So apparently the little piece of information that I did not write my own query letter has touched off a bit of a firestorm.
Over on Nathan Bransford’s blog, there’s a lengthy (and really interesting) discussion about whether it’s okay to write your own query letters.Â Some people say that a query letter is your own work and anything else is dishonest.Â Other people say, whatever works, works.Â Jennifer Jackson says, unequivocally, no, you should write your own query letter.
I do want to point out one thing, which I hope doesn’t piss off anybody.Â On this point, the interests of agents and writers do not align 100%.Â As a writer, you want someone to pay maximum attention to your pages.Â But an agent wants to focus her very valuable time only on the projects that are most likely to pay dividends.Â If I were an agent, I think I would shiver in fear at the thought of everyone being able to produce really awesome queries–because then how do you allocate your valuable time?Â How do you filter out manuscripts?Â As an unagented writer, I didn’t care about any of those concerns.Â I just wanted to hop the filter.
But I do have to say that I think it worked in my case for two reasons.Â First, the query letter that Sherry wrote was one that I rewrote until it was in my voice.Â Sherry did an awesome job of highlighting the conflict.Â And because she doesn’t do this regularly, and wasn’t getting paid for it, and read the pages and got the manuscript, she really understood the crux of the conflict in my book and to help me get it right in the query letter.Â I doubt you could pay someone to do what Sherry did for me, and I seriously doubt that someone could start a query service that would make money on such an endeavor.Â And when Sherry sent me the version with the conflict highlighted, she specifically did not edit it–so that I would be forced to go and write it in my voice.
I wanted to hop the filter, but I also knew I wanted to hop the filter with the right agents.Â And so I knew it was my responsibility to take what Sherry had given me and both make it representative of my voice, and make sure that it captured the heart of my book.Â I wanted an agent to read it and think, “how cool”–and then read my pages and think, “yep, that’s what this query told me.”
In some sense, a query letter is like giving an agent a sniff of your book before they take a bite.Â Have you ever bitten into something expecting raspberry, and gotten ketchup instead?Â Even if you like ketchup, the difference between expectation and actual delivery will make you recoil.Â I knew that if the query did not represent my book on all levels, it wouldn’t be a good tool for me in the long run.Â So I didn’t send it out until I was sure that it represented my book.Â More importantly, I also felt like the query letters I tried to write myself did not represent my book, either–they weren’t good enough for it–and so I wasn’t going to send them, either.
I think you should do as an author whatever works.Â I don’t think it would work to have someone else write your query, and not have it represent your book, both in terms of plot summary, quality of writing, and voice.Â And I think that if you don’t know what represents your voice and quality of writing and the plot of your book, you have bigger problems then a mere query letter.