Agent Nathan Bransford hosted an "Agent for a Day" contest last week, in a brave effort to educate non-agents (and especially writers) on the joys and agonies of the slush pile. In summary, he asked for volunteers to submit queries (real or make-believe). Then he planted three queries for books that went on to be published into the midst of the other queries and posted 50 queries over the course of one day and invited contest participants to put on their agent hats and pick the wheat from the chaff.
On a whim, since the queries did not have to be for completed manuscripts, I cobbled together a query letter for Crowmaker and submitted it. It wound up being one that Mr. Bransford used for the contest. The results were posted today.
Mine wound up ranked toward the middle of the pack--but then, so did two of the real deal queries. I did not participate in the agent side of the contest, but I followed it with interest. A short list of things I learned from the experience:
1. Attempting to write a query letter for Crowmaker was a struggle, in large part because I had to condense the plot into a couple of paragraphs. I didn't do so well, judging by the feedback I received, in part because I caved to my inbred tendency to say what I have to say as quickly as possible and then get out of the way so as not to make a pest of myself. In a query, the idea is to not be quick, but to be interesting and thus make the person WANT you to stick around. Even if I nailed the basic plot (and I'm not saying I did), I failed to deliver on the flavor of the story. It's the difference between a list of ingredients and "mmm, yummy, mint chocolate chip ice cream."
2. In the course of attempting to condense the plot of Crowmaker for the query letter, I had to do some hard thinking about what Crowmaker is right now and what I want it to be when it's done. So yeah, I spent an hour or two fussing over a letter for no apparent good reason. But I also clarified for myself some of the work that's left ahead of me when I get back to that first draft and start building it into a finished draft.
3. I have a draft of a query letter for Crowmaker that is a good starting point for a real query at some point in the future. Even better, I have specific (and really good) suggestions on how to make it a better, stronger query letter. And I have the comments people left on other queries to measure against my own reactions to those queries, as well as a number of eye-opening "OK, I can see why that works/doesn't work" moments. (Defensive note: I did not want to include the suck-up paragraph at the top. I hate the suck-up paragraphs. But after looking at a couple of example letters, I decided having a suck-up paragraph was probably a good idea, even if I hated it. I think I was wrong. Which means I was right. Or something.)
4. Even if you have the best query letter ever, even if you have a publishable story, a huge portion of the submission game boils down to subjectivity, timing, and luck. It's in my best interest to do the best job I can on everything I have control over, and a lot of praying over the things I don't.
5. Even if it ever came to it, I'm not sure I could ever have Agent Nathan as my agent. I'd be too distracted by the urge to muss his hair and tell him what a sweet boy he is. If Dave Grohl is the nicest guy in rock, then Bransford might very well be the Dave Grohl of agenting. (Because I haven't mentioned the Foos in far too long.)
In other news, the first draft of the other project is done, as are the first drafts of a query letter and synopsis for it. More details to follow.