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Thursday, May 07, 2009

Jeffrey Moores Gives the Scoop on Query Hooks…

(This news comes courtesy of Belinda Anderson)

Jeffrey Moores Gives the Scoop on Query Hooks…and More

During last week’s Tuesday night chat, literary consultant and editor (and also former literary agent), Jeffrey Moores dropped the bomb. Agents are sick and tired of the query letter hook–avoid it at all costs. Here’s the 411 straight from the chat:
Yvonnetherese asked: How do you feel about starting the query letter with a hook sentence vs. genre, word count, etc. up front?

Jeffrey Moores replied: AVOID THE HOOK! It’s annoying. An agent instead wants simple reality: I am seeking representation for my YA novel about vampires and teenage werewolves. Put what you want up front. Be very simple.

I asked: Do many agents feel this way, Jeff?

He replied: As far as I know, all of them do. It’s very tiresome to read, over and over again, things like: “Imagine yourself in a world where…” An agent isn’t like a normal reader. They’ve got a lot more analytical wheels turning, and are more interested in your book’s place within the market and your ability to write. The actual details of your plot are only as important as your ability to frame your book within the query letter.

Well, I tell you, after cleaning all the grey matter that had splattered all over the chat room walls during the chat, I went away and thought about what Jeffrey had said. I decided I needed a bit more info on the topic and so the next night (he did two chats for us over on AQ.) I asked for a bit of clarification. Here’s the scoop:

My question: Jeffrey, in regards to your surprising advice in regards to queries (”AVOID THE HOOK”) I got to wondering, how do YOU define a hook? Could you give us some specifics in terms of what to avoid?

Jeffrey Moores: I think that the typical “hook”, wherein a writer tries to hook an agent with a taste of the plot right away, often comes across as false and forced. Such as: “Imagine a town where nothing quite feels like it should…”

Instead, agents want to hear something like this: “My novel is a comedy-of-manners that skewers the reality of a strange town whose inhabitants seem to have no clue about the rest of the world…” or something similar. This is a more abstracted and contextualized description of your novel, and is more effective than assuming that an agent is sitting at her desk waiting to be entertained the same way she is when she’s picking a novel off of a book shelf at home.
It is still VERY IMPORTANT to “hook” an agent, but it is MORE IMPORTANT to do this through concise and effective presentation of your book’s specific themes and its place in the market, rather than drafting a sort of plot description or synopsis. Often, writers go on and on after their “hook” but fail to mention anywhere in the query WHAT TYPE OF BOOK THEY’VE WRITTEN. novel, YA, fantasy, mainstream, etc.

He also mentioned to be confident in your proposal when writing nonfiction. The more confident you are, the more likely it will get picked up. As well, fiction writers should step out when writing their queries and “approach the query in a more nonfiction way”. That means, make your fiction query more about where your story fits into the market, who its audience is–that sort of thing. Which makes sense. It is a business letter. He also mentions to compare your letter to other books that are similar. Just make sure it is selling well! He provided pointers on how to pick the selling well books to compare yours to: Very simply — go to your local bookstore and browse. Notice which books have prominent placement in the stores (front tables, end caps, facing OUT on the shelves, rather than their binding facing out). Publishers have paid for these privileges and it means that they’ve invested extra money in hopes that these books will sell well. Or, it means the book has already begun to sell well so they are pushing it further. Also, check out Amazon’s book rankings, reviews, and blurbs by other authors for that book — if five well-known authors have blurbed a given book, it’s safe to assume is better-known than a book with a blurb by only one lesser-known writer.

Both chats with Jeffrey where informative with lots of great tidbits you won’t find elsewhere. If you missed the chats, you can read the transcripts over on AgentQuery.