Grabbing the agent with one line in your query.


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Thread: Grabbing the agent with one line in your query.

  1. #1

    Grabbing the agent with one line in your query.

    I thought it odd that most professional sources say that you should sell your book to a lit agent using a one-liner at the top of your query, as though most agents won't look past that first line. I find it preposterous to be expected to sum up a whole full-length novel plot synopsis with one line, doing so with a short paragraph is difficult enough. What is your advice on query designs and knowing literary agents, what is your experience with what gets an agents attention?

    To tell you the truth, if I were a lit agent I wouldn't limit myself to the top line of each query sent me. Being the reader I am I would have to make a real effort to not read each query beginning to end. I guess that's just me. I like the idea that an agent would be willing to read more than one single line of a query.

  2. #2
    Quote Originally Posted by Art Man View Post
    I thought it odd that most professional sources say that you should sell your book to a lit agent using a one-liner at the top of your query, as though most agents won't look past that first line. I find it preposterous to be expected to sum up a whole full-length novel plot synopsis with one line, doing so with a short paragraph is difficult enough. What is your advice on query designs and knowing literary agents, what is your experience with what gets an agents attention?

    To tell you the truth, if I were a lit agent I wouldn't limit myself to the top line of each query sent me. Being the reader I am I would have to make a real effort to not read each query beginning to end. I guess that's just me. I like the idea that an agent would be willing to read more than one single line of a query.
    I don’t know that ‘most professional sources’ say that...

    If they do, yes, that seems a little silly. Sure if you have a real zinger you could start a query with a one liner, sure, but I agree that most agents probably aren’t going to wet themselves over another “They say you can’t go home again...” or “Pat Bacon is a wanted man” tagline just because it’s there.

    I think its it’s important to remember that advice is always based on what HAS worked in the past, and that what has worked in the past by necessity runs in opposition to the quest for originality, which is primarily the thing an agent is looking for in any query - originality. I’m not saying that means one should disregard the salesmanship aspect when it comes to format, only that it’s probably better not to prioritize style over substance too much, because ultimately substance is what actually matters.

    It’s my belief that a genuinely great story will pass the query stage pretty much no matter how stylistically unglamorous it is. Queries are (or should be) pretty short so I agree most agents will probably read the whole thing UNLESS you give them a reason to stop - typos, red flags, general indicators this is definitely not for them. So, try to worry more about communicating the salient, interesting details of you and your work and less about polishing turds with corny, cliche or otherwise facile bullshit. A professional agent doesn’t give a crap about your ability to craft shallow one liners. They care about your actual ideas.
    "If you don't like my peaches, don't shake my tree."

  3. #3
    Perhaps I am not the one to be commenting on lit agents as I find them to be of less value and honor than a prostitute. At least with a hooker, you know up front why she wants your money. Most agents are looking for the next yacht, the next JK Rowling they can retire upon, rather than seeking to build a relationship. If you find one willing to work with you, grab hold and do not let go as that is a jewel far more rare than metallic hydrogen.

  4. #4
    It's called a hook, or an elevator pitch. It's that sentence or two that makes the reader say "Oh, that sounds interesting..." and keep reading.

    Here is one from a book I am working on:

    In 2016 the Magenta Project sent digital messages to the twenty nearest stars.
    Now one of them has answered.

    Then after that would come the blurb.
    Hook first, then the blurb.

  5. #5





    Here's a good article from a reputable source on query letters that includes some successful, famous samples of how they open.


    Here is another one

    None of them appear to start with a one-liner. It's also not mentioned as necessary in the article.

    So, again, I don't believe it's recommended, and certainly not required. Maybe some agents like them, but clearly a good chunk don't.

    Be careful whose advice you take.
    "If you don't like my peaches, don't shake my tree."

  6. #6
    It's been a while since I queried, but when I did, my letter didn't have a hook. And it wasn't an endless string of brilliant prose, either... it was just solid and professional. And it got me interest from agents that turned into a couple offers of representation.

    I think we can go pretty crazy trying to make our queries absolutely perfect - most people I know with agents sent queries that were just good, not great. (The key is, I think, to have a story that the agent thinks she can sell. If your query is brilliant but is clearly for a book with no market, you'll have no success. If your query is solid and for a book with a good chance of selling, you'll likely get an agent. IMHO.)

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