I had the pleasure of attending the Golden Network retreat this afternoon. The Golden Network is an RWA group for current/former Golden Heart finalists, and the discussion was very focused on the industry and pursuing publication. They pulled in six highly respected editors/agents who gave their perspective on what works and what doesn’t work in the overall pursuit of publication and with queries in particular.
The second half of the retreat was the most interesting — the chapter pulled together several real query letters in advance, and then the moderator read each query aloud until all panelists said “stop.” This is similar to the “Britain’s Got Talent” system of letting something continue until all judges have determined they’re no longer interested. At the very beginning, one of the panelists said they weren’t doing this for the “power trip,” but because it should be helpful — and that Simon Cowell’s feedback is often more useful than Paula Abdul’s on “American Idol,” even if he is seen as far harsher.
She was right; while the agents/editors definitely weren’t mean/malicious and instead were quite instructive about what worked and didn’t work, my heart ached for some of the participants. Only one of the 8-10 queries was deemed strong enough that many of the panelists would have requested the manuscript. And for some of the queries, the author lost every single judge in the first sentence. The key advice was to make the query as clear as possible, don’t include small tidbits that might make someone lose interest if its not completely relevant to the story, and be brief. Also, don’t write about archaeologists (particularly those exploring the 2012 Mayan prophecy), maverick reporters, or rock-and-roll (although, as with everything in the business, that’s highly subjective guidance).
So I’m all checked into the Marriott, and I’m going to take a moment to unpack before heading back into the madness. More later!