Annette Dashofy, a contributor to the excellent collective blog Working Stiffs, has provided a link to a PW article by agent Stephen Barbara that arrived to me though Sisters in Crime via a friend. Barbara’s subject is “The Great American Query Letter,” and comments on what he clearly considers to be the Golden Age of the query letter.
According to Barbara, more good query letters are written now that ever before, and it’s driving him crazy. It used to be an agent could look at the query letter—maybe not even have to read it—and know immediately the book could be passed on. (See his article for an entertaining passage on how he’d just know.) Now, thanks to seminars, webinars, blogs, and a general understanding that a writer must get the agent’s attention before he can get a reading, all the query letters look great. Most of the writing samples still stink, but now he has to read them to separate the wheat from the chaff; the query doesn’t help with elimination. He ends his article by saying not to worry too much about queries you send him. (It’s another entertaining passage, well worth reading. The whole piece is fun.)
From a writer’s perspective, this is probably good news. I have friends who spend time and effort agonizing over queries when that time would have been better spent on another draft. At least now we know of one agent who isn’t going to use a white glove to see if your query is worthy of reading your book, so long as you avoid certain obvious errors.
It may make things a little harder for agents, and God knows they don’t need any more on their plates. (Just read one of their blogs for more than a week and see if that topic doesn’t get mentioned.) It can also free up some time and energy for writers, who can concentrate more on getting a better book out, which should work to everyone’s advantage.