It’s hard to believe it’s been a month already since What I’ve Learned, Part One.
So, Time for Part Two:
Read the Directions.
I know this seems too obvious to bother pointing out. Specifically, it reminds me of one of the most major verbal ass-kickings I survived as a child.
When I was in fourth grade, our teacher, Miss Spix, announced a surprise test which would be worth half of our grade. The classroom filled with tension as she passed out the thick stapled bundles to each student.
My eyes scanned quickly down the first page… history, science, math… all much more advanced than our coursework. It wasn’t multiple choice, either. With a sigh, I returned to the top of the page to read the directions:
Do not answer any of the questions in this test. Write your full name in the upper righthand corner and the word “Yes”. Circle your name, and then turn the test face down on your desk. You may then read quietly for the remainder of the test period.
So, I did and garnered many dirty glances from my classmates as they wondered why Miss Spix did not reprimand me for reading A Wrinkle in Time (again) while they struggled to solve algebra problems. Which was nothing compared to their response when Miss Spix finally collected all the exams and then announced that I would receive a prize for being the only person to follow the directions. The playground was an ugly and dangerous place at recess that day.
That said, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to assume that writers are literate. So I find the reports I’ve encountered from agents regarding inappropriate query letters simultaneously disturbing and comforting.
Many agents have clearly listed their personal preferences and submission guidelines on their agency websites, or on their blogs, or on sites like agentquery.com (or often, all of the above.)
So use the resources available and make a kick-ass, tailor-made query. Apparently this will put you ahead of 30% to 50% of your competition.