Thursday, July 23, 2009

Query Q&A with Guest Blogger Chuck Sambuchino...

I recently received a question about including credentials in a query letter. I tossed this question to Guide to Literary Agents editor and blogger Chuck Sambuchino. Here's the question and his advice. (And that's Chuck over there.)


QUESTION:
I can't decide what constitutes a legitimate credential when I get to the infamous Author Information paragraph of the query. I'm unpublished, so unfortunately I can't amaze a publisher/agent with that kind of info.

Here are some examples of things that I could mention:

  • I have an English degree from Vanderbilt University. Would a publisher/agent care?
  • I'm the mother of four avid young readers. Would a publisher/agent care?
  • I've done proofreading for a number of other authors' books. (Not Children's Lit, though.) Would a publisher/agent care?
Obviously those "credentials" are specific to me, and I'd love your input. But I'm sure there are a lot of other readers out there who aren't sure where the line exists between valid credential and irrelevant information that would annoy a publisher/agent.


ANSWER: Ah ... what and what not to mention in the “bio” paragraph of your query letter. This is always a hot topic at the writers’ conferences I attend because it’s always a case-by-case thing. Let’s look over your questions.
  • I have an English degree from Vanderbilt University. Would a publisher/agent care?
Sure, mention it. It would be more effective to list any published clips or short stories, but an English degree (or better yet--MFA) is never a bad thing to see. Mention it quickly and humbly like you did above.
  • I'm the mother of four avid young readers. Would a publisher/agent care?
No--skip it. The fact that you have four avid readers probably helps you write and compose. But too often, agents see parents who think they have what it takes to write a children’s book, for example, simply because they have kids. It’s kind of a cliché thing to say. Nix it.
  • I've done proofreading for a number of other authors' books. (Not Children's Lit, though.) Would a publisher/agent care?
If you were paid to edit people’s work, say so. You would be, by definition, a freelance editor. If you did it for peers, perhaps are you part of a writing group? SCBWI? RWA? MWA? If you are, say so briefly. All that said, if you simply reviewed friends’ books, that will not carry much weight in a query so I say skip it.

Don’t be afraid to be brief and wrap up the query. The most important part in a query is the pitch, and a writer should hope that an agent is so hooked by the pitch that they want to see sample pages then and there. Sure, an agent cares about who you are. But more so, they care about if you can write.
  • If you have more questions on queries, there's still time to sign up for today's WD 1 p.m. (eatern) webinar, Extreme Makover: The Query Letter. Click here for details.
  • To read Chuck's blog including a recent interview with editor-turned-agent Brenda Bowen, click here.
  • To learn more about Guide to Literary Agents, click here.

1 comment:

Jane said...

Highly useful information and great writing style I have become your fan!