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    Bridge Ladies Sometimes I think a meteor could strike the earth and wipe out mankind with the exception of my mother’s Bridge club — Roz, Bea, Bette, Rhoda, and Jackie — five Jewish octogenarians who continue to gather for lunch and Bridge on Mondays as they have for over fifty years. When I set out to learn about the women behind the matching outfits and accessories, I never expected to fall in love with them. This is the story of the ladies, their game, and most of all the ragged path that led me back to my mother.
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It’s only there trying to fool the public

Hi Betsy,
I enjoy your blog.
I am getting a very high response rate on my query letter. I wrote a kick-ass query letter. One agent told me that, not in those words. I’m afraid my manuscript is a disappointment. I think if you read the whole thing (80,000 words), it might contain the spirit of the query letter. But who reads the whole manuscript? I’ve had about six agents request the whole manuscript, but there responses feel like they didn’t get what they paid for.
Should I write a less exciting query letter? Or, is this just the standard rate of rejection, great query letter or no? I’m new at this, and am quickly gaining perspective.
Thanks for your writing and blog.

Dear CoCo:
I can actually relate to this because when I was an editor I was told on more than a few occasions that my pitch was better than the material. That said, your letter strikes me kind of coo-coo for Coconuts. There is only one conclusion to reach: Pull the book back and work on it. Should you write a less exciting cover letter? That’s like telling a girl with an C-cup that she should get a breast reduction. Your letter is completely seductive, your novel is not. Fix the freakin’ novel. If you don’t have a writers’ group, get one. Or hire a freelance editor. It’s not standard to get such a high rate of interest off a query letter (in fact it’s rare); don’t squander these opportunities. Geez, I’m dying to see the letter. But not the book.
Query letters: what are you doing wrong? What are you doing right?
BONUS: I will critique the first five query letters I receive in the “AskBetsy”  box. I will post your letter and my response IF THAT IS OKAY WITH YOU. Or I will send you a private response.

17 Responses

  1. My query letters are a thing of fucking beauty. My book is a mess. Hence, I’m keeping my beautifully crafted litte missives in solitary confinement until I can rid my manuscript of all the things that ail it. Although I’m heartened by the review of Ander Monson’s unmemoir in today’s NYT. The memoir is dead. Long live the anti-memoir!

  2. Ail doesn’t even look like a real word.

  3. CoCo: I’m sure you’ll revise your ms so it’s as polished as your query.

    While I was reading your comment, I thought Whoa! CoCo could get rich as a freelance query letter writer.

    I don’t know about most writers, but I can produce fairly okay fiction, but my query letters could win first prize for stinks! There’s an art to being able to sell yourself and your book in almost no words. I’m going to remember your name in case I ever need to write another one!

  4. my query letter got more then ten agents to request the full manuscript. All of them have had it more than a month. I am biting my fingernails. This after I revised and edited the novel down from 125,000 words to 77,000, but kept the same query. The first time agents asked for the manuscript with the query, several turned it down saying that it was a wonderful book but added suggestions. I cut and reworked and reworked and cut. So, it wasn’t the query; it was the book. This time I hope I’m going to get one!!!

  5. This is interesting… because if you’re a writer, outside of knowing that you must write a great book, a lot of weight in blogs by agents etc. focuses on crafting a great query letter to go with the book. That we have to take loads of time making sure that the letter is written correctly, with the right amount of information, with enough of a taste, and addressed to the right person. Otherwise, we might get tossed aside. fair enough. But maybe we’re spending too much time on the gravy of query letters and have forgotten the turkey in the oven.

  6. I’ve critiqued a few manuscipts recently that have been accompanied by great query letters and synopses – but the novels have lacked the focus the queries promised. usually, it’s the other way round – promising book and muddled query. It looks as though you naturally write one better than the other.

    But there’s hope for both these sets of people. If you query well, you have a template for shaping the manuscript. If you write the full-length book beautifully… you can either learn the other stuff or you should phone a friend.

  7. My first two rounds of querying I had high request rates but no offers. I revised the book, and revised it again, queried with the same letter and received several offers.

  8. Betsy’s reply is spot-on, of course. I had a similar experience–several hits on an apparently kick-ass query, with no home runs. Just finishing up the rewrite I hope will hit it out of the park. A pain in the ass, but I can handle the pain. Writers are bred to be masochists.

  9. I think having written about a jillion press releases in my day job really helped me write my query letter for my own novel. I just nixed the complimentary language as it would have been obnoxious to refer to my own work as ‘brilliant’ or ‘incisive’ (no matter what my mom says) and tried to outline in as clear and concise a way as possible what the book was and who I thought it would be for. I did try to capture the spirit of the book in the tone of my letter but I knew the book itself had to do the heavy lifting.

  10. Genre matters, too. Sometimes a query hits the sweet spot of what agents *think* they want, then the manuscript disabuses them of the notion. I don’t know what they’re panting for at the moment–memoirs-of-ever-more-spectacular-abuse or zombie-steampunk-cozies–but if the query is in a ‘hot’ genre, that might explain things. They’ve convinced themselves they love the idea, but when faced with the reality, they falter.

    Most agents (present company excepted, of course) are as idiotic as most writers. (Not as *neurotic* as writers–present company, er–but just as idiotic.) So if they hear everyone’s looking for an erotic cutting ‘n’ anorexia novel, they think they are, too.

    If the query is in the Genre of the Moment, there’s a chance that this has nothing to do with the relative merits of the letter and the manuscript.

  11. Just when I thought I had mastered my query, added a little more plot because agents told me to, this fab agent told me yesterday to have less plot. What’s a writer to do? Either way, I get requests, but never enough. I think the solution is to have 10 different pitches and choose one for each agent. Love ’em all.

  12. Its all about the book.

  13. I sent my query to 136 literary agents and was rejected by each and every one. I eventually landed someone on my 138th try. The book went on to be a NYT bestseller. Not sure what that means, but it means something. I can feel it.

    • It means: don’t give up. My aunt and uncle had this silly joke: Isn’t it funny that when you look for something and you find it, it’s always in the last place you looked? (hysterical laughter…I never thought it was so funny…until maybe now.)

    • What happened the 137th time?

  14. My dog ate it.

  15. Betsy, how about a ms critique? Maybe a contest or something we can compete for. I just paid a young assistant agent for a critque. I would love to get one by someone like YOU! “I do believe in miracles, I do believe in miracles..I do, I do, I do!”

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