capture your audience enough to request more."

;)

Jill Kemerer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jill Kemerer said...

Great question!

To interest an agent or editor in my book.

I'm selling myself as an author with my product being my book.

Lisa and Laura said...

Thanks for the shout out, E!

The one and only goal of a query letter is to convince an agent to request pages. That's it. Easy peasy.

lotusgirl said...

To entice an agent or editor to want to read a partial or a full of your MS.

Myrna Foster said...

A query should make the agent or editor want to read your novel.

Shannon said...

1.) To entice the agent/editor into requesting pages so they fall madly in love with your ms and immediately offer representation.

2.) Thanks for the link to Lisa and Laura. Good stuff.

Terri Tiffany said...

You got some really great answers already so I'll ask a question. How do I prep to do a pitch????Eeeeks! Doing my first on in May!

Jaime Theler said...

To get an agent to want more, to show you can be succinct & interesting, and to stand out (in a good way) from the query deluge.

B. Miller said...

Purpose of a query letter would be to give a publisher or agent a taste of your book and leave them wanting more. Ultimately, the purpose is really about getting published! Or at least, that's what this "babe in the woods" thinks.

Thanks for the links and good luck next week at the conference! Have a wonderful weekend.

Nicole said...

To sell your story. To do what seems like the impossible-get someone as excited as you are about your story.

Caledonia Lass said...

To make the editor or agent excited about your book, ask for more. To get published.
Have a great weekend!

Bish Denham said...

A query letter is to hook as hook is fish.

Kimberly Franklin said...

I think Stina Lindenblatt pretty much said it all!!

"What's the purpose of a query? To make writers miserable and to drive our crit partners insane."


Amen to that girl!

Mary Aalgaard said...

I think of the query letter as the introduction, the first impression, and the little worm at the end of my fish hook.

Mary Aalgaard said...

I think of the query letter as the introduction, the first impression, and the little worm at the end of my fish hook.

Jana Hutcheson said...

I have a feeling this is one of those questions where the ask-er knows already that the answer-er is going to guess wrong ;) but I'm going to go ahead and take the bait. Isn't the purpose of the query letter to make the agent want to read your book?

Jemi Fraser said...

I didn't sneak a peek at anyone else's answers - I'll do that in a minute!

I think the purpose of the query is to get an agent to want to read more.

storyqueen said...

I think what hangs people up about writing a query is that they think too much about it.

When I write a query, I try to imagine I am just explaining the book to a friend...in a page or less.

Of course, I want it to sound good, so I want to write it WELL, stick a bit of voice in there and all.

Shelley

L.T. Elliot said...

I'm totally late to this party but I think the first commenter did a pretty good job. Just in case it's useful, I'll say the purpose is "to sell your book."

Sandy Shin said...

I think the first commenter (Matthew?) got it right: to capture agent's/editor's attention and to show that you can string together coherent sentences. :]

Amber Lynae said...

When I think of a query letter I think of it as a marketing tool. You want to to be an apt representation of your book as well as your writing voice.

I got my degree in marketing... so I guess that makes me think more along those lines. But you are pitching your book. You want it to be catchy and hook the agent... but you don't want to promise something that just isn't in your book. If you do the second they read a partial you will be getting the boot.

Even with all of the pitching, you also need to make certain that you know the person you are addressing the query too. They need to know why you want to work with them and why they should want to work with you. Heck if you are going to forge the publishing road with someone you better darn well hope that you like the person.

For some reason I'm getting the picture of those nots you pass in junior high that say. I like you will you go out with me please check yes or no. LOL That makes me sound all kinds of immature.

If you quote me as a poor example don't hold it against my parents... they really did try to educate me properly... I was just a poor student... :D

PJ Hoover said...

Fun question! The purpose is to get them to read more, whether it is by using an engaging voice, showing credibility, showing marketing potential, or connecting. Just get them to request and read more.

Paul Greci said...

The purpose of a query letter is to get an agent to request your manuscript.

Susan R. Mills said...

The purpose of the query letter is to introduce an agent/editor to your book in a way that makes them want to read more.

Mary McDonald said...

I'm late to the party here, but for me, a query's purpose is to generate interest in the novel. It's cold calling an agent in hopes of 'selling' your story, or, to stay with the salesman analogy, to get the agent to ask for a 'quote'. (partial or full)

A good query should also be an example of your writing, or voice.

After piquing their interest, the rest is all about the manuscript itself. Just like a car salesman's pitch isn't going to get you to buy a car if the wheels fall off when you test drive it, a great query isn't going to get an agent if your plot falls apart.

Amy Tate said...

To sell the story! And it's just one more thing to stress over.

Sharon K. Mayhew said...

The goal for a query is to get someone to want to read the whole story. You can't expect to sell a book unless you can convince them that they want to read the whole thing. So if you are trying to sell your story in your query, you're putting the cart before the horse. You have to convince the recipient of the query that they need/want to read your ms...

Glynis said...

Query letter? Is that the thing you type out, and attach to the photo of you begging? ;0

B.J. Anderson said...

Love these answers. :D I'm going to say the query letter is where you put your protagonist's goal, motivation, and conflict, which may or may not (depending how you write it) get an agent interested in your work. Or something like that, lol. :D

G said...

A query letter fulfills the exact same purpose of resume.

To whit:

To get noticed so that you can make the first cut.

Tess said...

I read on Suz's blog (Shooting Stars) a line that went like..."How come the novel comes pouring out of me at force speed but I can't write a synop to save my life?" that's a paraphrase - but it stuck w/ me because it IS so hard to put your story in a nutshell.

You have a gift for that and I love to see you helping and sharing that gift. I pray to the Sweet Lord that I never have to write a &*$@! query again!

Susan Fields said...

It looks like my answer's been said many times before, but I'll just say to get the editor interested enough to ask for pages.

prashant said...

The purpose of the query letter is to introduce an agent/editor to your book in a way that makes them want to read more.
data entry work from home

Kris said...

I just scrolled down to comment - didn't read the other posts, yet.

The purpose of the query letter is to get the reader (agent or editor) to want to read the whole ms. Clear and simple.

Good luck w/ your presentation!

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