Apologies, btw, for any glitches in this post: I'm going to be away when it goes out, and it's so much easier to proof it once it's published. So, bear with me and don't tell me about typos.
[**I seem to have gone all American in my use of the word "querying". I mean it to include the various processes of approaching an agent or publisher on any side of any ocean and with any type of writing. Let's say that querying has become a generic word for "approaching" and that it incorporates the chosen method/s of your country.]
Anyways. Here is the post I want you to see. When you've read it, please come back, because I want you not to focus so much on the detail but on three general principles obliquely raised:
- The agents and publishers whom you are querying have usually seen far more query letters than is good for them. They can read between the lines and judge your level of knowledge and readiness from the things you say and the things you don't say. They are often cynical, glazed and pessimistic about the basis of your enthusiasm. Don't push your luck: just be confident about your one best project, even if you mention the existence of others in passing. [Which is a good idea, but do keep that bit brief, unflaky and sedate. No gushing from the fount of your enthusiasm.]
- If you are a beginner or otherwise unpublished writer, your work is likely to have many faults, faults that make it more or less unpublishable, and faults of which you are horribly unaware. So, if one of your ongoing projects has these faults, they all probably have. Therefore, just present one piece, and make it your best one. If the best piece is an early piece, ask yourself why you're not improving. Because an agent sure as hell will be wondering.
3. The third point to take from the Kidlit post is this: agents know what they're looking for and they know how to find it. Or if they don't know, it's not up to you to tell them. Don't mess around by trying to give them what they've not asked for. Like the tea-bag my agent friend just received. Last week she also got a letter which started by calling down a curse on her, and then went on to ask if she'd like to read a manuscript. You couldn't make it up.
A couple of you have asked if we could have another bad query competition. I think that's a very good idea and should be a reward for good behaviour in a few weeks' time. Meanwhile, to remind you of how bad queries can be, go and read the winning entries from the last one.
Soon I will be hitting you with a post especially for aspiring children's and YA authors. It will be about pitching your work appropriately for age. Kids' books follow all the same rules as grown-up books, but there are extra rules. There are also extra pitfalls, as this true story shows.
Early on in my career as a YA author, I was doing an event for middle grade / upper primary kids. [I'm going all American again - dang you yankee critturs]. I was not talking about my first and at that time only YA novel, but about Being A Writer. The teacher happened to mention to the kids that I'd written a book called Mondays are Red. Here's what followed:
A grubby boy, whom we shall call Liam, interrupts to say: I've read that, Miss.Shite or not, it was my first baby and Darren was not worthy.
Teacher [looking somewhat surprised, as Liam had done nothing to indicate a tendency to read unless forced]: Really, Liam? Did you like it?
Liam: No, Miss. It was pure shite.
Now, I am away in London for a few days, for some school talks and meetings. [Watch out, London.] Please don't misbehave while I'm away. a) I will be able to read your comments even if replying is tricky and b) that scary Jane Smith is going to be policing you and de-spamming me. She is donning her weaponry as we speak.