Query Shark and Other Thoughts

I’ve blathered a little about queries for the last couple of weeks, but the subject demands mention of the Query Shark, and then I’ll have self-actualized on the subject and can move on.

Query Shark is the superhero identity of the mild-mannered metropolitan literary agent, Janet Reid.  She’s well-known and respected in the publishing world, has represented many awesome authors, and has sold many, many books.  Most of her considerable rep, however, comes from her efforts to drag aspiring authors, kicking and screaming if necessary, into the publishing world by helping them figure out how to interface with agents.

The basic interface, of course, is the query letter.  You use it to explain to an agent how delightful your book is and convince them to hawk it around to the big publishing companies.  Janet Reid wants you to succeed in your quest, and has developed at least three web entities that help.

The first is her regular blog, which has discussions and archives and many things that are informative or helpful, or maybe just funny and witty, which is helpful in itself.  She discusses queries there a lot, answers questions, instigates flash fiction contests, and contemplates the foibles of the industry.  You can find links to her other blogs there, too.  It’s definitely worth a look, and you can find it HERE.

The Query Shark blog itself is a separate but inextricably intertwined project.  This is VERY worthwhile to authors salivating after a lucrative career, because it gives you a tremendous amount of examples of good and bad queries, and what makes them either way.  At least in her opinion, which is quite highly regarded.  You can even send in your query to have her look it over and provide feedback under the right circumstances.  Go there, look around, study, ponder.  You can find that one HERE.

And lastly, she has a website specifically for private review, analysis, and feedback for your query.  This one will cost you money, and given her range of experience and reputation, it’s most likely quite worth the expense if this is what you need.  You can find that one HERE.

One big help from Janet Reid is a quote I saw in one of her interviews several years ago:  “Write. Read. Never give up. Learn, rest, rethink, but never quit.”  Good words.  You might want to write them down and refer to them often.

Always keep in mind that every agent is an individual and they all have different desires and quirks.  They’re frequently working for agencies that also have different desires and quirks.  As an example, Janet Reid has said that different agents at an agency may have differing tastes, so you should query every agent at that agency who represents your genre of book.  Some agencies I have queried state right in their websites that they share queries back and forth if they think a different agent might be interested, so DO NOT query more than one or they’ll toss you in the dumper.

So even for such an authoritative figure as Janet Reid, don’t just take everything any agent says as the final answer.  Research each one and personalize your approach to them.  And don’t limit yourself to just a few — the more you try, the better your chances of succeeding.

And always remember that the publishing business is fluid and if you don’t succeed today, you just might tomorrow.  Always take all advice with a grain of salt…yes, even mine…and remember the immortal words of George R.R. Martin:  “Just when you reach the stage that you understand how publishing works, and how to build your career, then all the rules change.”

Good luck out there.

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