Monday, January 12, 2009

The Ghost Query

Ok, this is the harder post to write. I have been mentally writing and rewriting it in my head for the past week, as I've read what other agents have said about the subject. I find that I differ substantially from them on my opinion of ghostwritten queries.

Like Jennifer Jackson said on her blog, I can indeed recognize the queries that have been done by "services". They have a very distinctive look to them, and I don't recommend going that route.

On the other hand, I appreciate a query that shows off the book to me... so if that means your friend or your mentor helps you write it, go for it. I'd rather be able to get a sense of what a book is about, if it's told in a skillful manner, than pass on something that's good... let me try to explain.

I have had clients who can't write a query letter and a synopsis to save their lives, but who write DAMN GOOD novels.

I have read query letters and synopses that are incredibly well done, and the novel itself is terrible.

When I read your query letter (or rather when Jodi reads it, but she's reading for me), I want to know what your book is about. I don't want to know the emotional ramifications of one character thinking about their inner navel, which is what a lot of mediocre query letters look like. I want conflict, hook, interesting situation, etc. If you can't convey that yourself, but someone else who has read your work can... let them help you. You would be doing yourself a disservice not to take advantage of the best help you can get in marketing your work. I mean, why are you searching for an agent, if not to have them go on to market your book for you?

I have helped write query letters for friends, and they have then taken my help, and added their own personal touches to it. I like to think that may have helped them in some way or another. I don't consider it cheating, what I've done.

And I'd rather see a good query, even if it's been "ghostwritten" than a bad query, any day.

Plus, the reason we ask for the first five pages is to judge whether your writing is any good, even if your query is god-awful terrible.


David said...

It's interesting to me how much response this question is getting, both from agents and the readers of their blogs. I didn't expect that. Ghost-written queries must be much more common than I realized.

Deborah Rey said...

I'm seventy and a stubborn old cow and I find this darn boring routine of query letters a pain in the tralala.
I've been lucky with my poems, prose and my first book (which ended being cancelled by the author and the publisher; due to harassment from the infamous Sharon Sergeant ...yeah, she of the Defonseca hoax)... uh, I was lucky, because they came to me for my work.
Now, for another book, I'll be damned if I start with a query. I tell agents and publishers alike who I am and what the book is about. So far, two publishers had a good laugh and asked for the manuscript. Ha!
On top of all that, it is a book without any 'real' conflict. That's another thing I am tired of. Death is enough of a hitch for me.
That's a lie, because the book I am writing right now is one big conflict (WWII) and rather sickening relationships.
Yippee, that feels better. Opening my mouth, I mean. I'll do some wheelies on my wheelchair for you, okay?
Sunny regards from France,

lotusgirl said...

Excellent point! This has been quite a topic of discussion lately! Wow! It's nice to know where you stand.

ryan field said...

I think all the help a writer can get with querying only helps make the query better.

The concern with "voice" in so many comment threads surprised me.

Jodi Meadows said...

Fun! I have managed to miss this whole discussion. *looks everywhere now*

Justus M. Bowman said...

I wouldn't let anyone write my query, but I'm a little on the uppity side.

spinregina said...

I love this! This is the kind of post I want to read, the kind of thing I want to hear from someone in the business. It just seems so....reasonable. Thank-you, for your humanity!!

Write Across The Moon said...

Well, slap my butt and call me Judy! I never thought of ghosting a query but it certainly seems like something to consider, even if I only go for the "get a friend to help" part. The first book I ever wrote took me six months to complete. The query? Still working on it after a year and a half. I changed it every time I sent it out and I finally gave up submitting because I didn't think I could do this particular work justice.

Suzanne said...

Oh I understand the desire to seek help for a query. After a slew of form letter rejections, I just want to know if it's the query or the writing that's getting rejected, or both!

BJ said...

I don't see any problem with getting help to write anything -- it is a learning process, after all. But the fill-in-the-blank query services seem as though they wouldn't have a heck of a lot of voice to capture an agent's attention. Ideas are a dime a dozen, but voice is what makes a book great.