In August I took the query webinar offered by Sara Megibow, called “Ten Queries In Ten Tweets ” which aimed to show the “behind-the-scenes” on the way agents look at queries.
If you follow Sara on Twitter, she does this exercise every week, providing a glimpse of the reasoning behind accepting and rejecting queries. But through this webinar, participants got to ask questions, and she also explained what she means when she tweets for example: “the writing isn´t strong enough”…
One of the main points of the webinar?
Behind the scenes: Sara gets a lot of queries. A lot. She devotes about one minute to each query, and needs to decide very fast. She mentioned that the majority of her time is spent working for her clients. That makes a lot of sense and her dedication/enthusiasm for her clients is clear. She mentioned at some point that she receives about 150 queries a day. Last year, she signed 9 clients. So it looks the odds are not in our favor. But most of her clients come from the slush pile, so it IS possible! And….she also pointed out that the queries looked at during the webinar were good. There are many times when the queries she receives are not a fit for agency, for genres they don´t represent or the writer makes mistakes that are easily avoidable.
If you see “The writing isn´t strong enough” in Sara´s tweets, it could mean the following: too wordy (pitch is too long, not focused enough on the plot, not tightened enough), some sentences are a bit unclear, no variety in the sentences, the sentences don´t flow (the transitions between the parts of the plot are not smooth enough)…
Always remember: the query is a mirror of the manuscript in the eye of the agent.
What she wants to see in a query:
- Clear and concise: She mentioned several time that the pitch needed to be concise. It needs to have the who, why, where, and why but that if it becomes too wordy, there´s a risk that the manuscript is too wordy itself. We should basically see the pitch as a way for the agent to “sell” the book afterwards, to pitch it to editors…
- Not too much focus on background story: Where does the book move forward to? For example: a dad announces that the family moves to a new place. This is not the incident, it´s the announcement to the incident. What happens then? This should be the focus!
- Internal and external conflict: There needs to be a balance. Even though there can be an emphasis on internal conflict, there still needs to be something moving the plot forward.
- Organic world-building: If you´re querying a fantasy, sci-fi….the world-building needs to be an inherent part of the query and the link between the world and the plot needs to be smooth.
How to polish the pitch/query?
- Talk about your book to your plants, kids, significant others, computer…Talk about your book. A. Lot.
- Think about being an elevator with a film producer and you have to tell him/her what your book´s about.
- Read back covers of books.
- Go back to your manuscript and list the plot points.
I got a pass but she was spot on (really, it´s scary!)
Disclaimer: of course, I dreamed that Sara would love my query, send me an email requesting pages, the full and then offer me representation…Didn´t happen but it could in the future since a pass during the webinar isn´t a “pass, pass”.
The query I sent Sara for this webinar received this feedback: Pass. Contemporary young adult. Solid story, but writing isn’t as strong as I’d like and the heroine has a prickly attitude which might make her hard to connect with.
- My query was too wordy and too long = writing isn´t as strong
- It focused too much on backstory = writing isn´t as strong.
- It focused too much on the attitude of my MC
And you know what? This query was written before two of my major revisions for my manuscript. Sara emphasized several times during the webinar that the query is usually a reflection of the manuscript. Not always and she did pass on projects which ended up being very successful but she looks for books to sell, not books to work on.
My revisions took care of the points she mentioned (which my CP and my beta readers also pointed out…). My novel is much stronger now than then.
Basically, she was spot on. At least in my case
Some additional information:
- Sara doesn´t mind queries written in first person. She signed Miranda Kenneally based on her query for CATCHING JORDAN which was written from Jordan´s perspective (you can read the query on YA Highway).
- How soon does she want to see the enticing incident in the book? Within the first 5 to 10 pages.
- Do you send the prologue in the sample pages? If Sara asks for pages, yes the prologue needs to be included.
- Comparable titles in the query? It´s helpful but not something Sara concentrates on. She focuses on STRONG writing.
- In the first 30 pages (and in the entire book): create a balance of all tools aka internal conflict, external conflict, dialogue, back-story…
- Someone asked about “dead” genres and she emphasized that she can still sell stories. Mermaid (or others) stories may be over-represented but if your concept is unique enough and the query shows strong writing, that wouldn´t prevent her from requesting pages.
And the final words of advice:
Sara repeated this several times: KEEP READING AND KEEP WRITING!
I know this post was SUPER long but hope it was useful/helpful!
Thanks again to Sara for doing this webinar