Non-Traditional Queries

Today, I spent the better part of my day researching. What was I researching, you ask? Agents. Anything and everything agents. Which agents represent my genre, which agents have made sales, what agents are looking for in their slush pile, etc. Then there’s the personal details. Finding something in the agents’ personal lives that I enjoy as well. And I’m exhausted. And a little worried. You see, I have two query letters. One is traditional and one is not. My writing partner came up with the great idea of creating a wanted poster for my query (with closing paragraphs, of course). It’s awesome and fits my book perfectly since my MC is on the run about 80% of the novel. I also like it because it’s succinct, on target, and “shows” the story. My other query is nice, but halfway through reading it my eyes glaze over…and it’s MY book! It’s just too wordy. But I’m this way with any query letter written in the traditional format. There’s just so much packed into it, with long, “attempting to be witty” sentences, that I find the plot gets lost in translation.

Here is my all-time favorite query, which was posted on Janet Reid’s queryshark site:

One week ago, Claire’s cousin Dinah slit her wrists.
Five days ago, Claire found Dinah’s diary and discovered why.
Three days ago, Claire stopped crying and came up with a plan. 
Two days ago, she ditched her piercings and bleached the black dye from her hair.
Yesterday, knee socks and uniform plaid became a predator’s camouflage.
Today, she’ll find the boy who broke Dinah.
By tomorrow, he’ll wish he was dead.

Premeditated is a 60,000 word contemporary YA novel. Chapters or a synopsis are available on request

This query tells me everything I need to know about the book in a simple list format that’s easy for my brain to process. Yay! And I’d like to “think” that my wanted poster does the same. But here’s where the problem comes in. Many agencies have a page on their site called, “How to Write a Query Letter.” And they walk you through what should be listed in each paragraph.  Some even go on to say “No gimmicks.” Egad! Is my wanted poster merely a gimmick? I thought it was a clever way to lay out the plot in an easy to read format. Something to stand out amongst all the other word-packed queries that make your brain do cartwheels trying to decipher them. But if an agent wants a traditional format, you have to give them what they want.

So here’s my plan. I think. I’ve created a super duper spreadsheet of all the agents I plan to query, along with their details. And I’ve marked the ones that say no gimmicks or have “how-to-query” pages on their sites. These agents will just have to get my traditional query. And the others? Fingers crossed they’re open minded.

What are your thoughts on queries? Stick with the norm or take a risk and branch out into the unique?

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One thought on “Non-Traditional Queries

  1. I’ve been going back and forth about it. I now think, if they say no gimmick, don’t send it. I don’t think the wanted poster is a gimmick. A little gimmicky, but not a gimmick per se. Certainly not with a closing paragraph. But if they specify, hey, they just want the business. Honestly, they sound a little jaded. They’ve forgotten how important the books are for new authors, how they struggle over wording, just to find one way to make the query stand out. They want books that sell. Send a short, engaging query with the basic facts. But if they don’t specify, they might still be caught up in the excitement. An unusual query might do the trick. I’ve trailed a lot of these query websites in my day, but I’ve never seen a Wanted poster.

    The only concern I have is I don’t know if the wanted poster plus paragraph tell a reader what the book is about without having to put the pieces together. I think it conveys a feel for the book and the world, though. A little bit like your favorite query.

    Not sure this helped. But I think I’d go half/half. 🙂

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