It’s true, there I was pulling up my query that I’d been marinating for a few days–re-reading, re-tweaking, resting to read again. That day was the day–I’d done everything I could think of to personalize it, tighten it, make it shine, oh, except for that one line and this word and this one …
Right in the middle of changing a word, my foster kitty decided to attack.
The swirling cursor of doom assured me that her pounce had hit the bulls eye. Once the swirl’s hypnotic effect wore off, it took all of one second to realize that my query had been sent—mid-change, and without a final edit.
At that point, I figured that all illusion of professionalism had tucked tail and fled, so I hurriedly replied back and explained that my cat had sent the query, and here’s what that line should have said.
Yeah, there wasn’t really any good recovery from that, so I just figured I’d go for it.
In hind sight, here’s what I wish I would have done:
- Kept the email address out of the email until I was completely done. I have a basic query for each story with my pitch, word count, comps, bio, etc., that I personalize for each submission. I usually draft that all up in Scrivener. When I think it’s ready, I put it in an email and continue to edit it, but I purposely leave the email address out to avoid the very situation that happened to me. However, I didn’t this time because I was done! Except I wasn’t when I read through one last, last, last, last time. If you think you might make a change, take the email address out, and don’t put the address back in until you’re ready to click send.
- In my reply to my cat-sent email, I wish I would have been less hasty and had taken the time I’d intended to polish up the other lines I’d meant to get to, and then sent that with the explanation.
- Or I should have retreated to my room with my door closed and distractions (um, kittens) out of the way—but honestly, how could I leave this little face behind. 🙂
In all seriousness, a query is important, although not all agents and editors agree on this. Some have confessed that they skip the query or just skim it and get right to the manuscript, others use the query as a way to gauge who you are as a writer.
When I write a query, I try to keep in mind that this is my first impression, and agents being human just like anyone else, have only that and your manuscript to go on.
I’m a fairly funny person in real life, but I feel most comfortable in a query in leaving that out of everything but the pitch, if the story is a funny one (humor is subjective after all). I try to let it read like a resume for me and my story. I need to hook the agent with my first line, sum the plot up with the one or two lines after and leave the agent curious to read more. It’s not easy to write a query. But it is my marketing tool—I want to set the stage for the agent so she/he can see the vision I’m trying to convey.
I try to include comparative titles—comps or comp titles—that work to my advantage. The purpose of a comp title is to place your book in the market where it would most likely fit. Agents have to do this when they pitch to editors, editors have to do it when they pitch to the sales team. That said, the word on comp titles is subjective too. Just take these examples:
The bottom line with comp titles is include them when asked, but make sure you include smart ones. I actually pitched a story that deals with a social issue by using stats related to that issue and a comp that dealt with an entirely different social issue. I wanted, however, to show that picture books that highlighted social issues had been successful and marketable, even though that particular story didn’t address the same issue as mine.
I’ve used video games, movies, producers with a specific style, and characters as part of a comp–I don’t just use books when something else is a better fit (e.g. If Mr. Bean and Amelia Bedelia had a child that went to a boarding school in Manhattan, you’d have my …).
You’ll also hear that you should pick recent comps, but I’ve used classics as comps paired with modern stories or pop culture (e.g. It’s Gulliver’s Travels but steampunk … this is an example I pulled out of the ether, along with the other one, so if you’re doing a steampunk Gulliver’s Travels, no fear.)
Bottom line is, the quality of your manuscript trumps all (unless you just come across as a total jerk), but your query might determine whether or not it even gets seen. So don’t let the cat send your query.