Saturday, January 15, 2011

On the Ghost-Written Query: A Follow-Up

In the comments around Wednesday's discussion on rewriting queries and submitting rewritten queries as your own, Matt linked to this "successful query" post on Kristin Nelson's blog and pointed to the comment where the author reveals one of Kristin's other bestselling clients actually wrote the query in question.

If you're too lazy to follow the links where the author confesses that she couldn't crank out a decent query (and in truth the attempts she offers up as proof are a bit awkward, though no better or worse than many queries we see right here) or to look at Kristin's subsequent post, the nutshell is this:

  • Courtney Milan won a query crit from bestselling author Sherry Thomas
  • Courtney struggled with the query and Sherry, in exasperation, wrote it for her
  • Sherry also read Courtney's ms and referred Courtney to Kristin
  • Still, even without the intro, Kristin would have requested from the query
  • Courtney not only wound up with representation from one of the most savvy agents in the biz, she snagged a 6-figure deal for 2 books at auction
  • Kristin then makes a statement that I must have been channeling when I wrote the post on Wednesday:
"Sometimes it is difficult for a writer to write his or her own query. The writer is very close to the material and can’t often see the forest for the trees. If you’ve struggled with the query writing process, I don’t think it’s playing unfair to have another person write the query on your behalf, or with you, or revise it for you. As long as you end up with a strong letter that you believe fully represents your work, I, as the agent, will not ask if you wrote your own query letter. It can be your own deep, dark secret.

"The point of the query is to win an agent’s attention and get a request for sample pages. Now, your sample pages have to hold up. The greatest query letter in the world is not going to compensate for unready sample pages.

"And if somebody else ends up writing your query, make sure they are good at it!"

All of us have seen agent remarks that disagree with what Kristin says, so obviously there's no right or wrong. Like most things in this business, it's follow your gut and do what's right for you, whether it's writing about controversial topics, following the market, or letting someone else write your query letter.
But maybe this alleviates just a teeny bit of guilt?


fairyhedgehog said...

It's as if novel writing and query writing need different but overlapping skills, and just because you can't write a good query or advertising blurb doesn't mean you can't write a good novel.

Whatever works! The quality of the finished novel is the clincher.

Anonymous said...

I'm with FHhog. Bottom line: get the job done.
I wouldn't feel guilty. A GP refers you to a specialist if you need one or he thinks you need one. No shame/guilt there. Queries are a function of sales.
A specialist (with connections) is way tons better than a generalist (without). May we all have such good fortune.

vkw said...

Fairyhedgehog said it best. The query letter is a resume'/an introduction/a cold call - it is not representative of an author's writing ability.

but it is a way to screen people out.

lexcade said...

some of us just can't get the hang of a query. without help from Phoenix and my crit buddies at QueryTracker, i wouldn't have the letter i have now. no way i could have done it on my own.

Slush said...

Maybe I won't feel so guily

I have helped others by creating resume's. So maybe asking for help crafting a query is not such a bad thing.
Thanks for the follow-up Phoenix and the links. FYI: I wasn't to lazy to read them, lol.

Sarah Laurenson said...

At least a dozen other writers have had their red pens on parts of my WIPs. That's part of the process. In fact, many editors/agents will tell you to get your WIP to a critique group. Don't know why query writing should be different.

There are many ways to get your foot in the (agent/editor) door. The query is part of the business letter. It's not the part that will be published and subject to scrutiny for plagarism and Milli-Vanilli style lip synching.

That being said - if the voice in your query is radically different from the one in your novel, you have a problem.

jjdebenedictis said...

I think if a person has written a great book, they have all the raw elements they need to write a great query, but they may not know how.

As FairyHedgehog said, those two types of writing require different skills, just as journalism and poetry are both writing but require different skills. Probably most novelists can figure query writing out, with time--but they don't want to be sending out an amateur-grade query to sell their professional-grade novel.

Matt said...

The important thing, regardless of who writes the query, is that it's an accurate representation of your book (plot, character dev. and voice).

If you (or others) still can't come up with something engaging after beta readers and bloggers have tried their hands at it, the problem lies within the novel itself.

McKoala said...