Monday, January 2, 2017

Follow the directions

A popular post from June 2009

By Julie Wright

I can't cook. It's just not something I'm any good at. I'm guessing it has something to do with my lack of recipe literacy. My life is busy enough that I skim directions. I do a lot of guesswork and substitutions because I don't prepare enough in advance to know what ingredients I needed before actually cooking the meal. This is why my food ends up overcooked, undercooked, soggy, dried out, not exactly like the picture, and not exactly edible.

I have found that when I take the time to thoroughly read the instructions and actually follow them step for step, my husband smiles at mealtime and my kids don't complain and comment on how they wished Daddy had done the cooking. So I've found I actually *can* cook if I'm willing to take the time and follow the directions on the recipe.

I was able to attend a writing conference geared toward teens this last weekend and it was awesome. Teens are so filled with life that it's contagious. On one of the panels, someone asked about the query letter. Another person asked what, exactly, do editors/agents want to see when you submit to them. Do you submit one chapter? Five chapters? The whole thing?

I think it was J Scott Savage who said, "Submit whatever they ask for." And it was Jessica Day George who added, "But not more than they ask for."

In short: follow the directions. It takes a little more time to research each agency and publishing house to find out their individual submission guidelines, but the result is much preferred than you taking a guess at what might need to go into that envelope. Submission guidelines are important because they prove you are flexible, easy to deal with on a personal level, and they prove that you can take direction. Being an independent thinker with your submissions might make you feel empowered, as you enclose full manuscripts that weren't requested or 8X10 glossy portraits, but it won't make you look like you'd be easy to work with.

It's a first impression thing. Make your first impression count and follow the submission guidelines when you submit.


Heather B. Moore said...

Great advice!
I think it can be hard to submit exactly what they ask for. One reason is because you are so tempted to send just a little more "in case" they fall in love with the book and want to keep reading, ignoring phone calls and emails. But truly, if you give them any reason, however slight, your submission has a very good chance of ending up in the slush pile.

MommyJ said...

So what happens if they say, "the easiest thing is to submit this... but if you like, you may also submit this." Is that second option an "only if you feel like you have to" but not because we really want you to kind of option?

Who knew this was all so complicated?

Amanda said...

Here's my question: I have a couple of agents I've come across lately that have very specific guidelines mapped out, but don't say who to submit to. The email address is there, but there are multiple agents at the agency and no listing of their names on the website. I know many group agencies have a central coordinator, but on these particular sites I can't find a name anywhere. How should I address the query?

Anonymous said...

I would one of you published authors show us an example of your query letters, from the hook to the details of the novel, to accomplishments?

Heather B. Moore said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Heather B. Moore said...

Here is a query letter that garnered some decent response. I deleted the agent names.

Dear **,

First I’d like to thank you for making your advice accessible through your blog. I entered the on-line pitch offer with QUEEN. Your comments were favorable, but you asked for more detail. Your agency drew my attention because of your strong line-up of mystery writers. Although QUEEN is an international thriller, I hope you’ll find interest in my work. To top it off your agency comes highly recommended by ** (one of ** clients).

For centuries historians have theorized the Queen of Sheba is only a seductive legend. When OMAR ZAGOURI, an undercover Israeli agent, stumbles onto a tomb in Northern Jerusalem, he discovers the final clue to the queen’s burial site. If the queen’s tomb is found, providing the first concrete archaeological evidence that King Solomon existed, Israel’s claim to the Holy Land is solidified. As the fate of the modern state of Israel hangs in the balance, Omar races to Yemen to prevent the greatest discovery of the century from becoming the most deadly.

QUEEN is a 110,000 word international thriller that joins together ancient Arabia and modern-day Israel. Drawing on my own experience of living in the Middle East, as well as extensive research, this story unites myth with possibility.

I am the author of the four-volume Out of Jerusalem series, published by the specialty press, Covenant Communications (pen name H.B. Moore). With a very narrow target audience, sales have climbed over ***. Reviews and endorsements can be read on my website:

I appreciate your consideration, and I look forward to hearing from you.


Heather B. Moore

Julie Wright said...

MommyJ: I have queried agents with those obscure instructions before. Usually if they say, "submit this . . . and then if you want submit that too." I take them at their word and submit both. Supposing they say submit a query and if you want submit the first chapter of your book. I definitely submit the first chapter for two reasons:
1-they said I could
2-I know my first chapter is ten shades of awesome and I want them to see that.

If I was shaky on how I felt about my first chapter, I might leave it out for now and keep working on it.

Amanda: I've queried those people too. They make me tired because they make it so hard. I finally resorted to

At that site, you can find which of the agents in an agency fit you best. If all else fails, use the name of the agency in place of the generic "dear agent." I've heard several agents mention how their agency shares work with all the agents. This might account for the agents names not being available.

Anon: Great idea. I see Heather has already posted her query. I think I will do a full blown query letter blog next tuesday and include the query that got me my agent.

Kimberly said...

Fab advice, Julie.

And we? Are the exact same kind of cooks. Exact.

Anonymous said...

Thank You, Heather! I took a course over the mail and they outlined the query letter like yours; story detail, word count, target age, genre. Your's was easy to understand. I loved your hook! Hurry and get "Queen" out there so I can read it. (I can't imagine the research you've done for such a novel.)

Heather B. Moore said...

Glad it helped!