As the revised novel awaits the verdict of my unspoiled second readers, I’ve been prepping for querying agents to prevent myself a) chewing my own fingernails off, and b) breathing down the readers’ necks. It’s an interesting business, querying, because it’s so subjective: at the end of the day, the only question is whether a specific individual finds this email interesting enough right now to request more. There are so many elements that are completely out of the author’s control, from whether the agent is having a good morning or a bad, to whether the agent has a hitherto unrevealed great love or pet hate for a key concept of the book. Possibly because it’s so subjective, and authors are so nervous about it, we all strive wildly to find as many objective things we can nail down as possible.
Sometimes, I feel, this maybe gets out of hand.
In preparing, I flitted around the internet, looking for ever more opinions on a steadily refining query letter and the piece of advice that would make it all click for me. There are a lot of great resources out there, and so many fantastic communities where people are willing to share their time and energy to help make queries better. But sometimes the methodologies can get a little prescriptive, and sometimes a community can start to have their own “rules” for how things should be done, that get constantly reinforced through repetition inside their virtual walls. And sometimes the reasoning for the advice – which is more important – can get lost in “because it’s a rule”. (A great example here is the “no questions!” advice. There are certainly weaknesses with rhetorical questions, and you never want to pivot your query on a question that an agent could answer “no” to, like “Have you ever wanted to escape?” But mostly the reasons are because you want to use something stronger, something more explicitly tied to your character and story, and not just because questions are 100% do-not-pass-go bad.)
The best advice I gleaned in my flittings – and the advice that should temper all other advice, I feel – came from the fantastic New Leaf Literary tumblr, generally (I believe) curated by the inestimable Suzie Townsend. She answers endless questions from the nervous would-be authors of tumblr-space, and again and again her responses to “can I do x in a query/synopsis/novel?” boil down to: “You can do anything, as long as it works.”
This, of course, is where the underlying reasons for advice comes in. If the problem with questions isn’t that they’re questions but that they’re weak and not explicitly tied to the emotion of your characters, then you can have a query that’s 100% questions, as long as they’re strong and hinged out of fantastic voice and character. You can do it if it works.
After all, your story is different from everyone else’s. It’s unique and fantastic. Why should your query be the same as everyone else’s?
And this is something I kept telling myself as I worked and worked and worked on my query letter: I don’t want an agent. I want the agent who loves my stories and is as excited about them as I am myself, who gets what I’m doing and wants to help me do it harder and show other people how well I do it. I don’t need every single agent who reads my query to request pages; I need the agents who will adore the novel to be delighted by the query. I cannot please everyone, nor should I try to.
Of course, at the end of the day there’s no way of telling if I’m doing that – no way of telling if it works – apart from sending it out into the ether and hoping. And that’s definitely more than a little bit daunting.
…maybe I’ll just read it through one last time.