Tag Archives: Writing tips & advice

Back to basics, the query letter.

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Is a query letter really that important? Yes, my fellow writers. I cannot be emphatic enough about just how important. It does not matter if you have a good synopsis and tight, clean sample chapters. The query letter is your foot in the door, so to speak. Even if the foot gets stuck in the door for only a fleeting minute or so. The point is, our curiosity has been aroused.

Now a lot of you, those who’ve been hands-on with the research part of the submission process, already know the information I’m going to mention below. I raise my hat to you for all the hard work you’re doing. Trust me, it will pay off in spades during the harrowing process. However, the reason I found this post to be important is because of the recent spate of queries I’ve been receiving. Sometimes it astonishes me how little effort the author has gone into introducing himself and his work to me, and making sure the tone of his email is positive and respectful.

Let me go through some examples,

1) A query sent with no content in the body of the email, aside from two attachments. One containing the synopsis, the other containing the sample pages.

2) A query written to me by an editor.

3) A query that mentions a lot of unnecessary information in the author’s quest to sound mysterious, while leaving out the main plot points, therefore, leaving the main questions unanswered.

4) A query that gives me a time-limit or exclusivity, when I have not asked for the latter, and do not appreciate the former.

5) A query that has been sent to me more than once within thirty days (patience is key, people.)

6) A query that does not mention what’s original about their story, compared to a dozen others.

7) A query that clearly indicates the author has not bothered to do any research regarding agents’ respective tastes.

8) A query that expounds on the greatness of the author’s own writing and how he believes it’s similar to (bestselling author’s) work.

The first thing to remember while sending out a query letter is, the way you write one sets the tone of how the prospective partnership could be, at least in our minds.

If you sound pompous and full of yourself, then I’m going to wonder how you’ll absorb my notes on revisions, if it’s required. I’m also going to wonder if you’ll be able to work with the team at your publishing house, especially when things may not always go the way you planned.

If you sound conscious and unsure of your writing abilities, by telling me that I should feel free to reject your work, since you’ve already been in this game long enough not to feel bad, it tells me you’ve been rejected before. That is not the best first impression to give. You must always strike the right balance between confidence in your abilities and humbleness.

If you give me a time-limit and exclusivity, it’s mostly going to come off as being a tad high-maintainence, assuming that your manuscript is the only one I’m looking at (which isn’t true). This does not show me that you value my time, but shows me that your time is so important, you’re unwilling to be patient like everybody else.

Now let us talk about how a query letter SHOULD be. Firstly, like I mentioned earlier, your query sets the tone of your relationship with the agent. But it also sets the tone for the kind of book you’ve written. If you’ve written a murder mystery, but the tone of your query is sarcastic and funny…this does not make sense, does it? Make sure the query reflects what kind of a manuscript you’ve got on your hands.

Secondly, start your letter with a brief explanation as to why you chose the agent. Was it because something about the agent’s profile caught your attention? Was it because you read a book she wrote, or an article she wrote, or an author she represents? Was it because something in her blog made you feel like you could connect? Was she referred to you by someone? If so, who? –This information should be concise. Once you do this, mention the title of your book, what genre your book falls into (try not to club a million genres together, be specific), and what the word count is.

Then we move onto the pitch. Give me a paragraph of information about your story that introduces me to the main character, what his predicament is, what he needs to do to solve it, and what’s standing in his way. What are his choices and inner conflicts that make things harder for him to resolve. If the story is set in an international location or a different time period, you could find a way to begin with that information, too.

I once read a query that went something like this. ‘This story is about the dysfunctional relationship between a mother and her daughter. When the daughter got into drugs, the mother had to throw the daughter out of the house to make her learn a lesson. The daughter had no choice but to fend for herself. When she fell pregnant, the mother decided to forgive her, take her in…after a lot of tough situations…the both of them realized the importance of a mother-daughter bond…’

What does this tell me? Nothing. Has the relationship always been dysfunctional? Was there a specific reason why her daughter was being so difficult? How did the daughter fend for herself? Wait, she fell pregnant? Was there a romance in there somewhere? Abandonment? Why did the mother decide to forgive her? What tough situations?

Of course, it’s not possible to give the agent all the answers in one short paragraph, but it should give us the main points and turns in a plot, while leaving something for us to wonder.

The last paragraph should introduce me to you. Do you have an M.F.A (from where?), have you been writing for long? Have you published anything before? (If so, be specific- where? when? who is the publisher?)

Lastly, a line thanking the agent for her time, and saying something positive.

So there it is. A query letter is not that difficult, especially when you’ve gone through the battle of writing an ENTIRE BOOK. So why not spend an extra few hours researching how query letters should be?

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Who is the new Literary Agent in Town? ( Wink Wink )

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That’s right. I am one out of two people that have been taken into the fold by Kimberley Cameron of the Kimberley Cameron & Associates! Forgive me for gloating, but this has been a much awaited moment and I am beyond excited. Therefore, where else can I gloat with abandon?

As a fresh intern in the fall of last year, being a literary agent seemed so glamorous and fun. And it is. Don’t get me wrong, fun or not, it’s a shit load of work to do. But I believe the adages, “love what you do”, and “if you love what you do, not a day at work seems like actual work”, completely apply in this profession. Because despite the unpredictability of the publishing industry at present, there is no other industry I would want to be a part of. The challenge brought about by the business aspect of Agenting is equally balanced with the creative side of the business. Finding new voices, helping nurture talent that is already present, and bringing life-changing books to the public…aah! What better job could there be? Have I mentioned already that a truly beautiful cover for a book can make me feel really…itchy. From then on, I cannot rest until I have the book in my hands. Wouldn’t it be great to help more people feel this way?

Yes, the industry is going through a slump at the moment. Yes, the future of books seem to be in peril, and yes, the arrival of e-books/Kindle/a renewed fervor in self-publishing has rocked the boat a little. But I do believe that the industry will survive. Very much so. It has in the past, and there is no reason why it shouldn’t in the future. People still love to write, which means people still love to read. Be it via Kindle or paperback, the demand for books is still very much alive. And if we move with the times and figure out ways to integrate the modes of e-publishing/self-publishing into the traditional route of publishing, great things could happen. We’ve already begun to see a growth spurt in this area.

Anyway, I shall leave such thoughts and advice for future posts. For now, though, I would like to give you guys a little heads-up of what I’m looking for.

Before I go into this, however, I do have one piece of advice.

Do not submit a half-arsed manuscript. No matter how much you want to see your name in print, take a moment to see if your manuscript is ready for an agent. Be cruelly objective and critical. If this is something writers cannot handle, it’s going to be a big blow to them in the journey ahead.

Submissions have to be polished to look their best. I do not mean to be condescending or horrible. Only helpful. Many times, as an intern, I’ve come across submissions that have made me cringe. The lack of research and forethought that has gone into writing the query letters, the number of grammatical and editing mistakes, the angry emails demanding why we haven’t written back to offer representation…all of it has been truly flabbergasting.

Isn’t the whole purpose behind sending query letters to an agent to actually SELL the idea of your work first? Nobody said it would be easy. In fact, haven’t all our legendary literary voices had to face the same process of rejection and acceptance at some point themselves? So how are we any different? Will taking a step back, sipping some green tea, and spending time reflecting and waiting be such a bad thing?

Being a writer or an artist requires patience and devotion. Trust me, being impatient myself, I know how hard and frustrating it is to see your dreams at a standstill. But I do believe we should only want people to see the best we can produce. If writers are in such a hurry to get published that the quality of their work is not up to the mark, then it’s rather disappointing.

But I shall stop this downpour on your parades and pick it up as and when the need comes up at a later date. Without further ado, here is what I’m looking for, so all you debut novelists and veteran writers out there, please take note. I cannot wait to read some mind-blowing submissions!

– Writing that has a unique perspective and a strong voice. One that will linger in my head even after I have shut the book. I do believe that even a tried before plot can be handled in a way that is fresh, different and never-seen-before. These are what I would like to see. Not well-used formulas, but an idea or story that is different and will add to the wonderful books already out there. Books that contain a subtle life lesson or two is pretty important to me, as this was why I used to read vicariously myself. To search for answers to questions I do not have, and to find more questions that force me to think in new ways.

– In fiction, my tastes tend to be eclectic and varied. Therefore, it’s rather hard to pinpoint what I’m looking for. But interesting and thought-provoking fiction in any genre will get me in knots. Be it literary, commercial, high-brand women’s fiction, or historical. Good fiction is simply hard to put down. However, I do tend to lean towards International fiction quite a bit. Vibrant and complex characters, multi-cultural themes, and lush exotic settings…painted against a contemporary, political, or historical backdrop…how can I not? Being from a different background myself, these kinds of stories resound soundly within me. Thankfully, there is a rather huge market for books like this, so I’m looking forward to reading things that make me forget to breathe.

Did I mention that I have a passion for historical novels set in time periods that haven’t been explored too much, or events that haven’t been talked about/talked about much yet? (Think Sarah Dunant, for example.)

I recently read a manuscript submission that totally blew me away. A story set in South America during a difficult time politically, but told from the point of view of a young girl. It made me want to research the situation as soon as I came home. That is what I call good fiction. However, as an intern, I did not have the good fortune to offer her a representation. But now that I am in that position, hopefully such a manuscript will come my way. (Hint all you historical writers out there!)

In fantasy, I’m okay with stories being completely experimental or set in our reality, as long as the story is believable and fleshed out well. I don’t mean to sound cliched, but J.K Rowling, Tolkien, Philip Pullman, Katie Marie Moning, Deborah Harkness, and a bunch of other great writers had me locked up in my room for days! Test the boundaries people, but make me believe it!

Shall we switch over to non-fiction? Do you folks need a minute to breathe or take a loo break, because I realize this is one darn long post. But I promise, I’m almost done. Almost. 🙂

For my fellow writers who prefer to burn the midnight oil with the non-fiction genre, I tend to gravitate towards adventure and travel memoirs, journalism and human-interest memoirs set in politically unsound countries, self-help books addressing relationships and human psychology from a fresh angle, and submissions that deal with educative or interesting subjects that are as yet unexplored. If you have any of these under your bed, do not hesitate to send them to me without fail.

However, the only question I have to ask is, do you have a decent enough platform? Or can you create this before approaching agents? Most agents will not undertake projects that have no platform because of how hard it’s become to sell books these days. Trust me people, get tapping on those blogs, publicize your subject at various speaking engagements. Twitter and sing about your subject is what I say. Radio appearances, public speaking engagements, blogs with high traffic…all of it helps like magic!

Finally, the last stop. Young Adult fiction. Do I hear sighs of relief, or sadness, perhaps?

I will admit, I haven’t spend too much time reading in this particular genre, but I do enjoy them if they are spectacular (don’t we all!). Think, Speak/Fever by Laura Henderson, for example. Stories set in dystopian, fantasy, magical-realism, and historical contexts are all welcome, but so are those dealing with serious, prevalent issues facing our teenagers today. Like bulimia, anorexia, bullying, finding one’s identity…in a fictional context.

On an end note (cannot be that greedy) I will admit, mysteries and thrillers aren’t really my cup of tea. But if you have one that is dark, edgy, and a bit of a psychological spinner, I would definitely be intrigued.

You can send ALL of the above to Pooja@kimberleycameron.com.

I bet you guys are clutching your head and screaming ENOUGH! with terror. So I shall stop and step away from this laptop, but I do have some visual treats for my next post. A couple of my girlfriends and I are going on vacation to Istanbul soon. Hopefully, I will have some great pictures to share with you all.

Have a great day folks!

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