Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Word on the Street is Wrong: Myths on Getting an Agent, Volume 2

Last week, I shared a common myth involving conference pitches.  This week I want to simplify the query process for you.  This post is definitely an opinion.

Myth #2: Because agents have different opinions on the best way to write a query, you should write several queries tailored to their preferences.

Some agents love log lines, some hate them. Some agents love comparison titles, some loathe them. Some agents want only one concise paragraph, while others recommend 2-3 paragraphs. Have you ever thought: How many queries do you have to write? I'm so confused.

Take a deep breath. Calm down. And write one query.  It's what most people do, but every once in a while I meet someone who is convinced that she has to write to an agent's preferences.  I think this does more harm than good.


Because while agents claim to have different preferences, they really want to see the pitch that best showcases your novel.

Note that:
  1. I do think you should include a personalized section stating why you think a particular agent is so fabulous and a great fit for you.
  2. If your query isn't working, you should revise it or try a new angle. Send your query in batches of 5-10 so you can gauge its success.

So now for the part where you write the best query for your novel! Let's take a look at some of the parts of a query that agents disagree on. 

1. Log Lines

Log lines are best suited for a high-concept novel. Otherwise, I'd advise you not to bother with one.  When an agent says she likes log lines, it's probably because she's most interested in high-concept works. But you can't pretend your book is high-concept if it isn't.

So what is high-concept? Another myth is that high-concept means you can describe the book in a single sentence. That's sort of true, but sort of misleading. You can describe any book in a single sentence.

Take The Tiger's Wife by Tea Obreht as an example. A one-line description: When a woman's grandfather dies, she ponders the meaning of death through Baltic folklore.

There, I gave you a one-sentence description, but it really doesn't showcase it. It doesn't really give you an idea of how the themes of death and grieving are poignantly explored in the book. That's because this is not high-concept.

A high-concept book hinges on a single premise or gimmick, and everything else that happens follows directly from this. For example, Cinder by Marissa Meyer is so high-concept I can pitch it with two words: cyborg Cinderella. That's all you have to say.

(PS: I don't mean gimmick in a negative connotation.  I was very excited to read about cyborg Cinderella!)

2. Length / Number of Paragraphs

This really depends on your book. I know that some agents say they only want one paragraph, but you may need 3-4 paragraphs to work in the details that really make your novel unique. For example, with a science fiction story, you might want a short paragraph introducing the world, another introducing the main character, and a final one explaining how the two are in conflict with one another.

There is no formula. Take up to 250 words, try different angles, and choose the most compelling one.

3.  Focus of Pitch

Pitching all the cool stuff in your novel in a mere 250 words can be overwhelming. If you feel this way, it might be best to focus on only the first few chapters and your inciting incident. However, if you feel as if some of the most compelling elements of your book happen later, than you might instead focus the query on the main conflict and include details about the obstacles your character faces as she/he races toward the climax of your story. 

4.  Comparison Titles

I personally think these are really tough to do, and for most people they simply aren't necessary. It's difficult to call out titles that the agent will have heard of but aren't mega-bestsellers that are overused as comp titles. Also, although you might think the book is similar for one reason, it might not be readily apparent to the agent.

The pitch portion and genre should give the agent a really good idea about where in the marketplace this book would fit in. For example, there is no reason to compare your book to Twilight if the only thing that they really have in common is that they are both YA paranormal romances. You've already stated the genre, and the comparison title isn't actually adding anything. I would only recommend using comparison titles if it gives a more nuanced impression than the genre, or if your book is really unusual but you want to show it has some marketability.

Hope that helps and watch out for more agent myths on this blog!


  1. For anyone reading this, I can testify that Maya's query advice is legitimate. I had the pleasure of reading her query, and it was so well done. It grabbed my interest right away, told me the most intriguing parts of the story and left me eager to read more. Some people do get discovered at conferences, but the old-fashioned slush pile still does work. With email, it's even easier - I requested the full the very same day. I loved it, passed it on, and the rest is history. I can't tell you how excited I am to see this book on shelves someday.

    1. I'm glad the query piqued your interest, Krystyna! Thank you so much for your advocacy, back then and now. I really appreciate it!

  2. Thanks for posting was enlightening :)