Monday, August 30, 2010

Questioning Query Letters

“Will you allow me to send you my manuscript?”

“I look forward to hearing from you soon.”

When I brought my standard query letter for A House Divided into the North Branch Writers critique session last week, my fellow writers (and good friends) all suggested that I put one of these lines near the end of the letter. They said it was a courtesy, something to turn the basic letter into a query. I didn’t really agree but, like all critique I get, I mulled it over for a few days before I made my final decision.

It’s been about a week now. I’ve rewritten my query letter from top to bottom and it’s definitely much better than before. Still, these lines are not in it; and I don’t think they ever will be.

Now, these are only my musings on the subject, but the fact is that I don’t like the subtext these lines present. In my mind, they establish or insinuate the establishment of a hierarchy that just doesn’t belong. It might be because I’m fascinated by and therefore very conscious of the way that people establish their importance in comparison to others, but the underlying meaning in these lines just…unsettles me.

“Will you allow me to send you my manuscript?” indicates that the writer is placing his-/herself lower on the social hierarchy than the agent to whom they are submitting. It is essentially placing the agent on a pedestal and yourself at her (since I notice that most literary agents are female…) disposal.

On the other hand, “I do look forward to hearing from you soon” and its variations sounds like a boss leaving that trite little memo on your desk that sounds really nice but actually means, “Get your ass in gear or it’s fired.” It has the opposite effect, placing the writer above the editor, with the implication that they’re working for you.

I just don’t think either one is the proper way to approach an agent-author relationship. There shouldn’t be a hierarchy between them, they ought to be on the same level – it’s a mutual partnership. Agents call their writers “clients,” but they don’t work for them like an office drone in an investment firm; and writers aren’t at their agents’ beck and call like puppy dogs begging for scraps.

As far as I can understand it, a fair author-agent relationship should be a mutually profitable endeavor: the writer gets a represented in the publishing industry who already has some sway with editors and the legal know-how to get the writer their best deal, while the agent gets their fair cut of the eventual profits and the bragging rights should they discover the next up-and-coming big star. I just don’t think the relationship works as well as it should if it’s not an equal partnership, so I’m not going to insinuate otherwise in my initial contact.

And that, I suppose, is that.

P.S. – If anyone reading this cares, I did finish my review of The Legend of Rah and the Muggles. I’m just too lazy to post it here right now. Maybe tomorrow.

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