20 July 2011

Flattery vs Insincerity

Image: Michal Marcol / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
or To Suck Up or Not to Suck Up, That is the Question

I'm tiptoeing in the trenches, diving into the slushpile and baiting my hook... I'm querying. It took me a while to craft a few paragraphs which describe the main characters and story, and I know it's not perfect. It's close enough to enable me to send it out to see if I get any bites. If I don't get any requests, I'll tweak it.

The subject of this post however, is the bit you're supposed to customise for each agent. Most writing-advice websites implore you to say something specific about why you and this agent are destined to become professional soul mates. Perhaps she knows you by your handle when you comment on her blog. Maybe you adore or are very similar to someone on her client list. You may have met at a conference (that's never going to happen for me in my geographic isolation).

I do research every agent I query. I have been reading some of their blogs for years, or following them on Twitter for months. I may love some of their clients, but I can't find a way to relate their work to my own. It's really hard to write a sentence which conveys some of this without sounding like a stalker, or just plain pathetic.

"I love your blog, so I thought you might like to represent me."
"I have long respected your agency, and hope my novel may be of interest."
"I would love to join your list of well-respected authors in [this genre]."
"I comment on your blog a lot. My novel is..."
"I like what you say on Twitter."

In a couple of queries I have mentioned specific blog posts or talked about something from the agency website. When it's relevant and true, it feels right to put it in the query. But when it's just pandering for the sake of it, I feel fake. Even if I've had an agency on my To Query list for ages, there's not always something specific to say. "I've wanted to query you for ages" or "I'd like to join your stable of really cool authors" doesn't seem to cut it.

The other tricky bit is the bio. Some websites advise the equivalent of "if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all". If you don't have any writing-related credits or associations, don't include a bio. Other websites insist you should definitely have a bio however brief. While I've had to do a lot of writing for my day jobs over the years, there's nothing specific I can point to. So when I attempt to write a bio it sounds like a dating profile or a desperate plea. "I do [this] for a living, but it's my life ambition to be a writer. I am married with two cats and enjoy long walks on the beach." Hmm.

Fellow queriers, how do you tackle these things? Do you make stuff up, or omit them altogether?


  1. Timely post for me. I'm getting ready to query again. I feel goofy, excited and scared - all at the same time. All and all, it's fun.

    I've queried many times before...but this time it feels different. It's been awhile. I'm in the middle of writing my query. It's tricky now. I've been studying agent's blogs and reading all the "how to" stuff. Last week, I kind of got query overload. I didn't look at it for two days.

    I'm ok this week...I actually wrote about it on my blog and got some great encouragement and tips. I feel better. I'm hoping to start the query process by the end of the month.

    I agree, it's hard to find something personal about the agent to put in the query...I go by the rule - if it doesn't feel right, leave it out.

    I think we know enough...and it we just have to trust that we've learned what we've been studying. Best wishes on your query journey.

  2. Hi Loree,
    Yes I did see your post, and I didn't feel qualified to give you any tips! Some great comments there.

    I've also done this before, and it feels different for me this time too. I have the same mix of emotions as you do! I wonder how many rejections it'll take before the wind starts leaving my sails. For now, I'm focussing on the positive, on possibilities.

    If you want to swap query letters for critique, let me know.

    Good luck!

  3. Tough issue! It IS hard knowing what to write in a query. Your method sounds perfect. If you have any connection you can mention (liking the agent's blog), great. And I do think a bio is important. Even if you have no writing credits, you can include the URL of your blog, Twitter and Facebook page. This shows them you're building a platform. And if you have a critique group, include that too!