Originally published in the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators bulletin, September/October 2006
For some writers, the query is much harder to write than the manuscript. However, agents across the board are begging you not to succumb to services like Agent Wizard (http://www.wizards4word.com/agent.html) and Scriptblaster (www.scriptblaster.com) who do the work for you for a small fee. Recently, literary agents have been hit with a deluge of form-type query letters that truly do you more harm than good because they make it hard for agents to sift out the quality from the bad.
These form queries are personal to the extent that they have the author’s credentials and information plugged into them, but the wording in all of them is similar and can also be abrupt and abrasive. Phrasing like, “Should I send it off to you now and do you like hard copy or by email?” is a real turn-off to agents. Worse than the hard sell approach, services like these sometimes talk about the writer in the third person, as if they’ve hired a publicist to do the letter writing for them, even though they don’t have representation yet, and are often unpublished. This can make the writer look ridiculously self-important in the eyes of an agent.
What’s more, agents do talk amongst themselves, and when five or six of them receive exactly the same query from the same author, they’re all likely to reject it. Although these services claim to have done the research for you, it’s quite obvious they haven’t, simply by the way they send your query out to everyone.
If you really don’t think you can’t pull off the query yourself, there are services that aren’t so obnoxious, but they don’t come cheaply, and it’s debatable how effective they really are. One such service in particular, offers a free assessment of your query and first ten pages of a manuscript. As an experiment, I sent my samples into them and I got a personal email back from the owner, discussing the strengths and weaknesses of my manuscript and query.
She suggested heavy rewrites of my query and synopsis, stressing that I needed her services if I expected any sucess. Interestingly enough, the query and synopsis I sent to her had previously generated four positive responses from editors asking for the entire manuscript. From what I could tell, the benefit of their service was its hands on approach, but it really wasn’t anything that a writer couldn’t get from his/her critique group. And the price quoted was upwards of three hundred dollars for query and synopsis editing, and to generate a list of possible agents, which seemed ridiculously high to me.
Agents are people trying to do a job and simply typing their name into a letter does not personalize your query. You, as a writer, want someone to care about your book, your thoughts, and your career ups and downs. The best thing you can do is research agents personally, and learn about them from live journals, blogs, conferences, and their websites so that you know they’re a good match for you. Ask other writers for agent recommendations, let your critique group have a look at your synopsis, write, rewrite, and rewrite it again. But most importantly, trust your own abilities as a writer. You wouldn’t even need a query if you hadn’t completed a major work of art already, so get back to work and finish the job yourself.