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Breadcrumbs from the Void #15 Query, Query, Quite Contrary by Alex Schumacher

Alex Schumacher

Query, Query, Quite Contrary

by Alex Schumacher


Now that the mellifluous charbroiled smells of the grills and roars of the residential mortars fired by limp-dicked assholes are fading, it is time for your bi-weekly drop-kick to the groin. I know you (Americans) probably still have a food baby on deck from all of the nationalistic celebrating of Independence Day, but you are going to need to clear an orifice for another serving of Bread Crumbs from the Void! Loosen those waist-belts, unbutton those pants, suck down some Pepto, and brace yourselves.

There is a certain allure to becoming a novelist, I will grant you this. Most unfortunately attack this ambition with stars in their eyes and a revolting, distorted perception of the reality they are facing. Allow me to drop your deluded fantasy world a peg or two. The likelihood of you becoming a globally-renowned and annoyingly famous writer is slim to fucking none. You will probably end up in some dead-end day job you accepted to make ends meet but quickly became your career. Your “genius” will go wildly unnoticed right up until the day you croak without anyone outside your circle of family and friends ever knowing or giving a shit about who you were.

Now, do not learn to tie that noose just yet.

After all, you should not be writing to attain recognition or wealth. Your ultimate goal should not hinge upon escaping the creative anonymity in which you currently wallow. You, and I, write because we fucking love it. We write to put something real down on the page and leave the twitching entrails for others to find. Your only aim should be to connect with one other person. One other soul who relates to your despondent suffering or irreverent humor. The rest is icing, kiddies.

If a larger audience is what you desire though, you will need an agent. To secure an agent you will require the holy grail of aspiring authors: the kick-ass query letter.

Do Not Pass Go, Do Not Collect $200

The most important aspect to grasp before actually beginning the arduous task of writing a query is to understand just why the fuck you are torturing yourself to compose such a letter in the first place. A query letter is a bridge between you and any potential agent. The query is a jack of all trades in that it functions as an introduction, an example of your professionalism, a first impression of your flair for creative writing, and a leap of faith into a god-damn brick wall. While body casts are optional, you will certainly be in need of a rest after composing this motherfucker of all missives. To sum up: the query represents you and your project.

So what exactly makes a good query? What is the Spanish Fly that will make an agent cream their business casuals? One of the biggest issues I have found is that there is not one clear answer. In fact, there are so many contradicting opinions it could drive you to a padded cell. Or to the bottle. With a quick Google search you can find laundry lists of “do’s” and “don’t’s” which will diametrically oppose one another.

The truth is agents are people too. I promise! Like your manuscript — if the agent even decides to absorb your 100,000 word masterpiece — the query letters are reviewed subjectively. That being the case, your best approach is to refrain from overthinking. Be yourself (so long as you are not one of the artsy-fartsy types), compose the most succinct letter you can, and do not sweat the small stuff.

Be A Private Dick

Now hold on there, Quick Draw. There is more leg work to do before you whip it out and write your query. This second phase is research. You will not make it anywhere near the big show if you do not first figure out how to do the following:

  • Target an agent who would be the right fit to represent you and your work. Some considerations to keep in mind are: whether or not the agent in questions reps your particular chosen genre; whether or not the agent already represents a project which is similar to yours; if you and the agent have similar interests and/or literary proclivities.
  • Adhere to the agent’s and/or agency’s specific submission procedure. Sexual partners and submission guidelines are a lot alike. There can be plenty of crossover with similar terrain, but when you get down to business no two are exactly alike. Take the time to figure out what makes them wet. Find the agent and/or the agency online to suss out query particulars – sending through email or snail mail, how many pages to submit, etc. Most importantly, and I cannot stress enough, FOLLOW THE GOD-DAMN GUIDELINES!
  • Personalize your query! Nothing will turn off an agent (or an editor, for that matter) quicker than a robotic form letter. Prove to the agent you put in the time and submitted to them for a reason. There are myriad ways to personalize a query from referencing an interview you read to somehow procuring their inordinate love for whittling. Make it personal.

Stalking, er, focusing on the right editor or agent is a critical factor when writing a successful query letter. If you do your homework, you can avoid some of the common rookie moves that scream, “I’m a fucking amateur!”. Case in point: if you are pitching a literary fiction novel, do not query an agent who specializes in erotica. Locating agents and publishers who are currently accepting the type of work you produce has never been easier either. Log on to any of the various sites such as Agent Query (http://www.agentquery.com/), Query Tracker (https://querytracker.net/), or the indispensable Preditors & Editors (http://pred-ed.com/) to find detailed listings of agents and publishers with their contact information, submission guidelines, track records, and much more.


Creating the Monster

Once you have determined who you are querying, then it is time to write the damn thing. Like Dr. Frankenstein you are attempting to breathe life into the rancid corpse of the query. To begin, there are two main objectives when submitting:

1) Conveying the plot/subject of your book is nothing less than the tits!

2) Exhibiting an actual aptitude for the writing you hope said agent will read.

An agent scours the truckloads of queries he/she receives on the daily to determine interest in you as a prospective client and whether or not you have the chops to write professionally. While you should remain as highly professional as possible, your personality and attitude must seep through the cracks and leave a stain in the form of a kick-ass first impression. Write the query so that it embodies the spirit of your project. If you happen to write humor, then pen a humorous query. If you have a tendency to ooze purple prose, craft the query accordingly.

The above mainly refers to queries regarding fiction proposals. For nonfiction you will want to wow the audience with a song and dance of your immense expertise and the drooling throngs of rabid fans you will bring to the table.

Some additional things to keep in mind:

  1. Formatting should be as standard as possible. There is no need to try and impress with your penchant for the avant-garde. If you are attempting to showcase your brilliance, a potential agent will see through the smoke and mirrors fairly easily.
  2. Queries should be kept to a minimum, between 250-300 words at most. Verbosity is not going to be an asset in this initial ass-sniffing phase.
  3. Feel free to list some previous accomplishments if they are pertinent. You do not need to mention your position as editor-in-chief of the high school newspaper.  No one gives a shit, least of all the agent who does not know you.
  4. Get to the marrow of your story. Include specific details and plot points, but do not overwhelm the potential agent. Less is absolutely more.


The God-Damn Reveal!

Here’s a classic template provided by Susan Kouguell of The Writer’s Store (https://www.writersstore.com/):

Dear Mr. or Ms. Executive: (use a colon, not comma)

Begin with a friendly greeting and/or attention-grabbing line about your script. Continue with a sentence such as: “I have just completed (title of screenplay) that I would like to submit to you for your consideration.” (Choose an opening that best suits your script and reflects who you are as a writer.) If appropriate, include information about why your project may be the right match for their company.

One-sentence logline.

Synopsize your script in approximately five sentences. State the genre (here or in your opening paragraph), who the main characters are, using their actual names, what their major goal and obstacles are, and how they plan to overcome it. Don’t give away the ending.

Give a brief one-paragraph bio stressing your screenwriting or film background. For example: “My credits include: (awards received and the name of the film or script)” If you don’t have any film or writing-related credits, you may want to add something unique about yourself that makes you attractive to the executive.

Closing paragraph. Two to three simple sentences will do. For example: “Thank you very much for your consideration. (If mailing your query, include: “Enclosed you will find a self-addressed, stamped envelope for your reply.”) I look forward to hearing from you soon.”




Phone number

E-mail address

That is all there is to the query. Easy, right? After you have sent that son of a bitch out into the wild blue yonder, you sit back and wait for the agent(s) to consider it. And then you wait. And then you wait some more. Most of the replies you will receive are going to be rejections. A metric shit ton of rejections. Then, if you are lucky your query just might find its way across the desk of an editor who believes you are not a complete waste of space.


If you would like to hear me elaborate a bit more on my own process, you can find links to a couple of interviews conducted recently with me on my website at: https://alexschumacherart.com/about/. Drop me a line from the contact page if you have any other questions, complaints, or declarations of lust.

Bread Crumbs from the Void will return in two weeks, when I will be tackling a topic which is a bit left of center: songwriting. Until next time, keep scribbling you freaks.


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